A nightclub dancer marries into society and has to contend with her jealous sister-in-law.
Joan Crawford ... Olivia 'Maggie' Riley Linden
Margaret Sullavan ... Judy Linden
Robert Young ... David Linden
Melvyn Douglas ... Henry Linden
Fay Bainter ... Hannah Linden
Allyn Joslyn ... Roger Q. Franklin
Hattie McDaniel ... Belvedere
Oscar O'Shea ... Charlie Collins
Frank Albertson ... Benny Collins
Harry Barris ... Bertie
It's soap opera, but it is good soap opera, with several good performances in it.
Joan Crawford is a Broadway dancing star, helped on her way up by Allan Joslyn. Joslyn would like it to be the start of a marriage, but his cynical frame of mind is not what Crawford can accept (outside of friendship). She meets wealthy Wisconsin gentleman farmer Melvin Douglas, and he gets her to agree to marry him (Joslyn is uncertain about the wisdom of the move, not only from self-interest but from concern that Crawford will be a fish out of water). Another party who is troubled by the marriage is Douglas's brother Robert Young, who thinks Crawford will be too like her friends. Despite this Young and Douglas marry, and soon are in Wisconsin. They bring with them Hattie MacDaniel, Crawford's smart maid.
(A small point about the film - MacDaniel had not gotten her Oscar yet for GONE WITH THE WIND but there are moments when the camera is concentrating on her, and when she is involved in scenes, where any other African-American actress of the period (say Louise Beavers) playing a maid would not have gotten camera time - I wonder if this was because Hattie was photogenic and the movie crews were noticing this, or because David Selznick may have noticed her and requested some additional footage for her. She handles the role with customary humor and spice.)
Crawford finds (although she has had hints) that Douglas' older sister (Fay Bainter) is cold and hostile. More about this later. Young's wife (Margaret Sullivan) is very friendly and sweet. But although Crawford warms up to Sullivan, Young (who had been initially cold to the marriage) begins showing a different attitude: he is falling in love with Crawford. Bainter takes an "I told you so!" attitude to this, and Sullivan becomes increasingly miserable. Only Douglas seems oblivious - in particular because Crawford is making every effort to remain faithful.
The climax concerns the dream house that Douglas and Crawford were planning to build a few miles from Bainter's home. Instead of being a solution to the twisted mess, it becomes a magnet for the coming disaster. It is only with the disaster that the relations are sorted out.
Now about Bainter: This film was made within three years of the renewal (and new teeth) to the Hollywood Production Code. As such, certain things could be said and certain things couldn't. In terms of the code, the film fits properly. But with Bainter, they managed (or that fine actress did) to push the envelope a little. In a confrontation scene with Douglas, Bainter reveals something about her private feelings. She hates Crawford, and tells Douglas to get rid of her, eventually saying, "I'm your sister and I love you!" Her character is a repressed spinster type (she is the oldest of the siblings), and she has never really been close to Sullivan (although the latter grew up in the area). One gets the impression Bainter has certain incestuous feelings for Douglas and even Young (and that the former chooses to overlook these, and the latter resents them). This seems to be the first time this kind of situation arises in a film prior to Geraldine Fitzgerald's performance as George Sanders' possessive sister in THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY, but that at time was slightly more explicit.
With Frank Albertson in a supporting part as a rustic with jazz trumpet ambitions (who momentarily makes the situation for Crawford get a bit murkier).
A promising, although hardly unique premise – wicked city woman (Joan Crawford) marries good ol' boy (this time a gentleman farmer, played by Melvyn Douglas) not for love, but because she's sick of her current lifestyle. Of course, plans go awry and this `intruder' into their pat little lives and old family ways unduly disrupts the farmer's whole family.
Unfortunately, The Shining Hour's structure is so episodic and choppy that none of the characters has time to be fully developed. This is a shame, as each of them appears quite interesting in the limited screen time allotted them. A longer running time and more character exploration would have benefitted the film greatly. As it is, every time a new tidbit of information is revealed that may be of interest to the viewer, some obvious plot point takes over and speeds things along toward the ludicrous ending. I was left shaking my head, groaning and shouting `NO!, NO!' at the screen more than once. Horrors.
CAST/PERFORMANCES: Joan Crawford gives a good performance here, and her beauty is almost overwhelming. Melodrama (which this film most definitely is) was her forte, and she excels as wrong-side-of-the-tracks dancer Olivia Reilly, looking to better her stature and improve her social standing through her association with new husband Harry Linden (Melvyn Douglas) and his well-established, none-too-poor family. Crawford comes off very believably in this role, and she's great in it.
Melvyn Douglas does an excellent job as Crawford's husband. I thought he was very adept at both the tender, quieter scenes as well as the angrier ones. As Harry Linden, he is a very sympathetic character who tries to keep everyone happy, and almost loses everything despite his efforts.
Robert Young's character is an enigma, and he plays the complex role of David Linden, Harry's brother, very well. David is a moody individual, and the viewer is never sure how he will act or react next. Young gives a thoughtful, yet strong performance. Having had quite a few roles like this in his younger days, it's unfortunate that he lapsed into mawkish television roles later in his career.
I can't relate at all to the character of Judy Linden, played by Margaret Sullavan. I like her performance, and think she does well with the words she is given to say. She cries well, too, which I always admire in an actor or actress, yet for me the role is too self-sacrificing, and her unbelievable character is the downfall of the entire scenario. Why, why, why???
Fay Bainter is usually better than she is here. I just didn't feel the menace that her character (Hannah Linden) was supposed to evoke, except for the party and fire scenes – those were done very well. Hannah's character seems to be the forerunner of Luz Benedict (played by Mercedes McCambridge) in Giant. There are several similarities between the two. It's too bad that both performances are also somewhat lackluster.
GOOD POINTS, BAD POINTS: If you can ignore the implausibility of the outcome and the fact that some of the action is simply mind-numbingly hard to take, you might consider watching this film. My advice is to give The Shining Hour a chance, because aside from the goofy, terribly abrupt ending, it does have some elements to admire, including some thoughtful dialog and especially the humanity of the characters, which is surely the film's strongest point. However, this ruined potential makes it extra frustrating to watch, so keep all heavy objects out of your reach as you tune in.
Contrary to most of the opinions I read here, I did not find this film "soapy." I found it, refreshingly, a film for adults. For me, that's all too rare. I think it's about what relationship is, what love is and isn't, and most of all about the experience it takes and the resulting wisdom to build relationship beyond an adolescent understanding of love and attraction. And the great value of the self-knowledge that results. For me, that adult perspective was so refreshing and so rare that it beats out every other consideration. (Especially given the idiotic popular fare we're used to these days which substitutes a junior high school age cynicism for the difficult work of love.) Along with, say, "Dodsworth," for some reason Hollywood in this period was capable of some genuinely mature work for adults. The popular culture could use a little more. With Ogden Nash in the writing credits, I shouldn't be surprised at what I found valuable in this film.
# The original play opened in New York on 13 February 1934.
# Joan Crawford specifically asked for Margaret Sullavan to play the role of Judy, despite L.B. Mayer's warning that the accomplished stage actress could steal the picture from her. Joan replied "I'd rather be a supporting player in a good picture than the star of a bad one."