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'Private Lives' starts simply enough, with Norma Shearer together with her new husband after having been divorced from Robert Montgomery, and him together with his new wife. As fate (or playwright Noel Coward) would have it, they happen to end up spending their honeymoons in adjoining suites. I suppose you can imagine what comes next as their love is rekindled, but what happens beyond that is a little bit of a surprise. It feels like a 1931 version of 'Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?', though without the same weight.
Shearer is natural and plays 'exasperated' well, but she overacts at others times, and Montgomery is similarly uneven. They do have some level of chemistry, and the best scene that has them worked up to near violence (her hitting him over the head with a record, him slapping her, her running to the couch to bury her head and kicking her legs) is probably the best of the movie, but even that has an air or ridiculousness about it, meaning it hasn't aged terribly well. Their co-stars, Reginald Denny and Una Merkel are bland and unappealing.
The theme is timeless, the difficulty of staying happy in relationships, and the danger of thinking the grass is always greener. There are some nice moments, such as when Shearer is expounding on the wonders of travel, saying she loves "arriving at strange places, meeting strange people, and eating strange food", and then Montgomery quips, "yes, and making strange noises afterwards". It is also risqué in some parts, such as this exchange early on:
Denny: He struck you once, didn't he?
Shearer (smiling): Oh, more than once.
Denny (concerned): where?
Shearer (smiling and raising an eyebrow): Several places...
For every element I found I liked, there was an equally unappealing element, and in this case I suppose Montgomery's line that "certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs" later in the movie is that. It's not awful, but the movie gets tedious with all of the bickering, and I found myself happy when it was over.
Private Lives showcases the comedic skills of Shearer and Montgomery as well as their onscreen chemistry. I can see how some might not enjoy this film that revolves around pretty horrible people, but I love Noel Coward and fast paced comedies. It is definitely a product of its time, but for me that's the charm.
another pre-code love triangle pic
I really liked the performances by Narma Shearer and Robert Montgomery, father of Elizabeth Montgomery...
very good version of coward play-amazing cast.
79/100. This is a delightful movie and very entertaining. Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery deliver outstanding performances. I am a big fan of Norma Shearer and this is among her best. Witty dialogue, fine direction, the usual impeccably good MGM production.
Easily my favorite comedy from the 30's. I love Noel Coward and this play/film is one of his best imho. Gotta love Norma Shearer and her tantrums ! LOL
Full review coming soon
[font=Tahoma]Full review to come.[/font]
[i]Private Lives [/i]is among the very best of the pre-code comedies. It's based on the excellent Noel Coward play, and while it follows the story almost to the letter, the dialogue is clearly modified a bit for America audiences.
Norma Shearer has just married the serious Reginald Denny, and they've gone to a French Hotel for their honeymoon. Shearer's ex-husband, Robert Montgomery, has just married Una Merkel, and they're honeymooning in the same hotel. Right in the next room. Once they discover this, Shearer and Montgomery can't resist each other and quickly run away together to Shearer's chalet. But soon it becomes apparent why they divorced in the first place. They can't stop arguing.
The script, though modified, is filled with wit and charm. The arguments are funny, their love romantic. There's a whole scene on the couch which is indescribable. It's one of the most romantic scenes in classic film. Though it's set up very much like the play in terms of set and scene length, interesting camera work prevents it from feeling like a filmed play.
Shearer gives her best comedic performance. She doesn't try to make the character overly sympathetic. She's charming, but she's vain and arrogant, and it's hilarious. Montgomery is awesome against her. The perfect foil. He's suave and sophisticated, yet his scenes when he flies off the handle are very funny. Denny is reliable, as always in his role, but the shining star of the supporting cast is the always delightful Una Merkel. She's sweet and slightly pathetic. The scenes where she's wailing loudly would be annoying from most actresses. Merkel makes them some of the funniest scenes in the movie.
I want a DVD release of this, dammit. It's an example of a perfect film.
[b]Final Grade: [/b]A+