Monday, June 15, 2015

Larry and Gloria Have an Understanding

Perfect Understanding (1933) stars Gloria Swanson as Judy Rogers and Laurence Olivier as her fiance, Nick Randall.  Judy and Nick are very much in love, but Judy is afraid of marriage, having seen several bad ones among her friends.  Nick assures her that their marriage will be different, and the two agree to sign a contract, agreeing that they will remain independent people after marriage, and will not allow jealousy to enter their lives.  But marriage isn't perfect, and the outside world intrudes into their fool's paradise.

The film is very reminiscent of both Cynara and Illicit: we again visit the woman who is fearful of marriage, and the man who ends up straying within the marriage.  However, this film takes those movies a step further.  The relationship between Judy and Nick is complicated when Nick suspects Judy of straying, even though he has already confessed his affair to his wife.  The double standard, that the man thinks it is okay for him to stray, but if his wife does, he is horrified, is the crux of this film.
To a greater degree, Gloria Swanson's real life story is far more interesting than the character she plays here.  Judy is rather banal; Swanson was not.  Married six times, she was also reported to have indulged in a number of affairs, both between and during her marriages.  In her autobiography, she claimed the great love of her life to have been Herbert Marshall; she was with him for over three years, but finally gave up when she realized he wasn't interested in divorcing his wife (Edna Best) for her.  But her most notorious assignation was with Joseph Patrick Kennedy.  He produced Queen Kelly for her (it was a flop).  Interestingly, Swanson named the son she adopted in 1923 Joseph Patrick.  A coincidence? Perhaps...  Swanson had actually invested money in this film; and her husband du jour (Michael Farmer) plays the part of George. Swanson does get some stunning clothing: gowns were by Ann Morgan and René Hubert (who was uncredited). But it is hard to see why she felt so strongly about this film.

Thankfully, Laurence Olivier has lost the makeup man that he used the year before in Westward Passage, and Nick isn't the cad he'd played in the earlier film.  However, Nick is a bit of an idiot.  Bad enough he has an affair, but to go running to his wife with news of his indiscretion is not only stupid, it's unconscionable.  He knows Judy doubts the viability of marriage, so his confession just throws her even further into the fear that any continuing relationship with a single person is undoable.  So, while the film was interesting in the beginning, it eventually gets bogged down, primarily because Nick is so totally dense.   

Had the film had less of a double standard, and been more understanding of it's fragile leading lady, it would have been far better. We'll leave you with a trailer:

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