Friday, September 3, 2010

Married and In Love (RKO, 1940)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran Charles an hour-long film I’d recorded a few days ago: Married and In Love, a 1940 “B” from RKO directed by John Farrow (Mia’s father) from a script by S. K. Lauren based on a 1937 British play (also by Lauren) called Distant Fields (also the working title for the film). I commented to Charles before we watched it that it was about two people who were indeed married and in love, though not in love with the people they were married to — to which my partner responded, “Oh, it’s a horror film!” (I told him I’d expected him to say, “Oh, it’s a tragedy!”) In fact, it’s a soap opera — even before it actually begins the credits (in cursive script on white placards covered in tissue paper, which is pulled away by an unseen force to reveal the title of the film and the names of the cast and crew members) warn us to expect one — and while some of Lauren’s dialogue is mind-numbingly silly and the cast (Alan Marshal and Helen Vinson as the illicit lovers and Barbara Read and Patric Knowles as their at least temporarily forsaken spouses) is professional but unexciting — and it doesn’t help that the actors seem unable to decide from scene to scene whether the people they’re playing are supposed to be American or British, judging from the now-you-hear-it, now-you-don’t British accents that creep into their dialogue — the film is actually quite haunting.

The plot: Dr. Leslie Yates (Marshal), who’s just published a best-selling book called Diet (apparently we’re supposed to think of him as the Dr. Atkins of 1940), meets his old college girlfriend Doris Wilding (Vinson), now married to Paul Wilding (Knowles), one of those men in Hollywood movies of this period who’s defined only by being rich with no information given as to the source of his wealth. She’s also become a successful romance writer for slick magazines and, unbeknownst to her readers, she’s continually used Leslie as a model for her male characters.

The action opens when Leslie meets Doris in a park and the two rekindle their former relationship. The two couples have dinner together, only when Mrs. Yates gets drunk and passes out, while Mr. Wilding suddenly remembers another engagement and leaves, Leslie and Doris end up on her deck, glorying in the Wildings’ fantastic view of New York City (at least as RKO’s best set-painters were able to depict it) and making arrangements to meet later at Doris’s secret apartment at 12 Washington Square, where she does all her writing so she can work undisturbed at a location so secret even her husband doesn’t know where it is. The gimmick is that the action is periodically interrupted for a series of flashbacks depicting Leslie’s and Doris’s former relationship and also the later events showing how Leslie’s wife Helen (Read) helped him survive when he lost all his savings in a bank failure while he’d taken a sabbatical from his medical practice to do research. Despite its over-the-top aspects, the basic plot of Married and In Love is compelling and the film is about 15 years ahead of its time — one could readily imagine this plot serving as the basis for one of Douglas Sirk’s edgy tear-jerkers at Universal — and while Farrow is nowhere in Sirk’s league as a director he does at least intermittently create a certain atmosphere and (their accent confusion notwithstanding) gets some nicely quiet, understated performances from his cast. — 3/26/04


I ran a 62-minute RKO “B” called Married and In Love, described by the Turner Classic Movies schedule in terms that made it seem considerably racier than it was: “Illicit lovers plot to desert their spouses and marry each other.” Anyone who knows anything about the Hollywood Production Code and the arbitrary and often loony ways it was enforced from 1934 (when Code enforcement was tightened due to pressure from the Roman Catholic Legion of Decency) into the 1960’s would know that a major U.S. studio would never have been allowed to produce a film presenting a situation like that described in TCM’s blurb at all honestly or with any hint of an outcome other than the illicit lovers shame-facedly returning to their legally wedded spouses at the end. (“No film shall infer that casual or promiscuous sex relationships are the accepted or common thing,” said the Code. “Adultery and illicit sex, sometimes necessary plot material, shall not be explicitly treated, nor shall they be justified or made to seem right and permissible.”)

Married and in Love opens in front of a bookstore that is featuring a window display of Diet, the latest health book by Dr. Leslie Yates (Alan Marshal). One of the women buying his book is slick-magazine fiction writer Doris Wilding (Helen Vinson), and she and Dr. Yates turn out to be old college buddies who dated way back when and haven’t seen each other in 10 years. They hang out in a public park for snacks (Doris jokes that the good doctor is eating peanuts, one of the foods named as a bozo-no-no in his diet book) and reminisce about old times, and they’re clearly attracted to each other even though both have other mates. Doris invites Dr. Yates and his wife Helen (Barbara Read) to dinner at their place that very night, and he’s unwilling to go but while there he picks up a magazine containing a short story of hers called “Yesterdays” and he recognizes it as being inspired by their own affair in college and the way it ended — he went off on a grand tour in Europe, she promised to wait for him, he stretched out his trip from one year to two and in the meantime she met and married someone else, Paul Wilding (Patric Knowles).

At the dinner Paul deliberately feeds Helen alcoholic drinks which she’s not used to, and eventually Dr. Yates has to take his wife home, whereupon she makes a scene about his flirtation with Mrs. Wilding and reminds him that she loaned him $5,000 to go to medical school so he could become a doctor in the first place. Ultimately Dr. Yates gets invited by Helen to the secret studio where she does her writing — a location she’s so coy about that even her husband doesn’t know where it is — and their extended flirtation gets as far as a kiss when Paul Wilding, who seems to have traced them somehow, walks in and catches his wife in as close as a Code-era movie could get to flagrante delicto with another man. Paul blabs to Helen that her husband is having an affair with Doris, but eventually the four of them have yet another dinner party and ultimately realize they each married the right person after all.

Based on a 1937 British play called Distant Fields by S. K. Lauren, who did his own adaptation and script for the movie as well, Married and in Love was directed by John Farrow (Mia Farrow’s father) pretty straightforwardly, though with an occasional semi-interesting shot by cinematographer J. Roy Hunt, and it’s a terrible movie not only because of the Production Code limitations but also for other reasons: it’s a very stagy movie — only the multiple flashbacks ever get us out of those dinky, claustrophobic room sets in which most of it takes place — and it’s got a surprisingly weak cast even for a “B.” Barbara Read is the most annoying actor of either gender in the film — she looks like an animate Kewpie doll and has the nerdy, grating voice one would expect from one — and one would be in danger of feeling sympathy for Dr. Yates and his interest in Doris were not Helen Vinson almost as annoying: she plays her role with an almost glacial veneer of toughness (the quality she portrayed in most of her movies, which cast her as a more unscrupulous adultress than she plays here) and delivers an icy chill in a part which calls for human warmth and a sense of real moral conflict.

The men aren’t quite so bothersome, but both Alan Marshal and Patric Knowles speak with prissy British accents that not only are hard to accept as coming from Americans but give their characters airs of pretentiousness weirdly at odds with the likability Lauren clearly intends them to have. Some “B” movies are diamonds in the rough; this is just a chip of coal, unreeling drearily out to its all too predictable conclusion and with utterly no sense of catharsis, no indication (as there is in romantic-triangle stories as different as The Painted Veil and The Strawberry Blonde) that the straying partner has learned anything from the experience that would leave him or her more content and more cognizant of the ways in which their legal spouse really is the best person for them. — 9/3/10