Sunday 6 December 2009

Love Affair (1932)

Director: Thornton Freeland
Stars: Dorothy Mackaill and Humphrey Bogart
TCM's star of the month for Dec 2009 is Humphrey Bogart, to celebrate what would have been his 110th birthday on 25 Dec, at least according to Warner Brothers.
A precode soap opera of a romance, of all things, this one opens with heiress Carol Owen getting the treatment from a French beautician called Felice at Anatol's. I have no idea what all the torture devices are but they look scary because this is 1932 and even more scary is that she signs a blank cheque to pay her bill. That's trust for you, or just idiocy, and she doesn't seem to be an idiot, even though she gets her hair done right before taking her first flight. She knows what she wants and she does it, regardless of any other considerations. That's why when she gets to Beechhurst Flying School she comes up with reasons why she doesn't want the pilots the owner suggests, she wants that guy that taught her about ailerons the day before. You know, the one with the black hair and the brown eyes. What's his name? Ah yes, Humphrey Bogart.

The earliest I've seen Bogie was a 1930 John Ford picture called Up the River, with him scarily young and Spencer Tracy no different. This one is from a couple of years later and he looks more like the thirties Warner Brothers Bogie many know well. There are a couple of differences though. For a start he's the lead, albeit behind Dorothy Mackaill, and he lives up to that status without hesitation. He's also very expressive, both facially and vocally, far more than he would be as a gangster and before he became the epitome of the jaded hardboiled dick. He's Jim Leonard, an aeronautical engineer who they write up in Progressive Aviation as one of the 'crackerjack technical men in the flying game'. He's built a motor, one that he calls 'the cheapest, the strongest, the fastest and the safest' and he believes it too.

He can fly though and he does, taking Miss Owen through the works at her request, twisting this way and that, looping the loop, you name it, and in a biplane too given the year. He has fun putting her through these routines and asking 'OK?' She survives though and returns the favour by driving him into town at ludicrous speed and asking him the very same question. He doesn't hang around though, given that she takes him to her house which is full of other members of the idle rich, having great fun at being bored. He leaves when she announces that she needs to economise and promptly tries to auction off her butler, Kibbee, albeit apparently in jest.

They end up a couple of course, given that they're chalk and cheese. As he tells her, 'You're from Cartiers and I'm from Woolworth's'. He gets up at six, which is when she goes to bed. She has a large house with a family butler, he has an apartment full of blueprints and motor parts. She writes blank cheques to her beautician, he's saved up all the money he could to start a company to manufacture his motor. The real catch is that the more attention he gives to her the less time he spends at his business, and while he refuses to take her money to finance his operations she finds a way to get it to him anyway without his knowledge, through a rich man called Bruce Hardy who has been proposing to her for years. The other half of the setup is that Leonard's sister is an aspiring actress who is trying to set up Hardy to finance a play.

It's surprising just how well the inevitable is taken care of given that there's only 68 minutes for it all to unfold. There's precisely nothing surprising here at all, except how much Bogart moves, so it really didn't deserve to be quite as good as it is. Bogie is excellent in the lead, suggesting that the studio execs of the mid thirties should have been able to see a little clearer just what he could do than it's traditionally been suggested. No, he isn't the star he'd become a decade or so later but he was obviously a capable leading man even this early.

Dorothy Mackaill is an engaging leading lady, a sort of lesser Barbara Stanwyck here, but endearing nonetheless. She was a English silent screen actress with credits dating back to 1920 and she's just as good in her next film, backing up Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in No Man of Her Own. She could easily have succeeded in the sound era, but she chose to retire in 1934 to take care of her invalid mother, making only one further film after that, Bulldog Drummond at Bay in 1937. This is a surprisingly decent entry in both their careers, towards the end for one and the beginning for the other.

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