Cynara (1932) is told in flashback. In the film's first scene we learn that Clemency knows of Jim's infidelity and that Jim's successful law career has been destroyed. What follows is a chronicle of deceit and guilt, as Jim descends into a morass of lies and betrayals from which there is no return.
It's hard to actually dislike Jim - yes, he cheats on his wife, but from the minute he meets Doris, he is honest with her: he tells her he is married, that he loves his wife, that their affair is temporary. But Doris, who has been down this road before (a key plot point at the end of the film), is desperate and unstable. Today, we would call her a stalker. Though Jim rebuffs her advances when they first meet, she actively pursues him. She is unable to compartmentalize her feelings about him; as a result, she loses her job, and ultimately destroys both of them.
Clemency, on the other hand, becomes a victim of her own neglect. Though she genuinely loves her husband, she takes him for granted. She leaves on the eve of their wedding anniversary, without even a by-your-leave - Jim comes home to find her packing. She will be gone for several months, yet she does not even consider discussing this move with her husband (who is presumably paying for her trip!). One doesn't dislike Clemency - she is a caring woman, but it seems that she is oblivious to her husband's needs
Colman is, as always, pitch perfect. He is a fantastic actor, with perhaps the most glorious voice in film. It's hard to believe that he started in silents (imagine that impressive voice unheard!) However, one suspects that, with the advent of sound, Samuel Goldman rubbed his hands with glee at the thought of Colman's transition to sound. (A TCM biography of Colman likens his voice to "crushed velvet"). Colman had started his career in the theatre, and in his later years, transitioned to appearances on radio and television, often appearing with his second wife, Benita Hume. He won an Oscar for his role in A Double Life. He died at age 67 (from acute emphysema) in 1958.
Unfortunately, Kay Francis doesn't have a lot to do in this film. Clemency is in Italy for most of it, and when she returns, she merely gets to look pained. On the other hand, Phyllis Barry has quite a bit of screen time. Her casting is interesting - and telling - as she rather resembles Kay Francis. It only serves to emphasize that Jim seems to be seeking his arrant wife, rather than looking for a lover. Barry had a fairly long career, though mostly in very small parts. She died in 1954 of barbiturate poisoning. For more on Cynara and the careers of Colman and Francis, see this TCM article.
The title Cynara is taken from a poem by Ernest Dowson. The poem, Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae (1894) contains the line "I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion." It ALSO contains another famous movie title: Gone with the Wind. Another Dowson poem supplied the title of The Days of Wine and Roses.
All in all, we found this an enjoyable film, and recommend it. It is a wonderful example of early Colman. We leave you with the opening of Cynara, in which we learn of Jim's downfall: