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Warren William, once a leading rogue of racy pre-Code movies at Warner Bros., had moved on to Paramount, then MGM, in search of better roles after Hollywood's new respectability had made his type of opportunistic anti-hero all but obsolete as a leading man. William had fared well enough playing second fiddle to Melvyn Douglas in Arsne Lupin Returns (1938), but his next MGM assignment, The First Hundred Years (1938), saw him reduced to supporting player in this romantic comedy starring Robert Montgomery and Virginia Bruce (who had also worked with William in the Lupin mystery and had become a close personal friend).
The First Hundred Years was created from a story by screenwriter Norman Krasna, though the screenplay is by another writer, Melville Baker. Montgomery and Bruce play a once-happy couple whose five-year-old marriage suffers from conflicting careers; he's an unemployed shipbuilder who finally lands a job in New Bedford, Mass. The rub is, she's prospering as the manager of a theatrical agency in New York City, where she's been the breadwinner for some time.
The chauvinistic husband insists that, although the wife's job is more lucrative, she should give up her career and become a New Bedford housewife. She understandably rebels at first, but the movie seems dated in its attitudes as it seems to come down solidly on the husband's side. After the marriage is strained to the point of a legal separation, a certain development causes the wife to rethink matters and give in to her husband's demands -- so that she is the one who makes the sacrifices.
William has the somewhat thankless role of the dashing owner of Bruce's company, who carries a torch for her but doesn't light her fire. The irony is that, in pre-Code days, he might instead have played the husband -- as a selfish cad ready to be taught a thing or two by a high-spirited woman in the mold of a Barbara Stanwyck or Jean Harlow. As it is, William has a few funny lines and an amusing drunk scene with Alan Dinehart as a hapless lawyer friend. But he remains on the sidelines.
The likeable supporting cast also features Binnie Barnes as a woman who makes a minor play for Montgomery, Harry Davenport as a balmy old uncle and Lee Bowman as an aspiring writer proud of his native American heritage.
The director is Richard Thorpe, who a year earlier had guided Montgomery through one of the triumphs of his acting career in his Oscar®-nominated role as the psychopathic killer of Night Must Fall (1937). Montgomery and leading lady Bruce co-starred in a second 1938 film, Yellow Jack.
Producer: Norman Krasna
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Melville Baker (screenplay); Norman Krasna (story)
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Dr. William Axt
Film Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Cast: Robert Montgomery (David Conway), Virginia Bruce (Lynn Claymore Conway), Warren William (Harry Borden), Binnie Barnes (Claudia Weston), Alan Dinehart (Samuel Z. 'Sam' Walker), Harry Davenport (Uncle Dawson), Nydia Westman (Miss Midge Finch), Donald Briggs (William 'Bill' Regan), Jonathan Hale (Judge Parker), E.E. Clive (Chester Blascomb).
BW-74m. Closed Captioning.
by Roger Fristoe