Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Joan Crawford doesn't quite meet Stephen King

A few months back TCM had a birthday (I think) programming salute to Margaret Sullavan. One of her movies I hadn't seen before was The Shining Hour, so I recorded it in order to be able to watch it later.

Joan Crawford is the nominal star here, not Sullavan, although it's a bit more of an ensemble cast as the two male leads are just as important and we see one of them first. That one is Robert Young, playing David Linden. The Lindens must have become wealthy enough for them to be famous just for being famous, as David is flying cross country having heard the news of yet another marriage for his brother Henry (Melvyn Douglas). Indeed, it's the gossip among some of the other passengers on the plane, and the sort of marriage to an alleged chorus girl that David wants to stop.

In fact, the supposed chorus girl isn't quite a chorus girl, but still a performer. Olivia Riley (that's Joan Crawford) does the sort of finer dancing that you see when movies of this era visit a high-class nightclub and have a couple perform a ballroom type dance. They're nowhere near as good as Vernon and Irene Castle, or even Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but they're good enough to get gigs like this club where Henry saw Olivia and fell in love with her. Olivia, for her part, likes Henry as a friend, and likes his positive attitude. It's easy to see, however, why other members of the family might not approve of the marriage.

That especially goes for Henry and David's nasty sister Hannah (Fay Bainter), who you might think is channeling Judith Anderson's performance as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, except that this movie came out two years before Rebecca. But you wonder if Hannah ever loved a man, and that's why she's so damn bitter. Anyhow, she does her best to make Olivia feel unwelcome. The one person who has complete sympathy for Olivia is David's wife Judy (Margaret Sullavan). Judy feels that they're in the same situation, as Judy is in a marriage that in her view has become the sort of loveless marriage that is a trope of movies like this.

Meanwhile, the Lindens own a bunch of land and farm it, with Henry planning to subdivide some of it so that he and Olivia can have a nice house of their own. While that house is being built, one of the workers, Benny Collins (Frank Albertson), tries putting the moves on Olivia, which is a big mistake. Worse, it's David who spots this and stops it, which leads to him developing feelings of his own for Olivia, which may be mutual. That's bad for the marriage between David and Judy, and bad for the marriage between Olivia and Henry. But worst of all is that Hannah is still there, waiting for the right opportunity to drive Olivia away. And you won't believe how Hannah tries to do it.

Joan Crawford, as I understand it, felt like MGM was deliberately giving her poor roles in her last few years to try to get rid of her, which is why she felt Mildred Pierce, her first film at Warner Bros., was so important. Having watched The Shining Hour, it's easy to have sympathy with Crawford. The movie is a thoroughly silly potboiler, and I don't mean silly in a good way here. Well, maybe I do for Hannah as a character since she's so nuts. But everybody else is weighed down by the material. I wonder if that's because one of the screenplay credits goes to Ogden Nash of light verse fame. I wouldn't expect him to be good at writing this sort of movie. The actors do the best they can with the material, however. And, since this was made at MGM, it has extremely high production values. But if anything, it's the sort of movie that should be watched to study how films can go wrong.

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