Sunday, 6 December 2009

Virtue (1932)

There are a few Pre-code films that really pushed the envelope with either plot or characters, like "Men in White" or "Penthouse", but because of one thing or another are hardly seen or talked about today. "Virtue" is definitely one of them - Carole Lombard is a prostitute (you are left with no doubt about that, believe me) who meets a taxi driver (Pat O'Brien). They marry and on their wedding night he founds out about her past. After the initial shock, he decides to stay. And this only the first half an hour, and later of course he wonders if his wife is not back to her old ways. On top of this, there is great dialogue, particularly in the beginning, and a veiled reference to an abortion ("nervous breakdown") made by one of Lombard's former colleagues.

Lombard is quite good throughout and Mayo Methot as her friend steals the show with her final scene. (On a point of trivia, she was to be the third Mrs Bogart). The first half is well done and well written. But the film has one flaw that was too much for me. The second half's plot line seems to be glued to rather than built from the beginning. In particular, the scene that starts it is so bad that I was in no doubt about what was really happening - something that the audience is told a few minutes later. To be honest, I almost gave up on the film at that moment. It was lazy writing and bad acting. It's a pity, as I think if someone had put a bit more effort into solving both problems, the film would be as talked about as some of Stanwyck's more notorious films.

EDIT: Having seen this again in May 2014, I think I was too harsh on the film. There's a smoother transition between the two halves and Pat O'Brien gives here one of his best performances.


VP81955 said...

Am glad you liked "Virtue"; you could argue it's Lombard's best film before "Twentieth Century." I believe Robert Riskin had a hand in the script, which helped.

I sometimes wonder how Carole's career might have progressed had she signed with Columbia, instead of Paramount, in 1930. The latter studio certainly had more prestige, and had I been offered the two at the time (and I'm not saying she was, just being hypothetical), I'd have made the same decision.

But Lombard seemed to be one of the few actors who had rapport with Harry Cohn -- he admired her honesty. He'd have given her special care, just as he did with early-thirties Stanwyck; at Paramount, Lombard was deemed interchangeable with several others on the roster. It really wasn't until Carole stopped making films at Columbia in late 1934 that Paramount finally discovered how to use her.

I've written a few entries on :Virtue: at my blog, "Carole & Co."; you can find them at

Judy said...

Your blog is great - I'm enjoying catching up with some of your postings. I haven't seen this film but am a fan of pre-codes and your description makes this one sound well worth seeing - I usually like Pat O'Brien although I have seen one or two dodgy films of his. I'm especially interested in your comments about the second half of the film seeming to break so abruptly from the first - I've noticed that quite a few 1930s films seem to have breaks like this, with a more realistic storyline in the first part which then turns into unlikely melodrama later on!

Miguel said...

Thanks to both of you for the comments.

VP, I've also enjoy reading your posts on Virtue. Personally I agree, it's probably Lombard's best before "Twentieth Century", but then I haven't seen that many.

Judy, I'm not Pat O'Brien's greatest fan, but I thought he was quite decent here.