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Saturday, February 5, 2011

PRIVATE LIVES (1931)

M-G-M filmed a live performance of Noël Coward’s comedy during its NYC run (with Coward, Gertrude Lawrence & Larry Olivier in the cast) to use as a guide for their film adaptation. It’s lost, alas, but sound recordings made in London show Noël & Gertie dashing thru the dialogue which may explain why an embalmer like megger Sidney Franklin upped the tempo from M-G-M’s usual languorous pace. Coward’s plot is all but foolproof (two exes, freshly re-married, accidently book adjoining honeymoon suites . . . and find they’re still crazy in love) and happily, the slightly theatrical delivery cultivated @ M-G-M in their early Talkies works like a charm for Coward’s stylized dialogue. Shearer got awfully noble in her later pics, but she was a livelier presence in her naughty pre-Code days. And while a light comic touch was beyond her natural abilities, she certainly was a good study. She’s even careful to go just a bit flat when she warbles a bit of Coward’s ‘Someday I’ll Find You;’ just like Gertie.* Montgomery is even better. He doesn’t miss a trick or lose a laugh; and he adds a bit of wounded pride, warmth & real pain to Coward’s brittle repartee & playful fisticuffs. Even the adaptation holds close to the original, with a few new settings for some scenes and a clever new finish that even Coward must have liked.(*Yet, the vocally challenged Lawrence introduced classics by Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers, Coward & Kurt Weill.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Make this a double-bill with Hitchcock’s MR. & MRS. SMITH/’41, a screwball that owes a lot to Coward, and imagine what Hitch, a slightly older Montgomery & Carole Lombard might have done with this.

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