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Constance Bennett and Joel McCrea were a popular romantic team in the early 1930s, starring in four films together, with Born to Love (1931) their first. Written by Ernest Pascal and directed by Paul L. Stein, the film was set during World War I. Bennett plays a Red Cross nurse who meets a pilot with a seven-day pass (McCrea). They fall in love, promise to marry and have sex before he returns to the war. Soon after, McCrea is declared killed in action at the same time that Bennett finds herself pregnant so she marries a titled Englishman (Paul Cavanagh) instead. When McCrea turns up very much alive, Bennett has to choose between them. Also in the cast were Louise Closser Hale, Mary Forbes and Anthony Bushell.
Constance Bennett was a major star at the time Born to Love was in production. She had signed with Path (which later became RKO) in 1929, where she was powerful enough to force the studio to drop two other young blondes under contract who she saw as potential competition, Diane Ellis (who died the next year while on her honeymoon in India) and future star Carole Lombard. Joel McCrea was rising through the ranks of young actors in Hollywood and Born to Love was his first starring role, having won the part over Ray Milland and Gilbert Roland (who Bennett later married).
While visiting her friend Marion Davies at the ranch Davies shared with her married lover, publisher William Randolph Hearst, Constance Bennett brought with her the three screen tests. The other guests (who also included Joel McCrea) gathered in Hearst's private movie theater at San Simeon and watched each test. After seeing his competition McCrea was certain that Roland would get the part, but the next day, Bennett told him that it was his. Not long after, rumors began to fly around Hollywood that Bennett and McCrea were more than just co-stars. McCrea later said that despite her reputation for being "a bitch" and hard to work with, Constance Bennett "was just doggone nice to me."
Born to Love went into production in January and was already in theaters in late April 1931, a time when studios were making sexier films in order to lure cash-strapped audiences back into the theaters during The Great Depression. These films often featured "fallen women" and unwed mothers, both of which Bennett played frequently. Born to Love, with its emphasis on pre-martial sex and illegitimate children, could not have been made with the same frankness three years later, when the Production Code was enforced in late 1933-early 1934. The Code was enacted by the Motion Picture Producers and Directors Association to avoid governmental censorship and lost revenue due to bans by both religious and social groups who were demanding that producers make films more family friendly.
Mordaunt Hall, writing for The New York Times praised the performances and called the film "smooth and rather attractive entertainment, remarkable chiefly for its generally adult outlook on things and for a certain quiet restraint in its more tempestuously dramatic moments." Audiences agreed and Born to Love made a very respectable $649,000 at the box-office and confirmed to RKO that Bennett and McCrea were a strong screen team.
Director: Paul L. Stein
Screenplay: Ernest Pascal
Cinematography: John Mescall
Art Direction: Carroll Clark
Music: Francis Gromon (uncredited)
Film Editing: Claude Berkeley
Cast: Constance Bennett (Doris Kendall), Joel McCrea (Captain Barry Craig), Paul Cavanagh (Sir Wilfred Drake), Frederick Kerr (Lord James Ponsonby), Louise Closser Hale (Lady Agatha Ponsonby), Anthony Bushell (Leslie Darrow).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Hall, Mordaunt. "The Screen: Born to Love" The New York Times 25 Apr 31.
Kellow, Brian. The Bennetts: An Acting Family
Mintz, Steven and Roberts, Randy. Hollywood's America: Twentieth-Century America Through Film