Thursday, February 8, 2024

This Man Is Mine (1934)

This Man Is Mine is a 1934 pre-code RKO melodrama with an impressive cast headed by Irene Dunne.

It actually belongs to a distinctively pre-code genre - the comedy melodrama.

Jim and Tony Dunlap (Ralph Bellamy and Irene Dunne) are very happily married. There are no clouds on their horizon until Fran (Constance Cummings) arrives back in town. Six years earlier Fran walked out on Jim just as they were about to get married. She married another man. Jim was devastated at the time. There was also a scandal. Scandal seems to follow Fran around.

Now Fran has divorced her husband. Jim isn’t worried. He’s over Fran by now. At least he’s sure he’s over her.

As soon as we meet Fran we know she’s a schemer and she’s trouble. She starts scheming right away.

What upsets Fran is that Jim, rather than falling apart after she dumped him at the altar, got over her and then got happily married. That offends Fran. Men are not supposed to get over her. She doesn’t want to win Jim back, she just wants to prove that she could do so if she chose. And she wants Tony to know that she could steal her husband without any difficulty.

Tony’s best friend Bee (Kay Johnson) does her best to frustrate Fran’s plans but Fran is unstoppable when she decides to enslave a man. Poor Jim doesn’t stand a chance, and the sap really thinks that Fran loves him.

Tony doesn’t really know how to deal with the situation. She’s too proud to take drastic steps. Jim is increasingly under Fran’s spell and matters come to a head at a party.

It’s not uncommon for a movie to start out as a comedy and then slowly become more and more of a melodrama. This film starts out as a melodrama and becomes more and more of a sophisticated sex comedy.

It’s definitely pre-code, with adultery being dealt with very openly.

One thing I love about pre-code movies is that the endings were less predictable. Once the Production Code was introduced such a movie could only end one way, with the adulterers suffering horrific punishment (preferably death for the adulteress). In the pre-code era people who broke the moral laws might well get away scot-free.

Ralph Bellamy is very good as the hapless Jim but this movie belongs to the women. Irene Dunne is good but she has the least fun role. Constance Cummings makes an absolutely wonderful sexy scheming bad girl. Kay Johnson is terrific as the cynical but realistic Bee.

Once the comedy really starts to kick in this is a very amusing movie. This is sophisticated pre-code humour at its best. Not as naughty as some pre-code films, but it has a cynical tone that would not have been permitted under the Code.

John Cromwell, who went on to a pretty distinguished career, directed.

Of course, this being 1934, the women get to wear fabulous gowns.

This Man Is Mine is one of those pre-code movies that seems to have continued to languish in obscurity even during the revival of interest in pre-code cinema a few years back. That’s unfair. It’s a rather delightful movie. Highly recommended.

This movie is included in the five-movie Spanish Verdice Irene Dunne Pre-Code DVD boxed set, in English as well as Spanish. The transfer is very good.

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