CAST

Norma Shearer
Clark Gable
Alexander Kirkland
Ralph Morgan
Robert Young
May Robson
Maureen O'Sullivan
Henry B. Walthall
Tad Alexander
DIRECTED BY

Robert Z. Leonard
PURCHASE

Movie
Soundtrack
Book
Poster
"In my mind, she'll always belong to Gordon. I couldn't share a woman, not even with a ghost."
Time: 110 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama
While the bare bones of this film are excellent, itís the execution of Eugene OíNeillís classic play that never quite gets off the ground. What makes it unique – the audience actually hears the thoughts of the characters in voiceover throughout the film – is also the main reason it lacks any energy or conviction. Every scene carries on twice as long since weíre forced to listen to what the characters tell each other as well as the unflinching truth rolling around in their heads. This plot device while laying the inner emotions of the characters bare, stagnates the action and leaves the story little to reveal as it unfolds. We know all the big secrets right from the beginning, ruining the surprises that usually come from conflicts and their resolutions.

Shearer overplays her role as the long-suffering Nina, who loses her true love in the war and then sacrifices her own happiness for the emotionally frail young man she agrees to marry. Sam (Kirkland) is devoted to her, but his familyís dark secret forces Nina to make some rather desperate choices that eventually end up destroying any chance she has of finding true happiness in her life. Charlie Marsden (Morgan), a dear friend of her fatherís, hoped he would be the one she would choose, but heís relegated to the sidelines of her world ever watchful and waiting for his moment to shine in her eyes. Her irrepressible desire to give Sam a family ensnares the devotion (and DNA) of Ned Darrell (Gable), an old friend. His clinical detachment and desire to help his friend, quickly turns into an unquenchable passion for Nina. She feels the same way about him, yet is unwilling to destroy Samís hopes to launch theirs.

The rest of the film centers on their efforts to find happiness in the shadow of their deep, dark secret. Ninaís love for her son Gordon Ė and his for her - is the one thing that makes her life worth living. She gave up her dreams of romance with his birth and will do anything to ensure his future happiness. She walks an emotional tightrope, working constantly to keep the truth hidden. The storyís biggest problem is that as the decades fly by, her silence becomes more and more unnecessary. Will it really matter to Gordon, now a young man planning a family of his own, that Sam isnít his biological father? The film attempts to show that it will, but it fails to be convincing. For all intents and purposes, Sam is Gordonís father and Gordon already knows thereís been more than friendship between Nina and Ned over the years. Their misdeed is hardly worth all the energy Nina has expended to keep it buried. Itís not something youíd want your society friends to know, but Iím sure after the initial shock, Gordon would come to understand.

By the filmís final act, Ninaís desperate scheming becomes unbearable. Shearerís performance is so annoying I wished Gable would spit out the secret just to get her character to shut up. Of course, then weíd still have to hear what she was thinking. Why any man, much less the three portrayed here, would wish to bind themselves to such an unstable, fragile woman whoís never gotten over the loss of her first love is beyond me. Granted, sheís sweet and loving on the outside, but if they could hear what we hear, they would run for the hills like a cat with itsí tail on fire. Ultimately, her mystique is shattered by allowing us inside her head. For what it's worth, Gable gives a deeply moving performance as a man condemned to live on the sidelines, watching someone else enjoying the family that's rightly his. His simple and honest turn brings class and substance to this overwrought tale. While Iím all for more character-development and fewer explosions in feature films, this movie pushes the idea too far. If I wanted boatloads of exposition Iíd read a book. Itís an intriguing cinema experiment that has itsí moments of true poignancy; however, the narrative never quite comes together as a cohesive piece of drama. Too many thoughts spoil the experience.