Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ann Meets Myrna

Reporter Jimmy Lee (Robert Montgomery) is deeply in love with novelist Mary Howard (Myrna Loy). But despite his numerous proposals, she refuses to marry him. Jimmy discovers that Mary has fallen in love with her married editor, Rogers Woodruf (Frank Morgan). Having read the novel on which Mary is currently working - in which she proposes that her heroine, in love with a married man, has a calm discussion with his wife, to talk about her desire to wed her lover - Jimmy knows what Mary has in mind. He decides the best course of action is to introduce Mary to Claire Woodruf (Ann Harding), without revealing to either of them their mutual relationship. When Ladies Meet (1933) will determine the future of both women's relationships.

Though a pre-code film, this one is not really all that shocking. There's a lot of talk, but very little action. Mary has heretofore resisted Rogers' desire for a sexual relationship; just as she is about to give in, Jimmy blunders in and breaks up the rendezvous (certainly his intention!) We later discover from Clair that Rogers is a serial philanderer, and that Claire has turned a blind eye to it because she believes he really loves her. With the exception of some double-entendre blathering from Mary's friend Bridget Drake (Alice Brady), this is a pretty tame film.
That being said, this is an interesting and thoughtful movie, primarily because of the performances of Ann Harding and Myrna Loy.  Ms. Harding presents a woman who is both dignified and understated. Even when confronted by betrayal, there is no hysteria, no over-emoting, just a quiet sorrow that is signified only with her eyes and her stance. Ms. Harding can break your heart with a glance.

Ms. Loy mirrors her in dignity playing a woman who is the ultimate idealist. When confronted with the realities of life, she too remains stoic. Her determination lets you know that her life will go on, and she will remake it. But we came away wondering how her new novel would end, with the author enlightened about the truths of life. We come to realize, thanks to the talents of these two excellent actresses, that Mary and Claire are very much alike in their attitudes and emotions. Interestingly, Ms. Loy became great friends with Robert Montgomery and Alice Brady on this production.  Ann Harding remained distant from the "coterie of three." (TCM article)
Growing up with Frank Morgan as The Wizard does make it hard to see him as a romantic figure, especially one who is so deeply loved by these two remarkable women. It is certainly his skill as an actor that makes it obvious to the audience that Rogers is a cad. That he is so awfully unloving - more interested in the chase and in sex - becomes apparent later in the film. But Mr. Morgan does a good job in preparing you for this revelation.

Alice Brady seems to be present to provide the comic relief. Unfortunately, she becomes rapidly annoying.  An Oscar-winning actress - she was nominated twice, and won for her role in In Old Chicago (1937) - in this film, it feels as though she is doing screwball comedy, while everyone else is playing subtle humor and high drama.  We felt that Bridget was too shallow a person, where the other characters are fully developed. It felt as though Ms. Brady was in a different movie.  We wondered if a different actress in the part would have made a difference, and we may find out next week.

The film (based on Rachel Crothers' play, which was produced on Broadway in 1933) would be remade twice: once in 1941, with Joan Crawford, and again on 11 June 1952 as a ABC television presentation with Patricia Morison and Richard Carlson in the leads (AFI catalog). This film was nominated for the Best Art Direction Oscar, for Cedric Gibbons, whose sets are gorgeous (We were especially impressed with Mary's apartment).  We'll leave you with this scene, featuring appearances by our four leads. Next time, we'll be viewing the 1941 version.

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