His Brother's Wife
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When Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor made their first film together, His Brother's Wife (1936), Stanwyck was already an acclaimed star, and Taylor was a rising newcomer. Stanwyck had been in Hollywood since 1929, and had already worked with top directors such as Frank Capra at Columbia, William Wellman at Warner Bros., and George Stevens at RKO. Fresh out of Pomona College, Taylor had been signed to a contract by MGM in 1934, and had spent the following year playing supporting roles. After he earned positive attention for his first important part in Magnificent Obsession (1935), made on loanout to Universal, his home studio began giving him the star buildup. That same year, Taylor and Stanwyck began dating, and MGM decided to capitalize on their romance and cast them together in His Brother's Wife, Stanwyck's first film at MGM, in a role that had originally been slated for Jean Harlow.
The ludicrous and convoluted plot has Taylor as a playboy turned dedicated doctor who's about to go to South America to look for a cure for spotted fever. Stanwyck is a model who meets him in a gambling den. After a whirlwind romance, he leaves, and she marries his brother to spite Taylor. Several ridiculous plot complications later, she ends up in South America. Stanwyck, distraught at being rejected by Taylor injects herself with the fever virus and he must save her. The whole mess was directed at a speedy clip by W.S. "One-Take Woody" Van Dyke, but he couldn't disguise the shoddiness of the screenplay.
The reviews for His Brother's Wife were mixed at best. Kate Cameron of the New York Daily News tried to find something to like about it: "It is marked by the adroit acting of Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor in the leading roles. It has been well photographed and expensively mounted." Frank Nugent of the New York Times was more blunt: "A triumph of machine-made art, it is a picture that will succeed no matter how we, in our ivory tower, rail against it for its romantic absurdity." Stanwyck agreed, saying that the film set movies back twenty years. But Nugent was right; the fan magazines' breathless reporting of the off-screen romance between Stanwyck and Taylor paid off with box office success.
What does come through in His Brother's Wife, however, is the fervent sincerity of the love scenes. They may have seemed an odd couple - Stanwyck, four years older than Taylor, was tough and streetwise; the Nebraska-bred Taylor gentlemanly and naïve - but the romance endured. The couple made another film together, This Is My Affair (1937), and married in 1939. They divorced 11 years later because of his infidelity, but they maintained a mutual respect, and Stanwyck reportedly never got over Taylor. They co-starred one more time, in The Night Walker (1964). In recent years, dubious biographies have claimed that both Stanwyck and Taylor were gay, and that their romance was cooked up by MGM publicity chief Howard Strickling to quiet talk of Taylor's homosexuality. But those rumors have been denied by those who knew both.
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten
Screenplay: Leon Gordon, John Meehan, based on a story by George Auerbach
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh
Editor: Conrad A. Nervig
Costume Design: Dolly Tree
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Rita Wilson), Robert Taylor (Chris Claybourne), Jean Hersholt (Professor Fahrenheim), Joseph Calleia (Fish Eye), John Eldredge (Tom Claybourne), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Claybourne), Phyllis Clare (Clara), Leonard Mudie (Pete), Jed Prouty (Bill Arnold), Pedro de Cordoba (Dr. Capolo).
by Margarita Landazuri