Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lovers Courageous (1932)

Based on a play by Frederick Lonsdale (MGM would film his The Last of Mrs. Cheyney at least twice), Lovers Courageous is an oh-so-typical MGM early '30s film. In fact, MGM filmed Faithless, with a similar plot (lower class guy woos and marries rich girl) the same year, with the same lead actor, Robert Montgomery. If you watch a lot of old movies, you'll see this plot over and over and over again.

Faithless wasn't a great movie, but better than this one, which is too reliant on some stagy, formal dialogue which just doesn't ring true. Montgomery is perfect for these sorts of care-free, whatever-may-come characters, but it sometimes seems as if he's having to play two characters: a witty, subtle, funny guy in some scenes (possibly partially improvised), and an earnest, flowery, Victorian-leaning one in the "serious" scenes. He's supposed to be a determined playwright and a good one, but I didn't buy that at all, not least for the reason that the dialogue he supposedly writes is atrocious.

Having said that this film isn't very good, it's also true to say it has an inherent emotion-tugging tragectory which is intrinsically suspenseful, even when you know the ending will be happy. Madge Evans as the rich girl is lovely, as always. In this film she's expected to marry Reginald Owen, who plays a brash Englishman as a broad caricature. How more believable and interesting the movie would have been if the person Evans' betrothed had been a real person, and maybe even somewhat sympathetic. As it stands now, there's no contest between the suitors.

Your spirits will be kept up, though by some other fine character actors: Beryl Mercer, as Montgomery's mother and, especially, Roland Young as Evans' father's aide. Young, in the last film of his MGM contract, effortlessly drifts through this affair as if he had nothing better to do that week and thought he might earn some money and some laughs by being in a movie.

Lovers Courageous is not available on DVD or VHS, but has been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies.