Monday, June 21, 2010

The Silver Cord

publicity for "The Silver Cord"

Release date 05.05.1933

“Then I can't hope for much, can I? …Hester escaped, but I'm caught! I'm going to have a baby by a man who belongs to another woman!!”

On their way from Europe, where they met and married, to New York the newlywed couple Christina (Irene) and David Phelps (Joel McCrea) visit David's mother (Laura Hope Crews). Christina and David have definite plans for their marriage hoping to combine family and careers: Christina is a research biologist, David works as an architect. Interesting jobs are already waiting for them in New York but there is still some time for Christina's first visit with her mother-in-law. Also present and thus making the family reunion complete is David's younger brother Robert (Eric Linden) and his fiancée Hester (Frances Dee).

family reunion part 1

Soon it's obvious that Mrs. Phelps is an over-protective and possessive mother whose plans for David - which are mainly based on her wish to keep him nearby and under her influence - clash with Christina's ideas for her future with her husband. Maybe Mrs. Phelps has lost some influence on her eldest son, but there is still Robert whom she - afraid of getting lonely when he leaves too - manipulatively talks out of his engagement with Hester.

mother and son part 1

Not even the fact that David and Christina are expecting their first child changes Mrs. Phelps' attitude towards her daughter-in-law - all evening long Christina is the aim of verbal attacks.
After dinner, Robert breaks the news of the end of their engagement to Hester who reacts with a fit of hysteria only calmed down and comforted by Christina. David's neutral reaction to the situation, his by- standing and compliant behavior with his mother, makes Christina fear the worst for her own marriage. At last she issues an ultimatum to David…

family reunion part 2

This is a wonderful ensemble piece of a film with Laura Hope Crews, who recreates her stage role, heading the troupe. This was the main problem Irene had with this film being aware that the stellar part was the one of the mother. This is partly true, but nevertheless Irene's role offers - and she certainly utilized them - scenes of enormous intensity. Surrounded by a cast which holds his own against her - and this time all of them - this is so impressive to watch that I ended up glued to the TV screen - re-watching it at least the fourth time!

mother and son part 2

From Laura Hope Crews' performance as "loving" mother manipulatively creeping in her sons like a slow-acting poison, to Joel McCrea who turns from a man very much in love to a lame imitation of a husband with an almost blank face, from Frances Dee's natural handling of young Hester to Eric Linden's weak young brother feeling overshadowed by his older brother, this is more than well done by the whole cast.

Hester and Robert - the end of a relationship

This is the first of a total of four films Irene made with director John Cromwell. Three of them are in this early stage of Irene's career and they are all on my list of “Dunne favorites”. In general, Cromwell's rather sober directing style mixes perfectly with Irene's touching, minimalist acting. Letting loose in comedies came natural to her but she never was an actress of grand, dramatic gestures but of impressive, well-thought-out details. Cromwell directs “The Silver Cord” as that what it is - a film that at no point denies its origins from the stage.

mother and sons part 3

To see the story line only as another tale about a mother-son relationship, which is such a rewarding, artistic topic in the range from drama to comedy, would be a little bit too narrowly considered. There are creepy, almost incestuous moments but it's also a story about the difficulty to transform family ties, not to drop back to patterns we developed as kids, it's about loneliness and that clinging is probably the sure way to get lonely, about substituting one feeling by another…and in the last analysis didn't Mrs. Phelps bring up a son who is worthwhile Christina's love - something which this young woman knows very well she just can't afford to throw away on a nobody?

David, whom do you love?

The fact that Irene's character is a scientist is perfectly selected and makes Christina very interesting under different aspects. She not only stands for the “modern” career woman, earning approval in a field normally occupied by men, but as a scientist she is analytic enough to see through the whole situation and to act accordingly: there is no time for wishy-washy reactions, this is indeed a test for her marriage.

the opponents

The switch from Sally in “The Secret Of Madame Blanche” - singing, glamorous Sally - to Christina - sober, though with a warm personality, good-looking, though glamour isn't her first name - proves why the name “Irene Dunne” and the word “versatility“ are so often combined. Another thing that makes watching Irene's films in chronological order so interesting.
The only thing to add now is a some nice trivia: Joel McCrea and Frances Dee met on the set of The Silver Cord, which resulted in the rarity of a till-death-do-us-part Hollywood marriage. Obviously, no nasty mother-in-law came between them…


  1. aaa I was really missing your posts =) yes I liked THE SILVER CORD very much too!!!!! And you're welcome, I'm glad that I can help with your blog =)

  2. Just watched this-Oh My GOSH! Irene is wonderful, and so is Frances Dee (an actress I don't know too much about)--that moment when she tells the mom off is incredible. Laura Hope Crews reminds me a little bit of Mary Boland as the Countess De Lave in The Women; not evil or bad, but silly and fussy.(Then again, some of those kissing scenes-yuck!) Joel McCrea was(IMHO)one of the handsomest actors working at the time, but what a dishrag of a role. Until the very last minute I thought it would end as a tragedy, with BOTH sons still at the mother's side.
    And I have to mention Irene's appearance in the final scenes--when she shows up to finally tell off the mother, she's wearing the chic'est outfit I've seen her in yet, very nice!

  3. Thanks, Renata! You see, Rob already watched it...:)
    Hi Rob, maybe you didn´t notice that but Irene wears exactly the same outfit when they arrive...seem to be her travelling clothes. I´m very fond of Irene´s character Christina: that mixture of warmhearted, sober and analytic is smashing. And, sigh, Irene is wonderful...that´s going to be a problem because soon I´ll sound like a broken record about that lady!;) You are right about Frances Dee, certainly an actress worthwhile checking out! About Mrs.Phelps - she isn´t evil, but in her manipulative ways really dangerous in opposite to Countess de Lave in The Women, who is just a likeable rattlebrain and not in the least a threat to anyone. The idea to substitute romance by motherhood gives me the creeps...Susanne