In Name Only (1939)
Release Date: August 18th, 1939 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: John Cromwell Actors: Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, Kay Francis, Charles Coburn, Helen Vinson, Katharine Alexander, Nella Walker
lec Walker (Cary Grant) appears out of the forest atop a stallion like a magically materializing Prince Charming, trotting toward Julie Eden (Carole Lombard), a commercial artist for fashion magazines. She’s single with a five year-old child, Ellen (Peggy Ann Garner), and a disapproving sister, Laura (Katharine Alexander). She’s also ripe to be wooed by the dashing playboy, who is intent on flirtation and whimsical adventure over the responsibilities of family and business. But he’s secretly shackled by his patient yet cryptic wife Maida (Kay Francis), who wed him for his money and social position despite loving another man, whose lack of wealth drove her away, resulting in his suicide.
After a night of avoiding his wife and gallivanting with Maida’s good friend Suzanne (Helen Vinson), Alec crashes his car near Julie’s Ridgefield country house, where she discovers not only his joy ride with another woman, but also the existence of his previously unmentioned marriage. Notwithstanding Julie’s soured opinion of him, Alec is insistent on romantically pursuing her before she returns to her bustling life in New York. Maida has other ideas – such as sabotaging and orienting every situation against Julie to make her the villain, as well as influencing Alec’s parents and friends to believe he’s an improper, unfaithful, unscrupulous husband.
Kay Francis is deliciously evil, manipulating Alec with claims of defeat, all the while hatching new plans to tarnish his image, steal his fortune, and delay an inevitable divorce. And Vinson isn’t such a bad scandalous cohort herself. The constant stirring up of trouble is enticing but also a touch aggravating; the little wins are continually tainted with an overshadowing sense of impending downfall. Fortunately, the building angst is rewarded with a contrastingly joyous finale that neatly wraps up the amorous dilemmas.
The characters aren’t particularly deep (the film is based on the novel “Memory of Love” by Bessie Breuer), instead following rather predictable paths of dalliance, drama, and revelations. However, Cary Grant is consistently amusing in playing his typical Cary Grant role, while enough moving pieces churn up some interest in the unfolding events. It’s not so simplistic to be dull but not ingenious enough to be unforgettable. However, the tale of amaranthine love battling the tragedies of unhelpful law and sudden ailment (both of which are presented in an antiquated fashion, with equally outdated remedies) gives rise to warming hope and welcome triumph. The conclusion, with an unusually enkindling power of satisfaction, makes up for the occasional imperfections in storytelling.
– Mike Massie