James Rennie

Illicit (1931)

While many young ladies are chomping at the bit to get married, especially to a rich man, Anne Vincent (Barbara Stanwyck) isn’t one of them.  She loves Dick Ives, II (James Rennie) dearly, but really does not want to get married.  He’s repeatedly asked her to marry him, but she’s afraid getting married would ruin their relationship.  She’s seen how some of her friends’ marriages have ended up and she doesn’t want to wind up like them.  Living together out of wedlock is just fine and dandy by her.  But Dick’s family is much more conventional than she is and when word gets out about their illicit relationship, she gives into the pressure to get married.

All is going well before the wedding until Anne gets a telegram from her ex-boyfriend Price Baines (Ricardo Cortez) announcing that he’s coming to see her.  Dick doesn’t like the idea of her seeing him before the wedding, but she insists on it.  Naturally, Price is shocked to hear that she of all people is getting married and tries to talk her out of it and be with him instead.  She sticks to her guns and marries Dick.  At first, their marriage is great, but after about a year, things start to go downhill.  They never get to spend any time alone, Dick spends a lot of time traveling for work, and finally, Anne finds out Dick is having an affair with his ex-girlfriend Margie (Natalie Moorhead).

When Anne finally confronts Dick about his affair, she realizes that marriage has made her into the person she was afraid of becoming.  She decides to move back to her old apartment so they can have their freedoms again and maybe recapture the thrill of their early relationship.  They continue to see each other and it seems the plan has worked.  But one day, Price drops in on Anne unexpectedly and tries once again to win her over.  Even though she turns him down, Dick also comes over unannounced and catches them together.  He is furious and declares that he’s going to see other people, too.  He gets back together with Margie and even plans to take a to take a trip with her.  Anne is heartbroken, but just when she thinks he has left her for good, Dick surprises her.

Illicit is one of the most completely pre-code movie titles you can possibly have, and it certainly lives up to its name.  Living together out of wedlock, questioning marriage, adultery, plenty of innuendo, it doesn’t get much more pre-code than that.  Even though the idea of living together out of wedlock is not shocking at all anymore, this movie still packs a punch.  I loved Barbara Stanwyck in it, but I wish they had featured Joan Blondell more.  Joan had a small part as one of Anne’s friends, but I like seeing her with Stanwyck.  I liked them together in Night Nurse and since they’re both actresses who thrived in the pre-code era, it would have been fun if they had been teamed up more often.