PRIVATE LIVES. 1931

image  Private Lives was originally a play which was a big success on both sides of the Atlantic in 1930. Noel Coward had written it as a vehicle  for himself and Gertrude Lawrence.

Coward was multi-talented – writing, directing, acting and composing.( For Private Lives, he wrote a beautiful song for the two of them to sing, “Someday I’ll Find You”.)

Having now seen the 1931 MGM film version of the play, I am at a loss to understand why Irving Thalberg should decide to buy the film rights for his wife,Norma Shearer. The play is a very slight story of a divorced couple who have each remarried  and find themselves in the same hotel in France with their new spouses,about to start their honeymoons.
Robert Montgomery, who had co-starred with Norma Shearer several times,was chosen to play the Noel Coward part. (The couple who played the new spouses on Broadway were Laurence Olivier and his then wife,Jill Esmond, but neither of them made it to the screen. Their screen replacements were Reginald Denny and Una Merkel).

Norma Shearer,Robt Montgomery

Norma Shearer,Robt Montgomery

80% of the movie is Amanda (Shearer) and Elyot (Montgomery) talking and/or fighting with each other.I just found it annoying and tiresome to watch adults acting like children. That said, both performers are very capable at romantic comedy ( and I’m glad they didn’t attempt English accents), but the medium of film seemed all wrong for this gossamer thin plot. (and no one has ever filmed it again.)

Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence made an audio recording of some scenes from the play and I love hearing their cut glass accents and perfect delivery. I was amazed to find that MGM filmed a performance of the play on Broadway (presumably to help the director and cast). The tape has never surfaced as far as I know. I hate to think it never survived.

The following pictures give an idea of how Coward and Lawrence looked.

(Gertrude Lawrence was the original ‘Mrs Anna’ in Rodgers and Hammersteins’s The King and I and she had billing above the then unknown Yul Brynner.
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2 responses »

  1. Just discovered your delightful blog, Vienna. I especially loved your dialogue post. As a writer, I am, of course, fascinated with lively, witty dialogue. I’ve recently finished a fantasy involving filming the first talking Western on location. With fantasy you can mix and match stars and ideas that in a literal non-fiction book you cannot. I had fun at least. The ghosts of Marlene Dietrich and John Ford might visit me angry though! Thank you for a happy discovery, Roland

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