Friday, January 27, 2023

Friends and Lovers

Er, not quite

Another of the movies that had been sitting on my DVR for quite some time was the short early talkie Friends and Lovers. With it being an RKO movie and with the two male leads, I'm surprised that it doesn't seem to have wound up in any Warner Archive collection.

One of the male leads is Adolphe Menjou, who plays Capt. Roberts, who we are led to believe is an officer in the British Army. Now, Menjou was a very good and often elegant actor, but one thing he most definitely was not is British. He's in London on leave or something, where he's been carrying on an affair with the equally un-British Alva Sangrito (Lili Damita, later wife to Errol Flynn). Alva is married to Victor (Erich von Stroheim), who "finds out" about the affair one night. Except that as we learn it's really a scam on the part of Victor and Alva. She has affairs, and then, when she gets caught, gets the other man to cut a big check so as to avoid any scandal. Nice work if you can get it.

So Capt. Roberts goes back to India, which at the time the movie was made was still a British colony, together with his manservant McNellis (Hugh Herbert, who is even less British than Menjou). One of the officers serving under Capt. Roberts is an actual Brit, Lt. Nichols (Laurence Olivier, who I don't think I knew had made a Hollywood movie this early in his career). Nichols talks about the woman he loves, and Roberts realizes the woman in question is Alva! Roberts knows now that Alva is bad news, but Nichols is thinking with his other head, and Roberts' comments about this sort of woman threatens to derail the two officers' friendship.

Meanwhile, back in England, Alva and Victor get into a heated argument, which has the looks of turning into a case of domestic violence, although I don't believe that term was used in the 1930s. Just when Alva really seems to be in danger, one of the servants shoots Victor dead! This being a pre-Code, we don't hear anything about the servant going to prison or Alva getting in any legal trouble. Alva sends a letter off to India, which one guesses explains what happened, but Roberts and Nichols decide to burn the letter without reading it, in order to save their friendship.

Some time later, Roberts and Nichols are both on leave again in England, where they're invited to a party at one of those country houses that populated movies of the 1930s set on either side of the Atlantic. Who should show up as one of the guests but widowed Alva? And, needless to say, it tests the friendship between Roberts and Nichols again.

Friends and Lovers is one of those movies where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. There are some scenes and performances (von Stroheim especially) that are a lot of fun, and the idea is certainly interesting enough, but the way the script resolves it just doesn't feel realistic. Maybe values being different in the 1930s and in England, it might have been something more likely to happen, but I'm not so sure. Other people speak very poorly of Damita's acting, although I didn't have as much of an issue as some did.

All in all, Friends and Lovers is one of those movies that probably should have made its way to one of those old four-film TCM box sets, but never did. It's not the sort of movie I'd pay standalone prices for, however.

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