This Modern Age (1931) Review, with Joan Crawford

Indifferent

Valentine
Joan Crawford
Bob
Neil Hamilton
Tony
Monroe Owsley
Released by MGM | Directed by Nick Grinde
Run time: 68 minutes

Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film

  • An inter-generational tale where a girl is shielded from the fact that her long-estranged mother is in fact a ‘kept’ woman.
  • “I’m going out to sow wild oats– I don’t like your Sunday school.”
  • Another one of those wacky, fun drunk driving sequences we all know and love.

This Modern Age: Blowhard Love Triangle

“I tried to erect a new set of morals for you– but habits so long formed, you know.”

I sometimes get annoyed by movies that have declarative statements as titles. I’ve Got Your Number! was at least about phones, and I Like Your Nerve involved someone with, well, nerve I suppose. But titles like This Modern Age are sweeping, almost Greek in their pained grandeur. What of this modern age? What insights can this film offer us about (then) contemporary society and the burdens it inflicts?

This modern age is filled with modest swimsuits and peroxide.

Well, jack shit, to be blunt. This Modern Age has some of the most distant, completely unrealistic characters to grace the screen. I’ve seen this plot at least 20 times by now, so many so I keep getting tempted to make a flow chart. Boy meets girl. One is rich and the other isn’t. They introduce them to the parents. They’re either welcoming or cruel. And then someone decides to jump off a boat. In the better movies, we at least hope that the person is rescued.

No boats in This Modern Age, but lots of blotto. Joan Crawford is Valentine, the long-estranged daughter of Diane. Diane had run away long ago to Paris and shacked up as the mistress to Andre, a very French gentleman who doesn’t pass judgment until it gets in the way of his nookie. Diane keeps this aspect under wraps as she is so thrilled that her daughter is such a fun, carefree kid.

“What went wrong in men’s fashion?” ask people who clearly haven’t watched old movies.

Diane’s crowd includes Tony, the usual Monroe Owsley kind of character who is often drunk and clearly the wrong guy. He begs for Valentine to go to bed for him, but Val keeps insisting on marriage. Marriage, as we so often hear, is ‘jail for life’.

Instead we get one of the strangest ‘meet cutes’ I’ve seen in a picture in quite a while, as Tony’s drunk driving rolls the car. with Val in it. Crawford crawls out and throws a big smile and salute to a nervous passerby Neil Hamilton. They immediately start to banter.

“No seat belt? No problem! I AM PERFECTLY FINE.”

Neil Hamilton is hanging around Paris as a rich former Harvard football star. The romance is especially painful, including one sequence where Hamilton and Crawford crawl up the stairs trying to be quiet and still chatting like cutesy teenagers. His parents are unconvinced about her, especially when the drunken crowd crash a perfectly respectable night of bridge.

Diane’s secret is revealed. This Modern Age is another film where the rich are taught, “The poors… have feelings?!” and everyone braces themselves with a big, white toothed smile at the end. Diane quits being a kept woman, and her daughter marries a rich guy.

Watch out, this kitten has claws…

Was this a major revelation to the mass audience? Of course not. Joan Crawford was a beauty, and here we are meant to connect to her as the rich and famous romance her. Crawford’s pretty stiff here– she plays everything a bit broad in a movie that’s far too generic, and she seems far too old to be as clueless as Valentine is. Monroe Owsley is great at playing greasy and unlikable, while so is Neil Hamilton, though that’s a shame since he’s the romantic lead.

This is another generic MGM product designed to showcase Crawford, but is an example of a fairly weak premise that has nothing special to recommend about it. This Modern Age wants to be a declaration of purity and love across the classes, but today it’s simply old fashioned and clunky.

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Other Reviews, Trivia, and Links

  • TCMDB relates the story of why Crawford went blonde for the role and the film’s reception. It also mentions the film’s central conceit led to a boycott:

Crawford was the period’s consummate Jazz Age baby, who appeared in numerous tales of girls gone wild like 1928’s Our Dancing Daughters. F. Scott Fitzgerald reportedly called her the “best example of the flapper, the girl you see at smart nightclubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living.” Not everyone was amused at such films and This Modern Age was included on a list of boycotted films compiled by the Catholic Church of Detroit.

  • Early in the picture, Crawford intones, “Cellini, behave!” You may recognize the reference to the famous lover if you’ve seen The Affairs of Cellini. Or, well, you might not.
  • Neil Hamilton’s character is named “Robert Blake” which is, uh, unfortunate.

Awards, Accolades & Availability

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