Noel Coward's classic play has been filmed and produced countless times, but I think that the story found it's perfect cast in the 1931 MGM version. Private Lives stars Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery as an ex-husband and wife who bump into each other when each is on a honeymoon with a new spouse. (The premise alone is fantastic!) Despite their incessant bickering and arguing, they realize that the flame is still burning wild and decide to hightail it out of their honeymoon hotel to renew the love they long thought had died.
Once they are away together, the script provides a constant barrage of one-liners, insults and violence thrown together with some sticky gooey lovey dovey scenes. It's a marvelous combination, especially when the two people saying the lines and acting gooey are Robert Montgomery and Norma Shearer. Their skill with the witty repertoire makes what could feel like a filmed stage play seem fresh, alive and vigorous. And their characters' love-hate relationship is so volatile and hilarious that you wish you could see their entire married life on film, instead of this tiny 84 minute segment.
The new spouses are played by Una Merkel and Reginald Denny- and when the four of them meet up the tension and hilarity is quadrupled! I think Reginald Denny and Una Merkel are both sorely underrated - fantastic character actors who had the good looks to be stars. All in all I think this is a 100% perfect movie, and definitely holds a place in my top 20 films of all time.
Private Lives is available on Amazon here.
This post was originally published on my movie blog, Silents and Talkies.