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The Shining Hour
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MGM. 76 minutes. US release: 11/18/38.
VHS release: 6/24/92.
Warner Archive DVD release: 3/23/09.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Olivia Riley"), Margaret Sullavan, Robert Young, Melvyn Douglas, Fay Bainter, Allyn Joslyn, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar O'Shea, Frank Albertson, Harry Barris.
Credits: Based on the play by Keith Winter (which opened in New York City on 2/13/34). Screenplay: Jane Murfin, Ogden Nash. Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Director: Frank Borzage. Camera: George Folsey. Music: Franz Waxman. Dance Arranger: De Marco. Costumes: Adrian. Editor: Frank E. Hull.
Plot Summary: Frank Borzage directed this doomed romance starring Joan Crawford as Olivia Riley, the young bride of Henry Linden (Melvyn Douglas), an upper-crust conservative. Olivia is a show girl in a New York nightclub and when Henry brings her home to his family -- his brother David (Robert Young) and spinster sister Hannah (Fay Bainter) -- on his family's estate, Olivia is given the cold shoulder, particularly by David, who is actually attracted to Olivia himself. Olivia strikes up a friendship with David's wife Judy (Margaret Sullivan), who feels as shut out from the family as Olivia does. Olivia is attracted to David herself, and Hannah tries to drive Olivia away before things really heat up. Judy recognizes the attraction and is willing to leave David so he can pursue his romance with Olivia. David has no idea how to handle the situation, and Henry is blissfully unaware of the simmering passions between David and his wife. But Hannah brings the situation to its inevitable, and tragic, outcome buy setting fire to the estate. ~ Paul Brenner, All Movie Guide
Notes: In production from 8/22/38 to 10/3/38.
New York Times
January 20, 1939
Several seasons ago, a play called "The Shining Hour" opened on Broadway, and there was considerable speculation upon the derivation of its title and why. Yesterday a remotely similar screen version of that same play appeared at the Capitol, and the mystery was plausibly revealed. The title would seem to be derived from a nursery jingle which runs something to this effect: "How doth the busy shining hour improve each little B?" And the meaning, in case you are in doubt, should be apparent upon examination.
For the presence of a star-studded cast which includes Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullavan, Melvyn Douglas, Fay Bainter and Robert Young; the directorial talents of Frank Borzage and the elegancies of dress and set as designed by Adrian and Cedric Gibbons fail to disguise a hackneyed story of a definitely inferior grade. As a play, it is faintly remembered, "The Shining Hour" wasn't freighted with reason—and the hysterical mental processes of its characters were generously explained as those of Yorkshire Englishmen. As a film, it is even less credible—and the scene is America!
Here we have Miss Crawford, according to box-office custom, as a glorified gal of the streets—an erstwhile Tenth Avenue chippy turned ballroom dancing queen—who marries a Wisconsin farmer (Mr. Douglas) against his brother's and sister's consent and goes to live with the cozy family on a farm (2,000 cows). There the brother (Mr. Young) falls in love with her against his wife's (Miss Sullavan's) consent and Miss Crawford reluctantly reciprocates, to the utter confusion of all. It is only when Miss Sullavan attempts to end her miserable life in a burning house and is saved by Miss Crawford that all see the shining light and pair off again according to their original selections.
Of the entire cast, Miss Sullavan gives the best performance, managing to capture some poignancy and a touch of hopeless heroism in her self-sacrificial role. Miss Bainter, as a selfish elder sister, is properly spiteful and arrogant, and both Mr. Douglas and Mr. Young are, like most gentlemen farmers, charmingly dull. Miss Crawford wears many gowns—and most becomingly, too—but none of them seem to assist her in giving shape or dimension to a role which (at least) requires much elaboration. In the opening sequence of the picture she is at her best in a generally accomplished dance number with Tony De Marco. But that, unfortunately, sets a pace which neither she nor the film sustains.
The Shining Hour is studded with a quintet of marquee names, headed by Joan Crawford, but that draw value is all that exhibitors can depend on, as picture is a confused jungle of cross-purpose motivations and situations that fail entirely to arouse interest. Basic trouble with the production lies in the script. Frank Borzage could not overcome basic story faults in his direction.
If you've seen The Shining Hour and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Michael Lia (February 2010)
Rating: -1/2 of 5
I am just not sure about this one. I want to rate it higher because I expect it to be a good film. I want it to be good. With two strong women co-stars -- Margaret Sullivan and (proving religion, gin and matches do not mix) -- how could it miss? It does, however, because of a bad script and bad story and the same old (though I like having him around) playing a nice guy. And then there is likeable but bland Robert Young playing a cold man with a desire for Miss Crawford.
The script leaves Miss Crawford’s nightclub and nightlife in New York City and heads to Wisconsin. (I lived in Wisconsin for one year and if the people there could burn down my house they would have!) Miss Crawford's drama is taking placeon a farm in Wisconsin. Pretty funny and I know just how she feels. She won’t fit in and they do not want her to fit in. They will do everything in their Sydney Greenstreet power to get rid of her. Not a fun position to be in for anybody.
One thing the film has going for it (besides Miss Crawford socking some twerp in the jaw) is the appearance of Hattie McDaniel as Joan’s (you guessed it) maid. Which brings up a question: Why did we not see the staff at Fay Bainter’s house? One man helps with Miss Crawford’s luggage, but that is all I remember.
Miss Crawford and Miss McDaniel play well together but Miss McDaniel isn’t given a chance to show some sparks and possibly save the film. What little she does is simple and she manages to bring in a few laughs and a bit of character.
I am curious about the stage play this film is based on: Why does it succeed and the film fail? Why was Miss Crawford attracted to this role? Why was Mr. Mayer happy to purchase the ? Why did the writers change the location from England to Wisconsin? Was it just too much for everyone to pull off? Did the Director Frank Borzage have a different film in mind?
It could have worked if everyone’s performance had nothing to do with the film. On that level the performances and characterizations are good.
The film and Miss Crawford are given everything the studio has to give, which is plenty; all the MGM technicians by that point were as knowledgeable and professional as Miss Crawford was in her job (especially Adrian -- wow, some of those shoulder pads were getting big!). I only wish the writers and editor could have done more, but it was not as simple for them as it was for Adrian.
Miss Crawford is only to blame for bad judgment (she was hopeful) and not responsible for the bad writing and the bad story line. Good writing and a good story line are what this film desperately needs. Try it out and I am sure you will call it fair.
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