Marriage Circle, The (1924)

“How can a husband, who loves his wife, neglect her so!”

Synopsis:
An unhappily married woman (Marie Prevost) attempts to seduce the husband (Monte Blue) of her best friend (Florence Vidor), not knowing that her own divorce-seeking husband (Adolph Menjou) has set a detective (Harry Myers) on her trail; meanwhile, Vidor must stave off affectionate advances from her husband’s business partner (Creighton Hale).

Genres:

Review:
The Marriage Circle was Ernst Lubitsch’s second American film, and is notable for showing early evidence of his fabled “touch” — i.e., his light hand with sophisticated romantic comedies. It was remade in 1932 as the musical One Hour With You, and my reaction to both films was much the same: frustration with the character played by Blue (who looks somewhat like Chevalier, his counterpart in the later version). We never quite understand the motivations of this presumably-happily-married fellow, given that he allows himself to be seduced by a femme fatale, and shows signs of not being nearly as committed to his devoted wife as he should be (i.e., he carelessly drops a bouquet of flowers she’s picked for him); is their “ideal marriage” just a figment of Vidor’s imagination, or is Blue really that much of a two-timing, gullible sap? The most believable characters are played by Prevost and Menjou, whose strained marriage (as epitomized in the smartly filmed opening scene) comes across as all-too-realistic. Their manipulative machinations — and easy willingness to use others for their own purposes — are reminiscent in some ways of the dynamics between Valmont and the Marquise in Dangerous Liaisons.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Adolph Menjou as Professor Stock
  • Florence Vidor as Charlotte Braun

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly must-see for Lubitsch fans.

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One Response to “Marriage Circle, The (1924)”

  1. First viewing. In overall agreement with the assessment given – not must-see.

    Agreed, there is evidence of ‘the Lubitsch touch’ – but even the director’s fans may not find this as satisfying as his later work…although here there is an added bit of European flavor, which is a nice addition to the American setting and temperament.

    Since this film was made, we have had decades and decades of cinematic representation of seduction/infidelity, so something that may have had more punch to it on release now seems more than ordinary. The story itself is not so bad – in a mild, dramatic version of farce – and, in all fairness, it does flow well on its own terms. Still, there’s nothing particularly unique about the way things progress.

    Perhaps most noticeable here is Menjou. Although his performances are generally on the suave (and smarmy) side, here he gains our sympathy for a change and is more measured and restrained. Lubitsch has him underplay his usual style and that may be of interest to those more familiar with Menjou’s career.

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