Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Illicit (1931)


You know this is the age old story of a couple who are in love, having sex and the girl doesn't want to get married. Wait, you say, that's not the age old story! This twist on an age-old story is what makes this classic pre-code and give it such a racy title. This "illicit" relationship we are to understand when the film opens has been going on for a while and he's starting to get anxious to settle down. The opening act, a typical evening with Dick (James Rennie) and Anne (Barbara Stanwyck) is very amusing and engaging and sustains our interest in these characters for the next 90 minutes, well almost (truth be told, I found the last half hour pretty dull). The romance between is mostly sweet and there is nothing really dangerous implied. Though the movie is dated, it does deal with the topic in an honest way. I think even today couples manage to live together more or less while maintaining a careful balance with their parents and other traditional forces. Another interesting twist is that Dick's father is quite sympathetic to them and it is their friends who are getting married off themselves that put the most pressure on the couple. I also could sympathize with the fact that one of the reason Anne doesn't want to get married is that she doesn't want to have children right away and this is something families inevitably begin campaigning for the minute a couple are wed. There are ocf course romantic rivals, but there is little suspense that the main characters won't find their way back in the end. If Illicit were just a bit funnier it would be a classic comedy and if it were a bit more intense as a drama it would be a classic in that realm as well.

Stanwyck gives a more restrained performance than usual and indeed her character is a change from her usual wise girl from the streets. Now she is a wise girl from society, but she still plays smart and sexy better than anyone I can think of. Rennie was a surprise to me, he is a lot more likable and interesting than her usual leading men from this period. I looked him up and after starring in this and a few other pictures he must have gone back to Broadway. He returned to the movies at the start of the Second World War, and he had supporting roles in a few big movies like Now Voyager.


kda0121 said...

Just finished watching Illicit. I liked it, but wasn't bowled over. Stanwyck's performance was much different here, as opposed to her Night Nurse and Baby Face characters. She's much softer and refined here. Even her voice seems a little higher and softened.

Being old enough to know that precodes are racy for their time, I can imagine youngsters today watching and wandering what the big deal is. Jen, I think you hit the nail on the head by saying even though the movie is dated, it deals with marriage in an honest way. No matter what the current mores, relationships aren't always easy.

I am always happy to see Joan Blondell and wish her part had been bigger and I have a fondness for Charles Butterworth's befuddled comedy as Georgie.

Jennythenipper said...

I agree, I love Joan Blondell. She is great in Night Nurse!

I really could take Butterworth or leave him. He seems like the necessary third wheel character that so many romantic comedies need to have.

Yeah, even though living together is now "no big deal" it is more of a deal than many young people let on. In my twenties I knew lots of people in relationships like the couple here, who were almost but not quite living together because that would look bad but they weren't planning on getting married either. It was always great to be roommates with someone like that because they basically paid half the rent and were never home.

AbbyNormal said...

You know, I struggle with this a bit even now. I don't know that I ever want to get married. I will never have kids so I don't know that there is a reason to bother with marriage? I still get strange looks when I say that so I don't think we are quite as modern as we like to think we are.