Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tonight or Never, Mervyn LeRoy, 1931

Just another proof that the early 30s were the most glorious era in film history. As if cinema, in a few years, invented all of its forms once again, but not from scratch, but driven by an already established belief in the power of the medium.

Tonight of Never is, to me, the perfect meshing of precode sexiness and silent movie sensuality. Gloria Swanson is finally able to verbalize her desires, but she still has ample room to act it out through gestures and glances, too. The way she caresses furniture... This must be an axiom of cinema: put Gloria Swanson on a sofa and something magical will happen.

The film is also proof of LeRoys supreme craftmanship. To pull of, so early in his career, a film like this, so different in tone and especially rhythm than the stuff he did at Warner Brothers at the time, shows that his films are much more than the products of their environment. Although he made just a handful of silents (I haven't been able to see a single one, so far), he manages to make Tonight of Never look like the work of a silent master creatively retooling his work for the sound era. The cigarette butts under Swanson's window, a few Lubitsch-style cascades of movements and gazes, and, of course, Swanson's acting... Melvyn Douglas is also already pretty lubitschy.

At the same time, certain limitations are obvious, too, especially in some of the more lightweigh Warner comedies: LeRoy never tries to overcome weaknesses in the script, he always chooses to work around them instead, investing his energy in the stuff that interests him. In his lesser films, this results in piecemeal, but never completely uninspired work.

Here, the main problem is the rather stupid resoultion. Although in a way even the clumsy ending (the somewhat unearned forming of the couple) is interesting, because it lays open a tension in the script between the older narrative of romantic conquest the film still sticks to, and the emerging, more egalitarian form of the remarriage comedy.

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