Friday, April 25, 2014

Joan Meets Her Mom

This Modern Age  (1931) stars a very blonde Joan Crawford as Valentine 'Val' Winters.  Val has been raised by her recently deceased father, who has left her a small income and a very little information about her mother, Diane (Pauline Frederick).  Diane, who now lives in Paris as the mistress of the very married André de Graignon (Albert Conti), has been absent from Val's life for many years (by court order).  De Graignon has set Diane up in a lovely apartment and given her a very comfortable life style.

Curious about her mother, Val journeys to Paris.  She is prepared to dislike the woman her father so abhorred; to her amazement, they love each other immediately.  Diane, determined to find a place for herself in her daughter's life, hides her past (and her present) and invites Val to remain with her in the apartment.  All is well until Val meets Bob Blake, Jr (Neil Hamilton), the son of a fairly snobby Boston family and they fall in love, much to the disdain of Mr. and Mrs. Blake, Sr.  And there is the problem of De Graignon, who is none too happy with the enforced celibacy brought on by Val's presence.

Though the pace of the film is a bit uneven - the middle seems very drawn out, while the ending is rushed and somewhat abrupt - this is an enjoyable movie.  The characters of mother and daughter are well drawn, and Pauline Frederick is a sympathetic figure as the  mother who doesn't want the life she chose for herself to impact her daughter.  Since we never see Val's father, and Val doesn't say much about him, we questioned what she knew about her mother, and what her father was really like.  All we know is what we learn from Diane prior to Val's arrival; we would have liked Val's opinion of him as well.

Joan Crawford is very good as Val.  She is both innocent and intelligent.  You believe that she is completely unaware of her mother's past.  You also believe in her deep affection for this woman who has been absent for most of her life.  

Also quite good is Monroe Owsley as Tony Girard.  For a change, Owsley gets to play a nice guy, and his Tony is a doll.  Yes, he drinks too much, but his genuine affection for Val is apparent.  Though a superficial person, he doesn't have a mean bone in his body.  He wants to love Val, but is so immature that he doesn't know how to love.

Neil Hamilton does a good job making Bob attractive as well.  When we are introduced to his family, it becomes hard to have a lot of regard for Bob, but Hamilton is able to keep you rooting for him.  There is an implication that Bob might have been a bit of a mama's boy - as soon as his parents realize that Bob is seeing someone seriously, they arrive in Paris to check her out.  One suspects they've been doing this to him for some time.  Of course, Boston and Harvard (Bob's alma mater) become synonyms for snobbery in this story.
A quick nod to the always talented Adrian for Crawford's magnificent dresses. Before we go, here is a snippet of the movie from YouTube, in which Val and Diane meet.  Watch Diane's subtle change of expression as she is introduced to her unknown daughter.  And take a look at Crawford's lovely white evening gown:

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