Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Silver Cord

I mentioned in this morning's post on Ingrid Bergman that there are a couple of movies coming up in the Thursday evening into Friday morning lineup on TCM that I wanted to blog about, so one of them would get a post today and the other one tomorrow. The first of the movies is The Silver Cord, which will be on overnight between Thursday and Friday (Dec. 3) at 3:30 PM (which is early Friday everywhere in the contiguous 48 states).

Christina (Irene Dunne) is a biology student studying under a prestigious researcher in Heidelberg. Just as she thinks she might have made an interesting discovery, who should walk into the room but David Phelps (Joel McCrea)? David is an architect who was in Europe for reasons not quite mentioned but aren't really important because the movie is about to go back to America anyway. David is also Christina's husband. He has a job offer with a prestigious architect in New York and wants to head back to America as a result. Christina, thankfully, had an offer from a research institute in New York that she may still be able to take up, so they'll both be able to work in New York and live happily ever after.

Not so fast, of course. David says to Christina that he'd like to introduce her to the rest of his family, now headed by his mother (Laura Hope Crews) since Dad died many years ago. It's a natural thing to do, but since they leave for America just a few minutes into the movie, you know that the visit is not going to go without a hitch. Sure enough, Ma Phelps seems stunned that Christina is actually a scientist -- why, women just didn't do such things back in her day! They were good mothers to their children and produced a generation of responsible adults.

Not that all of Mrs. Phelps' chlidren are responsible adults. David is, but there might be a question about his kid brother Robert (Eric Linden). Robert has fallen in love with a young woman, Hester (Frances Dee), and Mom thinks Hester isn't quite right for Robert. Worse, she fears that Robert and Hester might move away, leaving her all alone, and that's something she can't countenance. So she works on getting Robert to see the "error" of his ways and dumping poor Hester.

She also goes to work on David, since she doesn't want him to live in New York, especially if he's only goin gto be working his way up from the relative bottom. The family has a nice plot of land that could be developed as new housing, something which would both enable David to live nearby, and allow him to start a lot closer to the top of the architecture business. Of course, David and Christina would have to give up their dreams, but Mrs. Phelps doesn't care about those, only how she can keep her sons close to her.

If David and Robert have been raised by their mother so long and inculcated into this warped view of what a mother's love is to the point they can't see through it, Christina certainly isn't. She gets fairly quickly what's going on, and definitely takes Hester's side over the way Robert and especially Ma Phelps treat her. But it also means that there's going to be a lot of conflict between Christina and David before we get to the inevitable climax: who's it going to be, her or me?

The Silver Cord was based on a 1926 stage play, which explains why so much of the action is kept to a few rooms of the house, and also why a big housing development could be a thing in a movie that was made at the height of the Depression. In any case, all of the cast give very good performances, and while the script sometimes goes over the top by today's standards, that's not the actors' fault. One mild plot hole for me was thinking that the boat David and Christina took back to America would dock at New York, letting them set up house there before going to see Mom (the exact location of the Phelps manor is not mentioned); this would give David and Christina no good reason to stay with Mom. Also unanswered is why Mom let David go over to Europe alone in the first place.

But these are minor quibbles for what is a pretty darn interesting movie, and one that you should definitely watch.

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