Saturday, April 10, 2021

Our Worses

Some time back, TCM ran the film adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham play Our Betters. Not having seen it before, I decided to record it and eventually watch it to do a review on here.

Constance Bennett plays Pearl Saunders, an American heiress who marries Lord Grayston (Alan Mowbray, seen only at the beginning of the movie), in part for his title; he's married her for her money because he's one of those British nobles who have lost most of their money (see Gosford Park for an example). Pearl, now Lady Grayston, decides that she's going to shake up the joint, so to speak, by doing her own thing and causing a general scandal among the members of Britain's smart set nobility

Some years later, Lady Grayston is in the same position as her husband as he's spent most of the money. She's also taken on a paramour in the form of Arthur Fenwick (Minor Watson). She decides to introduce her kid sister Bessie (Anita Louise), who's come over from America, to her new social circle and possibly marry Bessie off into the circle. Bessie, for her part, had a fiancé back in America in the form of Fleming Harvey (Charles Starrett).

So Lady Grayston hosts one of those weekend-long parties (again, see Gosford Park) for a couple of her friends and the men in their lives. The Duchess Minnie (Violet Kemble-Cooper) is being pursued by Pepi (a very young Gilbert Roland); Lord Harry (Hugh Sinclair) is there for Lady Grayston to introduce to Bessie; there's a princess (Phoebe Foster) and an American businessman Thornton Clay (Grant Mitchell).

Pepi winds up wooing Lady Grayston and the two go off for a tryst in the teahouse; Minnie is unsurprisingly pissed and sends Bessie to go off and find her sister with Pepi, which understandably pisses off Bessie, who no longer wants any part of this lifestyle. Lady Grayston and Minnie are generally bitches to each other for reasons that I couldn't quite fathom.

The big problem that I had with Our Betters is that it's way too talky, and complicated enough that it could use a second viewing to figure out everything that's going on. The fact that few of the characters are very sympathetic doesn't help either. One high spot is the final scene, with the dance instructor brought from London, who is played as the sort of incredibly stereotypical gay that you wonder how it could have gotten done even in the pre-Code days of 1933.

Our Betters is another of those movies that would probably benefit from being on a box set; I think there are enough adaptations of Maugham's work in the Turner Library (after all, they have The Letter from Warner Bros. and The Painted Veil from MGM) to pull it off. Instead, I could only find it on a standalone DVD from the Warner Archive.

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