Robert Montgomery. Robert Young. Robert Taylor. during the 1930s in Hollywood, MGM had three fantastic contract players, all by the name of Robert. They were also frequently cast in similar roles, despite their types and styles being quite different. This habit of MGM of casting them similarly is the reason, I imagine, that my dad can never remember which one I’m talking about. I’m pretty sure he still thinks Robert Montgomery and Robert Young are the same person. I talk about Montgomery a lot, and my Dad always says, “Father Knows Best, right?” No. No, Dad. Not at all.
Taylor’s career started a little after the other Roberts. Taylor was classically good looking, which made him well cast in films like Camille. But he did have the charm and talent to pull off different kinds of roles as well.
Small Town Girl (1936)
Taylor plays a drunken playboy who gets smashed and married sweet Janet Gaynor one night. At first, Taylor’s role is kind of thankless. The pair agree to a sham marriage, and Taylor kind of treats her like dirt, even when they bury the hatchet and agree to be friendly. Taylor doesn’t try to make his character’s behavior charming. He’s not afraid to really show his character as the bad guy, so that when the character turns around and we get the happy ending we want, it’s a little more interesting.
Three Comrades (1938)
Taylor’s youthful looks served him well in this role as a childish soldier back from the first world war who falls in love with dying ex-socialite Margaret Sullavan. There are three “leading me” in this film; Taylor, the other Robert, Young, and Franchot Tone. They each possess something unique to their character so that when the three of them come together they almost create one whole person. Taylor provides, quite perfectly, the heart.
Johnny Eager (1942)
Taylor really broke type to play the seemingly heartless gangster of the title. Though there is romance to the story, Taylor is at his most compelling here when he’s being ruthless, as when he sets up his lover, Lana Turner, for a fake murder. The film also features a brilliant and Oscar winning performance from Van Heflin.
Of the three Roberts, Young is the least “suave” and “debonair”. However, I don’t agree with Hollywood’s assessment of him, that he had no sex appeal. While he may not be as attractive physically as the other Roberts, or the other stars in Hollywood, there is a certain something about him. Perhaps it’s just his talent, but there is something incredibly attractive about him.
Today We Live (1933)
This is one of my very favorite war movies. It centers on four people and their relationships with each other, and the way the war shapes them. Young gives a very good performance opposite Joan Crawford. He’s her childhood friend who loves her. The two marry, despite her love for Gary Cooper, and Young is blinded in battle. He gives a really nice, quiet performance, never overplaying it and never asking for pity.
Married Before Breakfast (1937)
Movies don’t get much cuter than this. I wasn’t expecting this movie, it was just on late one night when I was trying to sleep and I ended up staying up late and watching the whole thing. Both Young and his love interest are engaged to other people, but they have a one night adventure that makes you want them to both leave their respective fiancees. It fun, sweet, and completely adorable.
The Mortal Storm (1940)
For 1940, this film must have been brutal. America hadn’t even entered the war yet, but still Borzage made this moving and unflinching film about a half Jewish family in Germany torn apart by the Nazis. Young really broke type in this movie to play an intolerant young Nazi who helps to destroy the family he was practically a part of.
Montgomery is my absolute favorite Robert. He’s also my favorite actor ever. Though he was frequently cast in supporting roles that required him to be suave and slick, he showed more than once his incredible range. He really could do it all. Sophisticated comedy, slapstick, drama, even psychological thriller. Montgomery was amazing as pretty much everything the studio threw at him, and he received two Oscar nominations for his work (for Night Must Fall and Here Comes Mr. Jordan)
Lovers Courageous (1932)
Montgomery is paired here with Madge Evans, his very best leading lady. Evans is a wealthy girl, Montgomery a poor playwright, and the two fall in love and are married, despite her parents’ objections. It’s such a simple story, and it is handled as such by director Robert Z. Leonard, but the simplicity of the film is one of the best things about it. It’s just a straight up, lovely, and honest romance.
Trouble for Two (1936)
This is one hell of a strange film. The plot involves royalty, arranged marriage, and suicide clubs. It’s really weird, and I can’t really explain it. It’s a good movie, but it has such a unique tone and bizarre storyline that it has to just be seen. Montgomery and costar Rosalind Russell give pitch perfect performances, which I can’t imagine was easy in a film with such a weird style and atmosphere.
Rage In Heaven (1940)
Montgomery apparently was not pleased about being cast in this film, and said that he wasn’t even going to try. Well, the fact that he didn’t even try in this only shows how amazing he was, because it’s still an excellent performance. He plays a man driven mad by jealousy. He starts out romantic and slowly descends into creepy and crazy. It’s really a good performance.
By Katie Richardson