Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself: What if this were to happen in real life?
If you're at all familiar with the premise of Noel Coward's PRIVATE LIVES you'll know that something like this could very well happen to anyone, really, in this day and age (especially with so many married couples filing for divorce). Let me explain: our film opens with two weddings. Amanda (Norma Shearer) is marrying the ultra stiff Victor (Reginald Denny) and the simpering Sibyl (Una Merkel) is marrying abusive cad Elyot (Robert Montgomery). Each couple books into a hotel in France for their honeymoon and are assigned adjoining rooms with adjoining terraces.
So, what's the big deal? I hear you muttering into your morning cup of coffee. It just so happens that Amanda and Elyot have been married before and they only recently divorced because the two of them couldn't keep their claws off of each other (and not the way you're thinking either!). They fought like cats and dogs constantly while they were married, eventually seeking a welcome respite from one another in the form of a divorce.
A delicate situation like this is entirely plausible in 2014 and I'm sure it's happened to at least a handful of newly married couples in the past - you re-marry, settle down, and run into your ex-spouse on either your honeymoon or a trip to the local grocer. What then? How do you react? What do you do? Do you run away as quickly as possible in the opposite direction? Do you confront your ex in the cheese and dairy aisle? Do you hope he or she doesn't spot you while you're lying flat on your back in the sand, soaking up the Spanish sun? Well, if you're Amanda and Elyot you confront each other on your adjoining balconies, have a cocktail, smoke a cigarette, reminisce about all of the fights you've had in the past, and run away together leaving your new spouses in the dust without even a warning.
|L - R: Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery, & Una Merkel.|
Meanwhile, what's become of our jilted bride and groom? Victor and Sibyl reappear in the last quarter of the film, discovering the illicit lovers in their snow-capped cabin retreat. Strangely enough, and befitting the reputation of any good pre-Code, the foursome sit down at the dining room table, have breakfast together, and iron out their differences and issues as adults. I swear, this whole set-up is odd but the scene is played perfectly by all four actors!
So, who's leaving whom and who's staying together? Will Amanda and Elyot bid their tryst (and each other) goodbye for good and go back to their beleaguered spouses? Or will the two of them escape into the sunset together paying absolutely no heed to the new marital vows they pledged to Victor and Sibyl? If you've seen PRIVATE LIVES before you know what happens (stop giggling!) but if you haven't and are curious to know how the story ended, I suggest you order a copy of this DVD from Warner Archive and find out for yourself - I highly recommend this film! It's one of the best pre-Codes I've seen and Norma Shearer and Una Merkel are absolutely charming in it. The script is fast and loose, the hijinks are hilarious and the set-ups are ridiculously entertaining.
PRIVATE LIVES is available to order through the Warner Archive shop.