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Never the Twain Shall Meet

Never the Twain Shall Meet(1931)

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teaser Never the Twain Shall Meet (1931)

British actor Leslie Howard had appeared in a few silent films in his native England starting in 1914, and on the London and New York stage from 1917, but it was not until the coming of sound that he became a star in films. Already well-known for his American stage successes, Howard's cultured speaking voice was suddenly in demand with the coming of talkies. He made his American movie debut in the film version of the stage success, Outward Bound (1930), in which he had appeared in both London and New York. Howard's second American picture, Never the Twain Shall Meet (1931), directed by W.S. Van Dyke, was less prestigious, pre-Code racy, and features strong performances by Howard and Spanish co-star Conchita Montenegro.

Howard plays Dan Pritchard, a bored scion of a shipping fortune who ends up with custody of Tamea, the half-Polynesian daughter of one of his ships' captains, an uninhibited child of nature, played by Montenegro. Frustrated by his aloof fiance, Dan falls for Tamea, and follows her back to the islands, where he "goes native." The film's title is a line from a Rudyard Kipling poem, "East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet," often quoted as an example of Kipling's attitudes towards race and empire. Very much a product of its time, Never the Twain Shall Meet shares those attitudes, making it an interesting curiosity. Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times was mildly amused by the story, and more impressed by the performances. "Mr. Howard comes through with another of his specimens of finished acting, investing his character with humor and personality. In the part of Maisie, Dan's fiance, Karen Morley plays exceptionally well, and another newcomer, Miss Montenegro, flashes an appealing Latin loveliness....Mr. Van Dyke's photography and direction are excellent throughout."

Montenegro was a talented dancer and had already appeared in several films in her native Spain and in France when she was signed to a contract by MGM in 1930. Only 17 when she arrived in Hollywood, Montenegro later recalled that the only English words she knew were "ham and eggs," and that her screen test at MGM, dressed in a grass skirt, was with Clark Gable. At the time, Hollywood studios were making foreign language versions of their films for distribution abroad, and Montenegro appeared in several before making her English-language debut in Never the Twain Shall Meet. Her American film career never caught fire, and she returned to Spain in 1940. In 1944, she married a Spanish diplomat who was a high-ranking member of dictator Francisco Franco's right-wing Falangist party.

Shortly before her death at age 95 in 2007, Montenegro told a Spanish journalist that she and the married Howard (who had a reputation as a womanizer) had an affair after making Never the Twain Shall Meet. Apparently, they stayed friends. It has long been rumored that Howard was a British spy during World War II, and that's why his plane was shot down by the Luftwaffe over the Bay of Biscay when he was returning to England from a trip to Spain and Portugal in 1943. In the interview, Montenegro claimed that the rumors were true, and that she had arranged a meeting with Franco during which Howard persuaded the Spanish dictator to keep Spain out of the war, in which it would have sided with the Axis powers. Returning from Spain to England to report on the meeting, his plane was shot down. Whether or not the story is true, it adds fuel to the rumors that Howard was on a mission for British intelligence at the time of his death.

Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Screenplay: Ruth Cummings, John Lynch (additional dialogue); Edwin Justus Mayer (dialogue continuity); Peter B. Kyne (novel)
Cinematography: Merritt B. Gerstad
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Cast: Leslie Howard (Dan Pritchard), Conchita Montenegro (Tamea Larrieau), C. Aubrey Smith (Mr. Pritchard), Karen Morley (Maisie Morrison), Mitchell Lewis (Capt. Larrieau), Hale Hamilton (Mark Mellenger), Clyde Cook (Mr. Porter), Bob Gilbert (Tolongo), Joan Standing (Julia), Eulalie Jensen (Mrs. Graves).
BW-80m.

by Margarita Landazuri

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