Thursday, May 21, 2009

Private Lives (1931)

Sophisticated, witty, fast, fun - MGM's 1931 film of Noel Coward's Private Lives altered the dialogue and scenes for American audiences, but still made a film true to the spirit of Coward's work.

As the previously married (and fighting) and destined to be reunited (and fighting) protagonists, Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery make the best of their roles. Shearer clearly was having fun with such a juicy character, requiring a menagerie of emotions, body language, and quick, caustic, overlapping dialogue.

Montgomery's a fine performer (and would later, with more serious roles, become an even better one), so I don't consider it damning with faint praise to say that his abilities were probably not then on a par with Coward's dialogue. One can't imagine Montgomery ferreting out the delicious barbs and droll, cutting witticisms that Coward undoubtedly performed in the stage role he wrote for himself. Montgomery's not all bad in the part, though; it was MGM, in 1931, so there he was.

Reginald Denny and Una Merkel are also fine in roles that don't require as much.

Private Lives is recommended as an enjoyable, adult, afternoon romp.

Private Lives has been released as a Warner Bros. Archives DVD.