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This Modern Age
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MGM. 68 minutes. US release: 8/29/31.
DVD release: 4/6/10.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Valentine Winters"), Pauline Frederick, Neil Hamilton, Monroe Owsley, Hobart Bosworth, Emma Dunn, Albert Conti, Adrienne D'Ambricourt, Marcelle Corday.
Credits: From the story "Girls Together" by Mildred Cram. (Originally appeared in College Humor magazine, 2/31.) Continuity and dialogue: Sylvia Thalberg, Frank Butler. Director: Nicholas Grinde. Camera: Charles Rosher. Editor: William LeVanway. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Costumes: Adrian.
In production March - April 1931.
An early title for the film was "The Mirage."
Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times
September 7, 1931
A flaxen-haired Joan Crawford is the principal figure in "This Modern Age," a pictorial attraction now at the Capitol. It is a film story which glides along merrily most of the time, but now and again it has its off moments.
The main reason for the title is a carefree young man named Tony, who is given to reckless driving and drinking. In fact he is never actually sober, and occasionally he is beheld in his evening clothes at high noon making a call on his friends. Apparently he would sooner give a bottle of wine to a girl than a bouquet of flowers. Monroe Owsley does exceedingly well by the part of Tony.
As for Miss Crawford, she gives a better portrayal here than she has in any of her previous talking pictures. As Valentine Winters she succeeds in being quite convincing in cheery and serious moments. A further asset to this production is Pauline Frederick, who figures as Diane, Valentine's divorced mother, who until the closing scenes is the mistress of a Frenchman named André de Graignon.
Valentine turns up in Paris to see her mother, after being for many years in the custody of her father. It is not until the climax is reached that she learns of her mother's relations with de Graignon.
An instance of implausibility is where Valentine first meets Bob, a Harvard football player and the son of well-to-do, conservative parents. Tony and Valentine are in an automobile which turns turtle after a crash. Bob, who is in another car, helps Valentine to crawl out of the wrecked conveyance. She talks to Bob as though nothing untoward had happened and a few moments later she thinks of Tony. No sooner is his name mentioned than the inebriated young man extricates himself from the overturned automobile. All thought of the accident is quickly dismissed, as neither Tony nor Valentine is hurt. But it is quite plain that cupid has scored, for from then on the narrative is chiefly concerned with the love affair between Valentine and Bob.
When Bob and his father and mother go to see Valentine and Diane, their quiet game of bridge is rudely interrupted by Tony bursting into the house. He is followed by a group of friends, all presumably the worse for wine. Then there is trouble from de Graignon and the truth comes out concerning Diane. But the shadow-story tellers, as might be surmised, find a way to end matters satisfactorily.
Neil Hamilton does very well as the noble Bob and Albert Conti rises to what is demanded of him as de Graignon.
Nicholas Grinde, director of this picture, has done splendid work by his comedy, but his serious interludes might have been handled more effectively.
Chester Hale's stage contribution, "Going! Going! Gone!" has some glamorous scenes and several good numbers.
Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Online Reviews (2004):
...A romantic melodrama aimed at a female audience. It played to audiences of shop women of that era who fantasize that their lives could suddenly become glamorous....Its tame soap opera morality tale belies its title as something modern. The acting was high-strung on all fronts, with Joan Crawford offering a particularly high-handed performance. The melodrama is an attempt to explore the modern age's new morality and the ensuing social conflicts that arise. It can be enjoyed for many of the wrong reasons such as by its campy unintentional comedic moments and its hollow dialogue that caused more giggles than sober reflection. Complete review.
pre-code.com review and screen caps (2018)
If you've seen This Modern Age 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 (January 2011)
Rating: - 1/2 of 5
Miss Crawford summed this movie up in one word…FORGET! I tend to agree. Maybe that would be a better title: “Forget This Modern Age”!
MGM supplied a nice title with potential, but the script was written in the MGM school nursery. It makes everyone bland and foolish, striving to pull our heart strings so that we should even care about Miss Crawford’s dilemma with her mother. The director Nicholas Grinde definitely clichéd his name with this movie -- it certainly feels like he just “ground” it out. It is a factory production-line movie with no heart. The editor was also asleep that week.
There is nothing that stands out except for Miss . She is a superb actress, but what could have been a meaningful film and maybe a minor classic instead becomes a meaningless programmer to fill a slot in one of the Loews theatres.
The pairing of Miss Crawford and Miss Frederick was the main draw of this movie after (The Primrose Path, Torch Song) became ill and had to withdraw. (The bleaching of Miss Crawford’s hair was initially to match Miss Rambeau’s features, and when the dark-haired Frederick stepped in, MGM kept Joan blonde. If they had only focused on the script and not the hair…)
Miss Frederick tries to give the role depth and feeling, and tries to add meaning to her relationship with Miss Crawford, but the script makes her sink. The director missed his opportunity to grace us with her talent. Miss Frederick behaves as if she were still in a silent movie…she has the power and my attention, but it all falls flat.
Miss Crawford’s acting is caught under the rubble, and she has nothing to cling to. Her male co-stars can offer no help because they are not just flat but vapid, and they fall off the cliff. (No offense, Commissioner Gordon.) There really is nothing left except a fast happy ending.
My favorite character actors are wasted, too; Emma Dunn just gets to roll her eyes and look worried, and the rest are not worth mentioning, except for the other disturbing pain of this movie: Miss Frederick's lover, played by Albert Conti, is supposed to be a Frenchman but his lisp unfortunately is very unromantic, and he portrays his character like a greasy spoon.
I sat in wonderment when Miss Crawford in one scene is being driven by the zealous drunk who is really a pain! I suppose he does have some moments, but the director makes nothing of it. They crash the automobile and it flips over! This is so disturbing to me because Miss Crawford pops out of the overturned auto and says something stupid and corny when she should have been killed or bruised or hurt. It is almost shameful and laughable at the same time…try it some and see how you come out of it! Then try this movie and see how you feel.
Shane Estes (July 2010)
Rating: of 5
This is a very cute little film. I had absolutely no expectations before viewing because I hadn’t read too much about it other than what Joan said in Conversations with Joan Crawford (CWJC): “Forget This Modern Age." So it didn’t really strike me as anything special or significant; however, when I finally sat down and watched it, I found myself instantly engrossed. There’s never a dull moment.
Here we have a pre-1932 Joan really coming into her own and exuding much of that confidence and beauty onscreen that we come to expect in her later films. At this point she already has a few pretty good films under her belt ( Dance, Fools, Dance; ) but has yet to make the string of wildly famous films she starred in in late 1931 and 1932 (Possessed, Grand Hotel, ). This film features those amazing Art Deco sets typical of the era and the blonde Joan we saw in her previous film, Laughing Sinners. I just love those rare blonde Joan moments!
The film itself is very fast-paced and scenes are typically short and right to the point, and because of this the viewer is never bored for a single moment. I’m not really sure if this film should fall under comedy or drama, so I’ll go with "dramedy." It’s both really, but with the way the film ends, I would say it’s more of a comedy than anything else. There are many comical scenes throughout this film: men passed out under bear skin rugs, oversized vases falling off grand staircases onto couches, art deco statues being dressed in clothes and hats, drunken parties, etc., so I would say the comedy outweighs the drama.
The drama in this film is really quite simple: Valentine (Crawford) goes off to visit her estranged mother Diane (Pauline Frederick) in Paris, and while there ends up partying hard with alcoholic party boy Tony (Monroe Owsley) for a while before she meets sophisticated and sober Robert (Neil Hamilton), who falls for her after rescuing her from a drunken car wreck. As it turns out, Valentine’s mother is actually the mistress of André de Graignon (Albert Conti), who owns the house that Valentine’s mother is letting her live in (gasp! the horror!). When the secret is finally out, Valentine gets pissed off at everybody and runs off with drunken Tony, only to be rescued/kidnapped in the end by the valiant and noble Robert.
I could see how Joan would look at this film as something forgettable. It really doesn’t even compare to her more memorable roles of the time like Letty or Flaemmchen, and it’s one of her shorter films, with a run time of 68 minutes; however, I do not think this film should be discarded so easily. It has its place in the Crawford history and is a shining little gem that was finally dusted off for a 2010 DVD release. It’s a professional film with a handsome production and some really great acting. If anything, watch it for its comedic value. Some memorable quotes are when Crawford wakes up with a really bad hangover and comes to the realization “Champagne dies hard, doesn’t it?”; and when Tony is talking to her about marriage he says, “I love you too much to put you in jail for life.”
Mike O'Hanlon (October 2007)
Rating: - 1/2 of 5
The only reason you need to watch 1931’s This Modern Age is for the beautiful cinematography. That’s it. The first thing to strike my eye was how beautiful Joan looked with the blonde hair and dark tan. Charles Rosher, the cameraman, did an excellent job filming Joan’s face.
In reviewing the actual film, there isn’t much to report. Joan plays basically the twentieth century equivalent of a Puritan, but she drinks and smokes like a “modern girl.” When she discovers that her mother is a kept woman, Joan attempts to end the relationship that they have been trying to build for the past hour. The story line isn’t that gripping, the actors do an okay job, but the film ends abruptly. (Maybe that isn’t the worst problem.) Contrary to what haters would write, it’s not her fault. I can’t imagine any actress being inspired to achieve greatness in a dud like This Modern Age.
The film could have been an attempt from MGM to maintain Joan’s lovable, sexy image. Around the time this movie was made, reporters were having a field day digging up dirt on her life before . The unfortunate thing is this was pre-Code Hollywood . Why couldn’t have Joan been in sexier films like 1931’s A Free Soul or Safe in Hell? According to various critics, she would have come off as “cheap,” and was too immature for the racy stuff. Whatever, it would have been a hell of a lot more interesting.
The actors, as I have previously written, did an okay job. Neil Hamilton, whom I liked in his earlier 1931 movie, Strangers May Kiss, comes off likable again. However, he never seemed well-cast playing opposite Crawford or . He was too much of the small-town type. Pauline Frederick does a great job at playing the mother. Joan seems immature, and at times, just annoying. In the scenes where she pretends to be drunk, she sounds more like a sneaky five-year-old trying to pull one over on another playmate.
As a whole, the only thing one needs to watch the film for is Joan’s beauty. Even that gives a semi-good reason to watch this dud. Bless you, Charles Rosher!
Stephanie Jones (December 2005)
Rating: of 5
In 1931's This Modern Age, Joan reprises a by-this-time (for her) rather tired "good egg" character fond of "smiling bravely through her tears." Here, she's Valentine Winters, a 20-something child of divorce who, after her father dies, comes to Paris to live with her mother Diane (veteran stage actress Pauline Frederick).
Diane lives a mildly louche life as the longtime mistress of a Frenchman (a fact she hides from Valentine) and enjoys entertaining a mildly fast crowd that, as in many early Joan-movies, enjoys tipsy pool parties, dancing, and world-wearily "witty" conversation 'til the breakfast-hours. (The partiers are all harmless, of course, despite being late risers.)
Valentine and Diane bond immediately and Val fits right in with the crowd, led by the boozy, lightweight Tony (Monroe Owsley). Val and Tony are amused by each other and flirt a bit. When Tony blearily runs his car off the road one evening, though, Val is rescued by the stalwart, rather stiff Bob (Neil Hamilton), and Val's real romance begins. Bob comes from a conservative, wealthy family and he and Val almost immediately become engaged, despite his stodgy parents' disapproval. Bob soon becomes disturbed by Valentine's "rowdy" gang. After he overhears Diane's lover giving her an ultimatum about telling Valentine the truth about their "illicit" relationship, Bob demands that Val leave her mother's and friends' bad influence immediately. Val is indignant at Bob's condescension and breaks up with him, then goes on to demand that her mother leave her lover and become an honest woman!
The thin plot of This Modern Age is unredeemed by any interesting characters and is hampered by a "moral message" that's rather nonsensical. First of all, all of the supposedly shady, decadent characters aren't that shady or decadent. Diane, the mother, is nice; her French lover is nice; the dissolute Tony is nice enough. It's hard to see what Bob needs to rescue Valentine from. If the film's conflict were that Bob was an insufferable prig who needed comeuppance, that would be one thing; but Valentine, despite her telling Bob off, actually agrees with him---demanding that her middle-aged mother not live with anyone outside of matrimony and instead set up housekeeping in a tiny apartment with her daughter!
I realize that the Code was newly in effect at this time, but even so---for plot's (and pete's) sake, at least Tony and the Frenchman could have been a bit more sinister, and the mother's and Val's "plights" more dire if the viewer is to get any sense of real conflict, or sense of who to logically root for, especially since the seemingly open-minded Valentine winds up being as priggish as Bob.
Joan here is in her by-now usual late-1920s/'30/'31 form: a bit self-consciously spunky, both her gaiety and her seriousness rather forced at times. Her scenes with Pauline Frederick fall into the same pattern; for the most part, the two emote at each other rather than engage in any subtle interplay. Neither is bad; they're just not especially moving or convincing together as newly-bonded mother and daughter.
Joan's acting style underwent a major transformation beginning with the film immediately succeeding this one---1931's Possessed, followed by equally natural performances in 1932's Grand Hotel, Letty Lynton, and Rain. This Modern Age is a welcome farewell to the stilted style prevalent in many of Joan's early films and in her early film performances.
Below: A US handbill (left) and US newspaper ads.
Below: Costume sketch by Adrian.
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