1935: The First Full Year Under The Draconian Production Code (Post Three)

Welcome to another Film Friday! Today we’re continuing our series on films released in 1935, the first full year in which Hollywood studios were forced to adhere to the Production Code, which became official in the summer of 1934. The pictures we’ll be looking at are not connected by performers, but rather by their common bond to the censoring of creativity. So far we have covered The Goose And The Gander and Dangerous. Today we’re looking at No More Ladies. 

 

No More Ladies (1935)

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A society girl tries to reform her playboy husband by making him jealous.

Starring Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery, Charles Ruggles, Franchot Tone, Edna May Oliver, and Gail Patrick. Screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart and Horace Jackson. Based on the play by A.E. Thomas. Directed by Edward H. Griffith.

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This is a rather predictable and cookie-cutter picture about infidelity among the upper class. These pictures always seem to appeal to me — the men in tuxes and the dames in fancy gowns, as they cavort around expensive Art Deco sets and talk/not talk about their feelings. No More Ladies adds very little to the anticipated proceedings, but it’s still an enjoyable film nonetheless.

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After waiting for over two hours for her beau, Sherry Warren, to show up for their dinner date, Marcia declares, as she has on many similar occasions, that Sherry is a heartbreaking scamp, and then turns in for the night. Marcia shares her elegant home with her grandmother, Fanny Townsend, who warns her about the rakish Sherry, yet both love him nevertheless. Also vying for Marcia’s attentions is the naive and boring Oliver, who has become a seemingly permanent fixture in the Townsend household, and is usually found playing backgammon with Fanny. Later that night, Sherry shows up and, though offering no valid excuses for his tardiness, manages to charm Marcia into accompanying him to a nightclub. When Edgar Holden, Sherry’s second cousin, spots the man-about-town, he jokingly offers to protect Marcia from his notorious abuses, and sends prizefighter James McIntyre Duffy over to rough him up. The two, however, turn out to be old chums, thus foiling Edgar’s plan. Soon after, Jim Salston, whose wife Sherry had stolen from him years ago, approaches the playboy to complain that Caroline, another object of Sherry’s affections, is upset because he passed her up on the dance floor. While Sherry makes amends with Caroline, Marcia leaves with Edgar for a drive in the park.

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Later, Sherry looks for Marcia at her home, finds that she is not there, and is warned by Fanny that if he is not careful he will meet with the same fate as the famed sea captain, Louis Casabianca, who died when he blew up his ship in order to prevent the enemy from capturing it. Marcia finally shows up, behaving as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened, and then shares a late night snack with Sherry, while they discuss the institution of marriage and all its attendant woes. Though they both agree that the odds against a succussful marriage are overwhelming, Sherry proposes marriage to the obstinate Marcia, and she accepts. When Fanny enters the room, she quickly realizes what has just transpired, and announces that Casabianca’s ship has just sunk.

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While honeymooning at Whitehall Beach, Marcia finds Sherry flirting with Sally French and later admits that she is jealous. At Williams’ Bar, Sherry steals Edgar’s date, Theresa German, and fails to return to Marcia’s that evening. Sherry calls her to tell her that he will not be coming home because Edgar has gotten ill and needs his help. Marcia knows Sherry is lying because Edgar is home with her, and realizes that her philandering husband has already ruined their marriage. Though a cad, Sherry later tells his wife the truth about the incident, admitting that he spent the night with Theresa, a “graduate of the old speakeasies.” Insulted, Marcia slaps Sherry, but concedes that she knew about his flaws when she married him and predicts that it will happen again.

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Marcia takes her revenge on Sherry by throwing an impromptu party and inviting, unknown to her husband, a number of people who have been ill-treated by him. One of the first guests to arrive is Jim, who once tried to shoot Sherry, followed by Theresa and Lady Diana Knowlton, another lover Jim had lost to the playboy. Also present is Caroline. After Marcia announces that she and Jim are going for a drive, a quarrel ensues and Sherry promises to be unforgiving if she leaves. A game of charades affords Jim and Marcia an opportunity to escape, and when Sherry discovers the two have not returned the next morning, he makes preparations to leave for good. Fanny tries to stop him, and then Marcia pulls up just in time to save their marriage. After admitting that she felt bad about cheating on him because she truly loves him, all is forgiven and the two embrace. (This summary brought to you courtesy of TCM.)

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As you can see, there are few surprises in the premise, but the script, for the most part, is pretty fresh, with dialogue that — on the whole — rings with both wit and sincerity. Of course, it bares only traces of resemblance to the stage play, and the screenplay does little to make the plot seem original, even if it works for the characters. More to the point, however, the script just isn’t AS funny as it should be. Furthermore, it’s not AS sharp, AS unique, or AS memorable as this type of picture requires. It’s functional, but it’s not exceptional, and with stars of this caliber, this is a glaring hinderance. However, as I’ve said above, the film is still entertaining and noteworthy. Even though this film gets the gaudy NRA Seal of Approval, the picture is shockingly more mature than one would expect of a 1935 film. Montgomery obviously commits adultery and only changes his tune after Crawford nearly has an affair of her own (with Crawford’s real life husband — Franchot Tone!) Beyond the mature premise, there’s a worldliness about the characters that make them seem more Pre-Code than Post — Crawford and Montgomery both try to be modern and unsentimental about life. Of course, they both fall back on the beauty of love and — as Post-Code films warrant — marriage (Montgomery even cries). But this isn’t a stretch — because it works for the story and the characters.

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The performers help make the film a little more distinguished. I was thrilled to see Edna May Oliver as Crawford’s grandmother. A broad character actress (whom I will always regard as the original Parthy in Show Boat) she plays with a knowingness than never seems artificial. Charlie Ruggles plays  Montgomery’s friend — he’s actually the unfortunate reason that Crawford learns of Montgomery’s deception. Joan Fontaine makes her film debut here, and even Arthur Treacher is afforded a small role. The leads are even better. I’ve always liked Montgomery (father of our current Sitcom Tuesday star!) even if many of his roles are beyond bland. His character in No More Ladies isn’t bland, but it isn’t a stretch. It’s nothing that we wouldn’t see from any other Montgomery picture. But he does his job well, and opposite Joan Crawford, he holds his own. Once again, Crawford’s very own husband isn’t important enough to win her. Tone is forced to play the man that Crawford uses to make Montgomery jealous. The unintentionally hilarious thing about all this is that Montgomery and Tone are strikingly similar in appearance.

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Meanwhile, Crawford stands out. She photographs wonderfully and is costumed in nothing but the best. About 92% of her choices are organic and she resorts to little scenery chewing. Surprisingly, this picture plays up her humanity, making her much more accessible to regular audiences. I don’t mean that the picture tries hard to make her vulnerable or sympathetic — it’s more nuanced than that. There’s an honesty about her performance that’s typically uncommon of the flashy STAR of all stars. One moment in particular I thought was telling. After Montgomery returns from his dalliance and tells Crawford to stop making him feel bad, she tells him how she feels. “My heart is breaking,” Crawford says — so simply, and without affectation. It’s a wonderful moment.

I would certainly recommend this film to Crawford fans and Montgomery fans. Regular classic movie buffs, there ARE better pictures out there, but should the opportunity arise, No More Ladies is a fairly enjoyable watch, and I’d suggest not passing it up. Ordinary premise (however risque for 1935), mediocre script, but strong performances. Adjust your expectations beforehand and I think you won’t be disappointed.

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Come back next Friday for another 1935 film! And tune in on Monday for the start of a whole new week on That’s Entertainment! 

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