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Private Lives Reviews

PRIVATE LIVES is one of those enduring scripts that can't be hurt, even by ordinary actors; in the case of this film, the acting is excellent, and the result is charming. Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery play Amanda and Elyot, a once-married couple who have divorced and wed other mates. He's now married to Sibyl (Merkel) and she to Victor (Denny). Both Sibyl and Victor are conservative sorts, devoid of the joy and madness that once attracted Amanda and Elyot to one another. By a coincidence, both couples are honeymooning at the French hotel where Amanda and Elyot had spent their first two weeks of marriage years before. For a time we see the divorced pair struggling to show affection to their new spouses, a tall order when considering the surpassingly bland Sibyl and the stuffed-shirt Victor. Since their suites are next to each other, it isn't long before our fireball lovers meet on their balconies, at once delighted and stunned to see one another. In no time, the newlyweds are quarreling; the formerly-weds, convinced that they are still in love, leave their fresh spouses behind and go to a mountain chalet to have another honeymoon. Of course, their passion is as volatile as it ever was, and they are soon arguing viciously between romantic interludes. The words become blows, and when Sibyl and Victor finally catch up with the elopers they are in the midst of a battle royale. Amanda and Elyot reconcile with Victor and Sibyl, but when the latter two get into an argument over breakfast, the true lovers realize that even the most placid types get into scrapes. What the impish pair do and how the word "Sollochs" helps them make for an amusingly sweet finale. Noel Coward wrote and starred in PRIVATE LIVES onstage with Gertrude Lawrence in a 1930 London production, then brought it to New York with Laurence Olivier and Jill Esmond in the secondary roles. Producer Irving Thalberg, Shearer's husband, made a film record of this production to aid cast and crew in bringing its unique flavor to the cinema. One of the film's joys is that it achieves a faithful reproduction of the original without seeming a mere copy. The actors don't convince as British (only Denny was), but that really doesn't matter. Shearer and Montgomery attack their roles with such zest and comic elan that we don't miss the spirits of Noel and Gertie hanging around. Opening up the play for a spot of mountain climbing (and a very pre-Code sleeping scene), director Franklin does a fine job in preventing his film from becoming stagy.