We Were Dancing
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Based on two short plays from Noel Coward's Tonight at 8:30 (1936), We Were Dancing (1942) is a typically brittle Coward comedy about a pair of impoverished Europeans looking for wealthy mates among the American country club set, who elope with each other instead. The two, played by Norma Shearer and Melvyn Douglas, find they can't live on love alone, and decide to divorce, but their plans to once again bag rich spouses are foiled by their love for each other. We Were Dancing marked Shearer's return to the screen after an absence of more than a year, but it was not successful, and Shearer would make only one more film before retiring permanently.
Throughout the 1930s, Shearer had been queen of the MGM lot. She had her pick of roles, not only because she was talented, popular, and ambitious, but also because she was married to Irving Thalberg, the studio's head of production. Thalberg shepherded his wife's career, choosing her vehicles and giving them first-class production values. When Thalberg died in 1936, he and Shearer had been preparing a grandiose production of Marie Antoinette (1938). Shearer went into seclusion, and decided to abandon her career. There were also financial issues over Thalberg's estate with MGM head Louis B. Mayer. By the time those problems were settled, and Shearer was coaxed back to the screen, nearly two years had passed. Although Marie Antoinette was well received, Shearer had lost her anchor, and was insecure and indecisive about future projects. Her career momentum slowed, and she made some bad decisions, turning down the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), and the leads in Now, Voyager (1942) eventually played by Bette Davis, and in Mrs. Miniver (1942), which won Greer Garson an Oscar®.
Shearer had a fondness for the works of Noel Coward -- one of her best performances had been in Coward's Private Lives (1931). Casting about for a new project in 1941, she decided that We Were Dancing might be just the thing to revive her career. The suave Melvyn Douglas, in his only film with Shearer, was a good partner for her, and her match at witty dialogue. Claudine West, one of the writers of Private Lives, also co-wrote We Were Dancing. Shearer sported a new look, her hair lighter in color, cut in a short curly style. As always, she was impeccably gowned in eye-popping Adrian creations. But at 40, Shearer looked too old to play such a youthful, frivolous character. And the world had changed since her last Noel Coward production. With global war raging, the arch drawing room comedy seemed dated and irrelevant, no matter how sparkling the players. While there was praise for the stars - "Miss Shearer acts with dazzling aplomb and wears clothes that will knock your eye out, and Mr. Douglas turns in another of his devilishly debonair jobs," according to Bosley Crowther of the New York Times - critics and audiences apparently agreed with Variety that "such uppercrust antics...seem entirely out of place in times like these."
Endings were in the air at MGM. Greta Garbo had retired after her attempt at screwball comedy, Two-Faced Woman (1941), also co-starring Melvyn Douglas, flopped spectacularly. Adrian was not far behind. After creating Shearer's costumes for We Were Dancing without credit, he left the studio where he'd worked since 1928 to open his own couture salon in Beverly Hills. "When the glamour goes for Garbo, it goes for me as well," he said, as he took his leave. Melvyn Douglas, too, was soon gone, off to war and off the screen for several years. Shearer would make one more film, Her Cardboard Lover (1942), another dated drawing room comedy, and also unsuccessful. Soon after, she met Martin Arrouge, a handsome ski instructor 12 years her junior, and married him in August of 1942. Over the years, there was talk of Shearer's return to the screen, but it never happened. She lived in retirement, increasingly reclusive, until her death in 1983.
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Producer: Robert Z. Leonard, Orville O. Dull
Screenplay: Claudine West, Hans Rameau, George Froeschel, based on the play Tonight at 8:30 by Noel Coward
Cinematography: Robert Planck
Editor: George Boemler
Costume Design: Adrian (uncredited), Robert Kalloch
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Norma Shearer (Vicki Wilomirsky), Melvyn Douglas (Nicki Prax), Gail Patrick (Linda Wayne), Lee Bowman (Hubert Tyler), Marjorie Main (Judge Sidney Hawkes), Reginald Owen (Major Tyler Blane), Alan Mowbray (Grand Duke Basil).
by Margarita Landazuri