There are so many obscure classics on YouTube. I barely scratched the surface with my posts. I figured that with so many, it might be tough to figure out where to begin. So I decided to do a weekly article focusing on one film to watch on YouTube each week.
Cast: Joan Crawford, Pauline Frederick, Neil Hamilton, Monroe Owsley, Hobart Bosworth, Emma Dunn, Albert Conti
In this pre-code soaper, Joan Crawford plays Valentine, a 19 year old girl whose father has just died. She goes to Paris to find her mother Diane (Frederick), who she hasn’t seen since she was five. Mother and daughter quickly bond and straightlaced Val is introduced into her mother’s world of partying, drinking, and frivolity. Diane tries desperately to hide the fact that she is the mistress of wealthy Andre (Conti) from her daughter. Val is persued by the drunken Tony (Owsley) who claims to love her but has no intention of marrying her. When the pair is in a car accident, they are helped by Harvard man Bob (Hamilton) and he and Val fall in love.
This movie has a relatively low rating on IMDb, which surprises me. It’s quite unlike a lot of movies being made at the time. While the romance is very prominant in the film, it’s the mother/daughter relationship that takes center stage. The mother/daughter relationship was rarely explored in 1930s film. Father/daughter was the usual familial relationship in films. Sometimes father/son. And mother/son, generally in a negative light. You didn’t see a lot of mother/daughter relationships explored, and that’s the main element to This Modern Age that really makes it worth watching. Crawford and Frederick share a wonderful chemistry, and from the get-go their relationship seems extremely genuine. It’s the most emotionally engaging part of the film. I found myself not really caring whether Val and Bob remained together or not. What I really cared about was seeing Val and Diane maintain a strong relationship.
Outside of that aspect of the film, This Modern Age is quite amusing. It’s a melodrama, but it has a definite sense of humor. There are good joke throughout the film, and even the atmosphere of the free and easy crowd Diane and Val run with allows for a certain humorous atmosphere. Monroe Owsley’s Tony is a lovable ne’er-do-well. He’s one of the bright spots of the film. You know he’ll never win over Val, and you don’t really want him to, but you still love him while he’s making a fool of himself.
The only real weak link in the film is Hamilton, and that’s not really his fault. With so many colorful characters surrounding him, and with an extremely strong mother/daughter relationship, his Harvard footballer, and his relationship with Val, seem somewhat bland in comparison. Hamilton plays the role as well as he can, but he just seems rather boring in the world of the film. If Crawford was a lesser actress, being shackled to the character of Bob might drag down the character of Val. But Crawford has so much charm and talent. Val always seems like the same person throughout the film, whether she’s drinking and partying with Tony, spending time with her mother, or having a romantic moment with Bob.
All in all, This Modern Age is a very good pre-code melodrama, with a very unique relationship at its core.
This is also one that you really should check out. I saw it once on television years ago, and haven’t been able to find it anywhere since. So getting it on YouTube is certainly a find.
By Katie Richardson