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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

STRANGERS MAY KISS (1931)

After her silent-film ingenue days, Norma Shearer established herself as a ‘daring’ modern woman, tempting fate with sex, men & amorality in Pre-Code Talkies. It sounds like wicked fun, but usually plays out in M-G-M’s typical high-toned, sleepy mode. On this one, George Fitzmaurice doesn’t so much direct as quietly tag along while Norma toys seriously with journalist Neil Hamilton who wants a travel-mate; and less seriously with tipsy pal Robert Montgomery who’d like a wife . . . or maybe just another highball. But Norma has her mind made up after her trusting Aunt is deceived by her unfaithful Uncle. Alas, her world-tour of bliss is short-lived and a disgraced Norma becomes a wanton woman in Europe. But when both Hamilton and Montgomery reappear in her life, she gets to decide what to do all over again! But will they still be interested in ‘used goods?’ Von Sternberg & Dietrich could have gone to town with this set-up. Here, only the gowns (by Adrian) and a young, polished Robert Montgomery have any of the style needed to make it go. Shearer is at her worst, with a carefree laugh on every line and a cantilevered hairdo that must have sent her home with a crick in the neck. On the other hand, if you’ve ever wondered what people mean in old novels when they are said to be ‘chaffing,’ get a load of Hamilton & Shearer giggling with delight at everything they say.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: For a better shot at Pre-Code Shearer, try Clarence Brown’s A FREE SOUL/’31, with Lionel Barrymore, Leslie Howard & Clark Gable bringing her down to Earth.

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