IN NAME ONLY (1939) 

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Carole Lombard
Cary Grant
Kay Francis
Charles Coburn
Helen Vinson
Katharine Alexander
Jonathan Hale
Nella Walker
Peggy Ann Garner

John Cromwell


About Grant

Time: 94 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Romance

It's sort of a shame that the only film to ever pair the king and queen of screwball comedy – Grant and Lombard – is a romantic drama. That is until you find yourself wholly taken in by their lovely chemistry and emotional honesty. I don't think I've ever seen a film that tackles the topics of adultery and divorce with such intelligence, maturity and decency. Lombard plays Julie Eden, a widowed, single mother who happens to meet Alec Walker while out fishing on a sunny summer day. They immediately spark and agree to meet again the following afternoon. Their relationship begins to blossom, but is cut short when Julie discovers that Alec is a married man. A connection like theirs doesn't happen every day, however, she refuses to be a home wrecker. Alec assures her there is no home to destroy. He and his wife Maida (Francis) are separated in every way except legally. He's only stayed with her because his parents are so fond of her and he had no one else to love. Now that he's found Julie, he demands a divorce from Maida, being unwilling to live the lie that they are happily married any longer. What they fail to anticipate is Maida's spiteful unwillingness to give up the lifestyle and social status to which she's become accustomed.

She hasn't been happy in their marriage either, but she'll be damned if he's to find wedded bliss and leave her with nothing. If she can't be with her true love, than neither can he. Being of a trusting nature, Alec initially believes Maida when she says she'll file for divorce in Europe to lessen the scandal. Julie doesn't trust Maida as far as she could throw her and when Christmas comes around with no wedding date in sight, she gives up on ever having a future with Alec. She can no longer take the strain and humiliation of being the other woman. She knows Maida is playing a game with their lives, but it's one they can't possibly win, especially when Maida's willing to destroy them to secure her victory. With his future in the toilet, Alec does what any heartbroken man would to ease his pain: he drinks himself stupid. Of course, drowning his sorrows only makes the situation worse, leaving him at death's door. It's Julie's unselfish love and devotion that exposes the money-grubbing Maida for the cold-hearted bitch she really is. It's a confrontation well worth waiting for and one that helps moderate the melodrama of Alec's desperate fight to stay alive.

"What's wrong with romance? What's wrong with illusions, as far as that goes, if you can keep them?"

What makes this romance so different from many made at the time is that the problems it tackles are adult, complex and very, very real. This is a story that happens every day, to ordinary people and it's handled here with class, humor and sincerity. Grant's character didn't go out looking for love. He had willingly suppressed his own happiness for several years, believing in the vows that he made. When Alec meets Julie he doesn't carry on an affair behind his wife's back, but does the decent thing and asks her to let him out of their marriage. Maida's refusal is vicious, yet I'm sure there are plenty of ladies out there who would probably do the same thing, especially if they were hitched to Cary Grant. Lombard has the toughest role of the trio since it's hard to respect a woman who comes between a man and his wife. She's no saint, but she doesn't put out either, sticking to her principles of marriage or nothing. They have a relationship while the divorce is pending, but it's not a fully sexual one. The film does a wonderful job exploring every angle and only falters on a few occasions. The ending is ridiculous in the extreme, but I guess they were looking to create a situation that would prove to all the true natures of the ladies involved.

IN NAME ONLY is a quiet gem that gives both Lombard and Grant the opportunity to explore deeper and more straightforward characters than they were used to playing. They hit every note perfectly and make you yearn for their happiness. Kay Francis is also wonderfully wicked as Maida. She may be mean-spirited and bitter, but Francis allows her fear, vulnerability and hopelessness to show through. Though the film will illicit tears from many viewers, they come from honest emotion, not plot theatrics. Julie's stoic dignity while lying to save Alec's life is worth the price of admission alone. This film is not available for purchase, so check out TCM for the next viewing opportunity. If you're a fan of either lead actor this is one not to miss.

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