Sunday, April 22, 2012

One More River

Some months back, as part of a night of movies directed by James Whale, TCM showed One More River. It's on again tomorrow morning at 11:30 AM, and despite the fact that it's a dated melodrama, it's worth a watch.

Diana Wynyard (the matriarch from Cavalcade) stars as Claire Corven, a British woman whom we first see as she's making her way back to her home in the UK after some time abroad. It turns out that she's leaving her husband, Sir Gerald, because he's treated her badly, or at least so she claims. On her voyage home, she meets nice Tony (Frank Lawton) and strikes up a friendship with him. Purely platonic of course. Once she gets home, she starts working to help another of her friends, David (Reginald Denny) get elected to Parliament, and when he does get elected, she goes to work for him as his parliamentary secretary. After all, she needs some means of support.

She needs the support because she can't rely on her husband (played by Colin Clive), even though we know he's going to return and try to get her to come back to him. He does show up one evening, and sure enough, Claire refuses his advances. So Gerald begins to look for a way to make Claire suffer even more than he had made her suffer when he was stationed out in Ceylon. Thankfully for him, Tony is still interested in Claire, even though she claims that it's purely platonic. Tony keeps meeting her, and eventually winds up alone with her overnight. It's the most innocent of circumstances: while returning home from the country one evening, the car's headlights burn out in the middle of nowhere, much too far away from anything else for them do to anything but wait until morning when they can drive the car in daylight again and get it fixed. But Sir Gerald's private detective is there, and catches them alone together. In fact, he's caught them alone on a number of occasions, so he files divorce proceedings. He'll let her have her freedom, but only if it's shown publicly that she was the bad one. It's one final humiliation.

This is the sort of stuff that would never happen today. Claire would file for a no-fault divorce, and since it's not as if they have any children or anything, and she doesn't seem to be looking for alimony, it would be a purely bureaucratic formality of waiting several months until the divorce goes through. We couldn't have that in 1934, though, so instead we get a stagy trial. Everybody will eventually live more or less happily ever after, I suppose, but they're going to have to suffer before they get to happiness.

The plot bogs down what are otherwise good acting performances. Not only from Wynyard, but from several of the supporting roles. There's venerable British character actor C. Aubrey Smith as Wynyard's father; Jane Wyatt as her sister; Henry Stephenson as an uncle in London where Wynyard first lives when she goes to work for Denny, and before she has to flee from her husband; and Lionel Atwill and Alan Mowbray as the barristers at the divorce trial. One More River is an interesting period piece. Don't get too irritated with the cultural mores that make the plot go the way it has to.

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