Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Strangers May Kiss (1931)

What a crazy, mixed-up movie! Rich man Robert Montgomery is a kindly dipsomaniac in love with rich girl Norma Shearer (I assume they're independently wealthy - are they ever shown working a job?), but Shearer is instead lollygagging about with a handsome but caddish, globe traveling news correspondent (played by future Commissioner Gordon Neil Hamilton).

Hamilton leads her on, lies to her, then leaves her to travel her own way back from Mexico! Spurned Shearer then does what nearly every spurned woman did in MGM films of this period: she sleeps her way across Europe with one aristocrat after another, natch!

To add to the confusion of the viewer (if not the characters), Shearer goes back to the untrustworthy worm in the last scene (all he does is glare at her and she's his) while Montgomery feebly and complacently looks forward to his next drink. The end.

Mick LaSalle, in his fine book on women in pre-code movies, Complicated Women, extols Strangers May Kiss as an adventurous "pop-feminist document", far ahead of its time.This is probably true, though it is noteworthy that none of the characters in the film seem particularly happy about their situations or choices; if the film is a feminist document, it's perhaps prescient in that regard, too.

The usual MGM slickness is in the house with stunning art deco sets and gorgeous gowns (though the movie is hampered by some very poor editing). The greatest actors and sets in the world won't help, though, if you find the characters absurd, unlikable, or nuts. Complexly amoral characters were frequent in pre-code movies, but what worked in Norma Shearer films like The Divorcee and A Free Soul just ain't working here.

Strangers May Kiss isn't available on DVD or VHS, but has been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies.


Juliette. said...

Thanks for this terrific post-- I laughed aloud when I read the bit about sleeping one's way across Europe. Swell.

Michael N. said...

As Homer says, it's funny 'cause it's true!

Seems like about half of the Greta Garbo movies are like that, too.