Pre-Code Profile: THE GUARDSMAN (1931)

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! As previously teased, this month’s Pre-Code entry serves as the relaunch of our series on notable non-essentials, which will alternate randomly with the Essentials. These films, though not in possession of some of the qualities that might make them worthy of being called seminal representations of the genre, are nevertheless entertaining and worthy of our attention. Today we’re looking at…

 

The Guardsman (1931)

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A jealous husband dons a disguise to test his wife’s fidelity. Starring Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Roland Young, ZaSu Pitts, Maude Eburne, and Herman Bing. From the play by Ferenc Molnar. Screen play by Ernest Vajda. Continuity by Claudine West. Directed by Sidney Franklin. Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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“Following their performance of Elizabeth the Queen, the Actor (Lunt) and the Actress (Fontanne), who have been married for six months, take their bows while exchanging mild insults under their breath. The Actor’s jabs soon give way to jealous accusations of unfaithfulness, however, when he senses that his wife has already grown tired of him, her seventh husband, and is looking for her eighth. The Actor tells his friend, the critic Bernhardt (Young), that he believes that she has been unfaithful to him. Knowing that his wife is fond of men in uniform, the Actor decides to disguise himself as a uniformed Russian guardsman and try to woo her in order to prove to himself that she can be easily seduced. After sending her flowers, the Actor waits for his wife’s reaction, and then tries to get her to admit that she is courting a secret lover. Apparently fooled by her husband’s disguise, the Actress tosses him a note accepting his request for a meeting. Later, in order to induce his wife’s secret rendezvous with the Russian prince, the Actor tells her that he has been called away to play in Hamlet and will return the following day. That evening, after the Actor bids her farewell, the Actress immediately begins dressing to meet her paramour. When the Actor returns, disguised as the Soviet prince, he engages in a conversation with the Actress about her husband. 

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“The Actress tells the Actor that her husband is intelligent and handsome, and after she informs him that he has left her alone until the next day, she asks him to stay. Upset, the Actor begins to act in a brutish manner, until she calls out for her maid (ZaSu Pitts). The Actor is overjoyed by her resistance and her assurance that she loves her husband, but before she sends him away, she tells him to meet her at the opera that night. Following the opera, the Actor escorts her home, where she kisses him but tells him that she does not wish to see him again. He rejoices over his apparent victory, but his elation is soon ended when she throws down the keys to her room. Though the Actor accepts her invitation, she spurns him once again and tells him that her jealous husband will soon be home. After leaving the apartment, the Actor removes his disguise, returns as her husband and, while reapplying his disguise in the next room, tells his wife of his supposed trip. When he re-emerges as the Russian guardsman, she laughs and tells him that she knew who he was from the first moment she saw him in his disguise. The Actress’ meaningful nod and smile to Bernhardt, however, betrays the truth.” (This is an adaptation of a summary that comes courtesy of TCM.)

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Come back next week for another Wildcard Wednesday! And tune in on Tuesday for my thoughts on the best from the final season of Married… With Children!

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