Movie Critique - Illicit

For review of all movies starring Barbara Stanwyck, go here.

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: The film has a bold concept; some very good performances; and story that would still be good for the current times, almost 90 years later.

Illicit is a 1931 American pre-Code drama film directed by Archie Mayo, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; and released by Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. It stars Barbara Stanwyck, James Rennie, Ricardo Cortez and Natalie Moorhead in the lead among others. 

Anne Vincent (portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck) doesn’t believe in the concept of marriage and has very forward ideas about love. Though she has a boyfriend, "Dick" Ives II (portrayed by James Rennie), both of them keep in touch with their prior romantic relationships, despite neither Dick nor Anne likes the other to continue. And the tale leads to betrayal, angst and heartbreak which come with some huge costs to each of them. 

The film is based on a play by Edith Fitzgerald and Robert Riskin. Screenplay for the film was written by Harvey F. Thew.

Of the film noir that I have been watching this past year, Barbara Stanwyck is one actress who has caught my attention. She reminds me so much of Indian Hindi actress Nutan who was lead actress in the 50s thru 70s and later went on to supporting roles till her death in 1991. There are so many parallels between Stanwyck and Nutan, be it the type of roles they did or how their real life moved along. So naturally I gravitate towards Stanwyck's films off-late.

This is one of Stanwyck's earliest movies showcasing a very young version of her. For her fifth film she certainly picked a very bold topic for the 1930s and came out successful. And set a career path for her that gave her strong and powerful female roles toeing equally with her male counterpart. 

The supporting characters Ricardo Cortez (playing the part of Anne's former boyfriend Prince Baines) and Natalie Moorhead (playing Dick's former girlfriend Margie True) have a rather impactful role in the film and not just supporting characters who are not memorable. 

I have seen Ricardo Cortez so far in two films - the 1936 American mystery film The Murder of Dr. Harrigan; and 1941 American comedy mystery A Shot in the Dark

But this is the first time I am seeing a film of the lead actor James Rennie, and supporting actress Natalie Moorhead. I felt that Stanwyck and Rennie were mismatched. Rennie had better chemistry with Moorhead. Although the way the plot was set, I am thinking that was intentional. 

Joan Blondell plays a secondary role of Helen "Duckie" Childers in this film. However, I saw two of her movies where she had a more prominent role - the 1932 American pre-Code drama film Big City Blues, in which Humphrey Bogart had a small part; and 1957 American psychological thriller Lizzie, a much later film of Blondell.

James Rennie and Barbara Stanwyck are seen humming and singing the song Maybe It's Love from the 1930 pre-Code musical comedy film Maybe It's Love. Music was composed by George W. Meyer; Lyrics penned by Sidney D. Mitchell and Archie Gottler. 

Charles Butterworth as Georgie Evans gives the much needed comic relief in this drama. His character, always goes into an elaborate presentation of anything he is asked about like a salesman. It tickled me into laughs every time his scene came up. 

Note the title card. It explicitly announces it as a "Talking Picture". This was made at a time when both silent and talking movies were being made simultaneously.

Although the title is misleading, there nothing illicit about the movie. It's more of a perception of marriage vs living together. The film has a bold concept; some very good performances; and story that would still be good for the current times, almost 90 years later.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Anne and Dick refer to a play called Fifty Million Frenchmen, It is in fact a real one - a 1929 musical comedy written by Cole Porter and opened in Broadway in 1929.

b. This film was remade in 1933 as Ex-Lady with Betty Davis and Gene Raymond in the lead cast.

c. Another supporting cast that you see in the movie who had been a constant fixture of the silent movies and early talkies is Claude Gillingwater. He plays the role of Ives Sr. We saw him recently in the 1933 pre-Code mystery crime drama film Before Midnight.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Shadow of boom mic visible when Anne and Dick are walking out of the kitchen, 5 minutes into the movie, you can see it on the left side of the wall.

b. At Anne's Bridal Shower, in the close-up shot we see Georgie sneak into the room and hail her; and the scene is repeated again in the long shot. 


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