Sunday, February 5, 2023


Back in August, Constance Bennett was selected for Summer Under the Stars, and I pointed out that I had watched one of her movies scheduled that day, Rockabye, some time back, with the plan of watching it again for the next time it showed up on TCM. Well, it's on again tomorrow (Feb. 6) at 9:00 AM as part of a day of Joel McCrea's movies, so now is a good time to do a longer post on it.

Constance Bennett is clearly the star here, not McCrea. She plays Judy Carroll, a stage actress with a complicated personal life. She's hoping to adopt a child, but she's made the mistake of having an affair with a corrupt politician, Al Howard (Walter Pidgeon in an early role). He's now on trial, and her testifying against him causes her to lose custody of the child she was hoping to adopt. Her manager, Antonie (Paul Lukas, also in an early role), suggests that she go off to Europe for a while until the scandal dies down. She's got a public that will forgive her, an dafter a suitable absence she can go back on the stage. Another of the complications in Judy's personal life is that Antoine has always held a flame for Judy, even though Judy has apparently seen the relationship as professional, not personal.

While in Europe, Judy reads a play called Rockabye, and thinks it would be perfect for her, although Antoine doesn't really hold the same opinion. Judy gets the reasonable idea of contacting the playwright, Jacob van Riker Pell (Joel McCrea); perhaps he can help convince Antoine that Judy is right for the part. Jacob is hesitant at first, although as more of Judy's back story is revealed, he begins to realize that perhaps Judy might be right for the part after all.

But we need some more personal complications for Judy, and the obvious one is that Judy is going to begin to fall in love with Jacob, and this time, the feeling is mutual. Here, though, there's another catch. Jacob is married, although it's a loveless marriage, and Jacob is trying to get a divorce. Perhaps once the divorce is final, Judy and Jacob can get married, and then they'll have a nice respectable relationship.

In any case, rehearsals for the play Rockabye go on, and eventually the play has its premiere on Broadway, even though Jacob doesn't show up for the after-show party. That's because there are yet more complications in Jacob's relationship....

Rockabye the movie is one of those movies that to me feels like a decided product of its time. Not so much 1932 as part of the pre-Code era, but 1932 as before even World War II started liberating women, never mind the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The film's central conceit, that Judy's personal life is somehow career-ending scandalous, seems a bit quaint 90 years on. Nowadays, I don't think people would care that much if a Judy-like actress had a complicated personal life and then fell in love with a married playwright.

Having said that, however, the performances are adequate, and Rockabye is certainly an interesting look at a time that was completely different. As they like to say, the past is like a different country.

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