Our Betters


1h 23m 1933
Our Betters

Brief Synopsis

An American heiress marries into the British nobility.

Photos & Videos

Our Betters - Behind-the-Scenes Photo

Film Details

Also Known As
W. Somerset Maugham's Our Betters
Genre
Comedy
Adaptation
Release Date
Mar 17, 1933
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 23 Feb 1933
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Our Betters by W. Somerset Maugham (New York, 12 Mar 1917).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono (RCA Photophone System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Synopsis

Soon after her wedding, American hardware heiress Pearl Saunders discovers that her groom, Lord George Grayston, has married her only for her money and intends to continue his relationship with his noble but poor girl friend. Although crushed, Pearl remains married and, after five years of determined, calculated socializing, gains acceptance by England's most particular aristocrats. She is also adored by her own circle of rich ex-patriate Americans, who include Minnie, a divorced duchess, the gossip-loving Thornton Clay, Flora, a sincere philanthropic princess, and Arthur Fenwick, her doting, older lover and benefactor. Pearl introduces her younger sister Bessie to English society and encourages her to pursue a relationship with Lord Harry Bleane. Bessie, who is loved by the unassuming American Fleming Harvey, hesitates to accept Harry's proposals but is overwhelmed by the excitement of British high society and happily joins her sister for a weekend party at the Grayston country estate. There, Pearl is wooed by Minnie's gigolo, the lazy, faithless Pepi D'Costa, and is seen by Minnie slipping away for a rendezvous with him. Outraged, Minnie plots to have Bessie catch Pearl with Pepi, and the still innocent Bessie, who has finally accepted Harry's proposal at Pearl's urging, is stunned by her discovery. Exposed in front of her guests, Pearl retreats to her room, while a furious Minnie plans her immediate departure for London. To avoid the gossip and ridicule of the society that she has so painstakingly cultivated, Pearl plots to keep Minnie in the country and, using her versatile charms, re-ingratiates herself with the rest of her company. When Bessie denounces her as a hypocritical manipulator, however, Pearl has a moment of self-doubt and, to save Bessie, begs Harry to break his engagement. After Bessie reunites with the devoted Fleming, Pearl returns to her social "throne" and, with the help of Ernest, a foppish dance instructor that she has brought in from London, convinces the dance-crazy Minnie to stay another night to learn the latest tango step.

Photo Collections

Our Betters - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Our Betters (1933), as George Cukor directs a scene with Constance Bennett.

Film Details

Also Known As
W. Somerset Maugham's Our Betters
Genre
Comedy
Adaptation
Release Date
Mar 17, 1933
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 23 Feb 1933
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Our Betters by W. Somerset Maugham (New York, 12 Mar 1917).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono (RCA Photophone System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Articles

Our Betters


Although W. Somerset Maugham had written the 1923 London stage play of Our Betters as a satire of rich Americans who buy their way into European society, the film version (1933) saved its hardest punches for the Continental Set. Where the movie is concerned, the title appears to ironically indicate that, although the British upper crust may have superior manners, they are hardly "better" than Americans in matters of morality. Constance Bennett stars as an American heiress who discovers that her titled British husband has married her only for her money. To maintain her family?s newfound status and social connections, she attempts to maneuver her sister (Anita Louise) into another titled marriage, only to find that the sexual liaisons of the rich and royal present considerable stumbling blocks.

George Cukor, who worked as a stage manager for an American tryout of the stage version of Our Betters, had met "Willie" Maugham at that time. Ten years later, after the two had established a close friendship, Cukor was assigned by RKO to direct the screen version of Maugham's play. Cukor had followed his friend, producer David O. Selznick, to RKO, as he would later to MGM when Selznick went to that studio at the invitation of his father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer.

Despite their friendship, Selznick demanded that Cukor stick to his ideas of economy and efficiency. After 14 days of work on Our Betters, the director received one of Selznick's infamous memos, advising him that he was four days behind schedule because he had shot 44.6 minutes rather than the optimal 46.4 minutes. Selznick insisted upon an average of 3.2 minutes of usable film per day.

For Our Betters, Selznick engaged Elsa Maxwell, the former cabaret entertainer who had become a gossip columnist and professional party-giver, to advise on the film?s costumes and general tone. Maugham biographer Bryan Connon wrote that Maxwell "claimed to be a dear friend of Willie, but he regarded her as unutterably vulgar, though he thought of her as a useful bridge player." Maxwell could hardly have endeared herself to Maugham and Cukor, both homosexual, with her stated view that she "loathed" most gay men even though she often admired their literary and artistic accomplishments. In her autobiography, I Married the World, she took three pages to explain her views, declaring that there should be one rule for homosexuals who were "rich in mind" and social ostracism for all others.

A final bit of trivia: The cast of Our Betters includes Charles Starrett, later to gain fame as "The Durango Kid" in B-Westerns and serials.

Producer: David O. Selznick
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Harry Wagstaff Gribble, Jane Murfin, from W. Somerset Maugham?s play
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Costume Design: Hattie Carnegie
Editing: Jack Kitchin
Original Music: Bernhard Kaun, Roy Webb (both uncredited)
Cast: Constance Bennett (Lady Pearl Saunders Grayston), Violet Kemble-Cooper (Duchess Minnie), Phoebe Foster (Princess Flora), Charles Starrett (Fleming Harvey), Grant Mitchell (Thornton Clay), Anita Louise (Elizabeth "Bessie" Saunders), Gilbert Roland (Pepi D'Costa).
BW-84m.

By Roger Fristoe

Our Betters

Our Betters

Although W. Somerset Maugham had written the 1923 London stage play of Our Betters as a satire of rich Americans who buy their way into European society, the film version (1933) saved its hardest punches for the Continental Set. Where the movie is concerned, the title appears to ironically indicate that, although the British upper crust may have superior manners, they are hardly "better" than Americans in matters of morality. Constance Bennett stars as an American heiress who discovers that her titled British husband has married her only for her money. To maintain her family?s newfound status and social connections, she attempts to maneuver her sister (Anita Louise) into another titled marriage, only to find that the sexual liaisons of the rich and royal present considerable stumbling blocks. George Cukor, who worked as a stage manager for an American tryout of the stage version of Our Betters, had met "Willie" Maugham at that time. Ten years later, after the two had established a close friendship, Cukor was assigned by RKO to direct the screen version of Maugham's play. Cukor had followed his friend, producer David O. Selznick, to RKO, as he would later to MGM when Selznick went to that studio at the invitation of his father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer. Despite their friendship, Selznick demanded that Cukor stick to his ideas of economy and efficiency. After 14 days of work on Our Betters, the director received one of Selznick's infamous memos, advising him that he was four days behind schedule because he had shot 44.6 minutes rather than the optimal 46.4 minutes. Selznick insisted upon an average of 3.2 minutes of usable film per day. For Our Betters, Selznick engaged Elsa Maxwell, the former cabaret entertainer who had become a gossip columnist and professional party-giver, to advise on the film?s costumes and general tone. Maugham biographer Bryan Connon wrote that Maxwell "claimed to be a dear friend of Willie, but he regarded her as unutterably vulgar, though he thought of her as a useful bridge player." Maxwell could hardly have endeared herself to Maugham and Cukor, both homosexual, with her stated view that she "loathed" most gay men even though she often admired their literary and artistic accomplishments. In her autobiography, I Married the World, she took three pages to explain her views, declaring that there should be one rule for homosexuals who were "rich in mind" and social ostracism for all others. A final bit of trivia: The cast of Our Betters includes Charles Starrett, later to gain fame as "The Durango Kid" in B-Westerns and serials. Producer: David O. Selznick Director: George Cukor Screenplay: Harry Wagstaff Gribble, Jane Murfin, from W. Somerset Maugham?s play Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase Cinematography: Charles Rosher Costume Design: Hattie Carnegie Editing: Jack Kitchin Original Music: Bernhard Kaun, Roy Webb (both uncredited) Cast: Constance Bennett (Lady Pearl Saunders Grayston), Violet Kemble-Cooper (Duchess Minnie), Phoebe Foster (Princess Flora), Charles Starrett (Fleming Harvey), Grant Mitchell (Thornton Clay), Anita Louise (Elizabeth "Bessie" Saunders), Gilbert Roland (Pepi D'Costa). BW-84m. By Roger Fristoe

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

W. Somerset Maugham's name appears above the title in the onscreen opening credits. According to a Film Daily news item, Anthony Jowitt was also in the cast, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. A Hollywood Reporter pre-production news item noted that Ralph Forbes was replacing Hugh Sinclair in the cast, but Sinclair, not Forbes, is listed in the onscreen credits. Modern sources add Finis Barton to the cast.