Monday, February 16, 2009

But the Flesh is Weak (1932)

What bizarre catalyst propelled Irving Thalberg and company to churn out one MGM romantic "comedy" after another starring leads whose defining characteristics were boorish, brutish, insufferable infantilism? I would argue that in the hands of William Haines, this sort of material could border on comic genius, in a surreal Jonathon Winters-ish way. Usually, though, it just thuds and offends, and But the Flesh Is Weak is a prime example.

In this film, written by Ivor Novello, deadbeat Robert Montgomery and his philandering father, C. Aubrey Smith, do their best to mooch from, seduce, and wed (or not) rich women. That's practically the entire story. Montgomery at first latches onto the interesting Heather Thatcher, but then quickly dumps her for a widow, Nora Gregor (better known for her role in Renoir 's Rules of the Game).

There may be a fine line between romantic persistence and cloddish, creepy annoyance, but this screenplay asks Robert Montgomery to dash over it and never look back. Gregor 's ending line "I knew I loved you when you hit me" was the straw that broke the camel's back for Mary. Bleahhh.

Thatcher's role is sympathetically written, for all the good that does the film; Edward Everett Horton plays Gregor's rival suitor in a part that doesn't play to his strengths.

There might have been an amusing line scattered here or there; if so, I can't remember them.

Remade by MGM in 1941 as Free and Easy.

But the Flesh Is Weak is available on Warner Archives DVD-R and has been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies.


Carrie said...

I can't help but think if Nora Gregor's character was re-cast with an actress more well known - if the product would have been a bit better. Maybe the "thud" would have been a bit softer!

Michael N. said...

You may be right. Norma Shearer, for example, or Garbo might have given the role more depth. Of course, if Joan Crawford had played the role, it would have been a different movie altogether!