Thursday, April 22, 2010

Consolation Marriage

                  The romantic proposal...with Pat O´Brien

Release date November 21.  1931

"Sure - getting married isn´t a great lead for a couple of moody fighters like us! Might give us a chuckle or two..."

A film about first love and laughs, illusions and laughs, crying for the moon - and laughs!

Steve Porter (Pat O´Brien) is at last at the goal of his dreams: he has a good job as reporter and  can afford to marry his childhood sweetheart Elaine (Myrna Loy). But Elaine, Myrna in her nasty vamp phase, plays accordingly to her image, and is already married when Steve turns up to fetch her. We don´t get to know her husband but looking at Elaine´s surrounding that guy seems to be rich...poor Steve ends as up as being a clunk which throws him off the track.
The fate of Mary Brown (Irene) isn´t any better. Her valentine Aubrey (Lester Vail) - a promising young pianist at the brink of marrying rich to get his career in full swing - declares shop girl Mary his love before he leaves for the altar. As long as she waited for his love declaration as shattered is she now.

                            Aubrey on his way to the altar...

Steve and Mary - those two lost, suffering souls - meet in a speakeasy both celebrating the weedings of their bygone beloveds. It´s interesting how Irene is presented here: Steve´s sidekick  - that practical film instrument this time done by John Hallyday - tries to distract Steve by telling him about millions of nice girls who are around, just like the one sitting at the next table. Well, the nice girl is Miss Dunne, by the way the star of the film!

            Meet a nice girl...there are millions around!

What can two lost souls do? They try to comfort each other and the method of their choice is to share some laughs - not the worst idea for finding some consolation. Trying to give a dog which they bought together a home they decide to marry under the premise of an open marriage. No romantic feelings - those are still reserved for Elaine and Aubrey - and if the whole thing doesn´t turn out right, it´s goodbye without trouble or blurbs. As odd as this relationship is, it´s not platonic because a cute curly offspring is soon the result. Sounds all nice and cozy and my Irene already starts to sing while setting the table for dinner, but then the valentines and sweethearts pop up again...

   The Porters and one shadow from the past in the background

Okay, that´s not much of a storyline and soon we know in what direction the whole thing is heading, but "Consolation Marriage" defenitely has its charms. Being still a pre-code there are some options possible which will be lost in the summer of 1934. First and foremost the handling of the instituition of marriage which is treated neither as a till-death-do-us-part relationship nor like a meaningful, responsible tie between two people, but as a playground for having fun - and sex.

Having fun...                                                              

             and more fun...

A scene in which Mary tries to explain her little kid why she has to leave by saying "What is a baby more than an episode in a woman´s life?" - really took me by surprise because it breaks with all accustomed expectations of motherhood. Of course she didn´t mean it, and I guess I won´t spoil too much by telling that Mary and Steve are a very married couple - with all consequences. Even a pre-code has to return to and to emphasize the universally valid society values.
The bottom line of the film that clinging to our past, to illusions and "crying for the moon" hinders us from living, appreciating and loving the present(s) isn´t new but handily displayed.

                           Another shadow from the past...

Back on the RKO lot from her loan out to MGM Irene gets for the first time the real star treatment billing above the title,  but has to share a lot of screen time with Pat O´Brien. In fact we learn more about his character´s background than we learn about Irene´s. What really impressed me about her characterization are the 15 last minutes of the film. She out acts a touching balance of trying to react bravely to the possibilty of Steve leaving her and being heartbroken about the situation. It´s a steady twist between those contrary emotions and she masters this movingly.

                Trying to be brave...Elaine is preparing for Steve

Under one aspect this film is very "Dunnish" because for the first time it´s Irene´s "normal" speaking voice in opposite to the slightly higher pitched voice she used for Helene and Diana. Of course Irene is going to use the instrument of her speaking voice back and forth, up and down accordingly to her roles throughout her career, but nevertheless this is the speaking voice we are accustomed to.  

                 Irene at the premiere of "Consolation Marriage"

I´m not much of a Pat O´Brien enthusiast but his type is just right for Steve and he and Irene have some good moments on screen - especially when they are kidding around  and sharing some chuckles.
Kindly I get two personal extras in this film: to start with a song - which isn´t much of a surprise considering with whom we are dealing -  but always welcome. This time it´s only Irene and her piano, melancholy singing hers and Aubrey´s torch song "Devotion" - plain and simple beautiful. And there is Myrna - really not much of a part, and dyed blondish she looks odd, but it´s always good having Myrna around!
And don´t forget : "Stop crying for the moon!"

PS. Here is a little extra service for my German friends who are babes lost in the wood when it comes to old Hollywood. Nonetheless they face bravely and kindly a lot of Hollywood/ Irene talk nowadays - thanks, folks! And here is the answer to the urgent question  -thanks to Wikipedia:



  1. Amazing-it sounds like this movie verifies everything Jeanine Basinger says about pre-code women's films! I don't know anything about O'Brien but it sounds like he and Irene made an interesting, off-beat couple (well, what the heck-the woman could act with anyone and make it work!) and the presence of Myrna is definitely an added treat, even as a blonde! And (naughty of me)I got a big 'ol grin reading your captions: "Having fun...and more fun..." And the picture of Ms. Dunne at the premiere is a lovely bit of additional information! Rob

  2. Rob,my friend, the "big´ol grin" of yours was of course intended - nice to hear that it worked! I really enjoyed this "Irene lets loose moment" on screen because we are heading for drama.
    Looking at that picture of Irene at the premiere I assume that she was under production of "Symphony Of Six Million" - they dyed her hair rather dark for that film and this looks like the same haircolor to me. Looks unfamiliar...Susanne

  3. I haven't watched that one either!!! Aaaaa, I seriously can't wait!!!