Strangers May Kiss (1931)

Lisbeth Corbin (Norma Shearer) is a forward thinking young woman who isn’t one to bow to social norms.  The expectation that she particularly loathes is the idea that all women want to get married.  She and her boyfriend Alan (Neil Hamilton) are both perfectly happy with not being married.  On the other hand, there’s Steve (Robert Montgomery), Lisbeth’s former lover and current friend.  Steve still loves Lisbeth and repeatedly asks her to marry him, but she’s not budging on the whole “no marriage” thing.  Her anti-marriage stance is further cemented when one evening, she goes out to a nightclub with her aunt Celia and Celia catches her husband cavorting with another woman.  Devastated, Celia throws herself out of her apartment window.  When Alan has to go to Mexico for work, she follows him.  However, she soon learns the real reason Alan is content with not being married: he’s already married to another woman.  To add insult to injury, when Alan is sent on another assignment in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t arrange for Lisbeth to come with him.  Instead, he arranges a trip home for her.  Lisbeth is absolutely heartbroken and instead of going home, she goes to Europe, where she becomes famous for being the life of every party.

Two years pass and men are flocking to her left and right, including Steve, who has followed her all over Europe.  Steve still wants to marry her, but she’s even less interested in marriage than before.  She’s still carrying a torch for Alan and when she gets a telegram from him saying that he’s gotten a divorce, she’s thrilled and immediately goes to see him.  Unfortunately, he sent that telegram before he found out about Lisbeth’s new reputation and he is not at all pleased about it.  When she arrives, he refuses to see her.  Lisbeth is heartbroken again, but Steve proposes yet again, and she still turns him down.  The two of them return to New York and resume a relationship, until they run into Alan at the theater one night.  In the time they’ve been apart, Alan has forgiven Lisbeth and once again, Lisbeth goes running right back to him.

I really liked Strangers May Kiss.  The story had some flaws, but it had a good cast.  As always, Norma was fabulous in it.  So very charming, natural, and with just the right amount of vulnerability.  Plus it’s always a joy to see her with Robert Montgomery, who proves to be quite the scene stealer as the eternally boozy Steve.  I’ve been really into watching the 1960s Batman TV series lately, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a young Neil Hamilton in a starring role here.  Too bad I liked him much better as Commissioner Gordon because Alan was a real jerk.  I was definitely rooting for Lisbeth to wind up with Steve over Alan because it’s completely beyond me why anyone would want to end up with Alan.  Charming but tipsy should win out over someone who hides being married any day.  It’s also interesting to see a movie so openly challenging the idea that everybody must get married.  It’s just not an idea put forth too often in movies or on television, especially when it’s a female character.  Strangers May Kiss isn’t a perfect movie, but still very pre-code and worth taking a look at.

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2 responses to “Strangers May Kiss (1931)

  1. Like pretty much all Robert Montgomery movies, I enjoyed this one. Being totally in love with him, I agree that Lisbeth was an idiot to be stuck on Alan. Norma Shearer did so many of these pre-code roles that they kind of all blur together as her characters are not that much different. I believe the whole reason she got into these sexy scandalous roles was because her husband was an MGM big wig and landed her an initial precode wrongdoer spot. Her power faded after he died or they got divorced or something…
    Great post!

    • Norma was pretty smart and she saw pre-codes as a way to shake up her image. I know Thalberg initially didn’t think she could pull off those kinds of roles, so when she really wanted the part in The Divorcee, she went and had some saucy pictures taken to prove she could do it. Her character in Strangers May Kiss (and the plot too, for that matter) really reminded me of The Divorcee. They just switched divorce out for not wanting to get married, changed the names and settings, and the two movies basically play out the same way.

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