The Common Law


1h 15m 1931
The Common Law

Brief Synopsis

A kept woman gives up luxury to move in with a struggling artist.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Jul 24, 1931
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Jul 1931
Production Company
RKO Pathé Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Pathé Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Common Law by Robert W. Chambers (New York, 1911).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 15m
Sound
Mono (RCA Photophone System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Synopsis

In Paris, American Valerie West leaves Dick Cardemon, her wealthy lover, and applies for a modeling job with John Neville, a young American artist. After overcoming her modesty, Valerie strips for John, and struck by her proportions, he hires her. Although they both maintain a professional air with each other, Valerie and John soon fall in love, and John's painting skills blossom. Their romantic happiness is shattered, however, when John's friend Sam, who has been solicited by John's sister, Clare Collis, to talk John into returning to America, reveals to John that Valerie was once Dick's lover. Jealous and repulsed, John rails against Valerie, who calls him a hypocrite for rejecting her as "not clean enough." After Valerie leaves him, John, who was about to propose marriage, stops painting and grows despondent and bored. When he sees Valerie at a wild Paris nightclub with the lecherous Querido, his jealousy is re-kindled, but he pretends to be indifferent. Valerie, however, follows him to his studio and, putting aside her pride, begs to start over with him. Happily reunited, John proposes marriage, but Valerie rejects the idea, insisting that they wait until they are both sure of their feelings. Soon after, Clare, who has been informed about her brother's affair with Valerie, cables John to return to his sick, wealthy father in Tarrytown, New York. There, the domineering Clare invites Valerie to join the family on a yachting party, to which she has also invited Dick and Stephanie Brown, a former girl friend of John. On the yacht, Clare uses Stephanie and Dick to create jealousy between John and Valerie, who is advised by John's understanding father that marriage may be the only way to save her reputation. After a drunken Dick attempts to seduce Valerie in her cabin, John knocks him out, and the young couple finally abandons the yacht to find a justice of the peace.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Jul 24, 1931
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Jul 1931
Production Company
RKO Pathé Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Pathé Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Common Law by Robert W. Chambers (New York, 1911).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 15m
Sound
Mono (RCA Photophone System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Articles

The Common Law


Released in 1932, The Common Law stars Joel McCrea as John Neville, a supposedly impoverished American in Paris trying to etch out a living as an artist. He meets up with a striking beauty named Valerie, played by Constance Bennett, and hires her as his model. The pair then moves from just dabbling with watercolors and into falling in love. But soon a series of misunderstandings about Valerie's recent past, the return of her former sugar daddy boyfriend (Lew Cody)--not to mention John's true blue-blood roots--threaten to undermine their future together.

Based on a novel by Robert W. Chambers, The Common Law had already been adapted twice for the screen. In 1916, Lewis J. Selznick (David O.¿s dad) produced a version starring Clara Kimball Young and Conway Tearle. Then in 1923, Myron Selznick (David O.'s brother) produced a version with Tearle reprising his leading man role. This third version was considered a choice role for lead actress Constance Bennett. The Common Law was the second of four pictures that Bennett and McCrea made together. Their first one, Born to Love (1931), came about after Connie overheard actress Marion Davies express interest in the young McCrea to her own sugar daddy, William Randolph Hearst. Bennett figured that if Marion Davies saw something in him, then maybe she should too.

Given this was a pre-Code production, a few eyebrows were raised about the scene where Bennett peels off her clothes to model nude for McCrea's blank canvas. While it is relatively tame, RKO saw a hook with this scene. They promoted it as one reason why audiences should see the movie. RKO ran magazine advertisements for the film on two-sided pages that allowed an optical illusion of a scantily clad Bennett "appearing" on McCrea's painting canvas.

Future Hollywood power player Hedda Hopper co-stars as McCrea's devious sister. Hopper played supporting roles in two other Constance Bennett pictures, including The Easiest Way (1931) and Topper (1937). Connie Bennett and Hedda Hopper reportedly nursed a grudge against each other. Much of the animosity may have been the Bennett family's contempt for the muckraking press and critical know-it-alls. Connie's father, distinguished stage actor Richard Bennett, was famous for having battles with critics and wrote scathing letters to them, while Connie's sister Joan Bennett once sent a de-scented skunk to Hopper. Connie Bennett harbored this same powerful disrespect for the power of the press.

Producer: Harry Joe Brown, Charles R. Rogers
Director: Paul L. Stein
Screenplay: Robert W. Chambers (novel), John Farrow, Horace Jackson
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Film Editing: Charles Craft
Art Direction: Carroll Clark
Music: Arthur Lange
Cast: Constance Bennett (Valerie West), Joel McCrea (John Neville, Jr.), Lew Cody (Nick Cardemon), Robert Williams (Sam), Hedda Hopper (Mrs. Claire Collis), Marion Shilling (Stephanie Brown).
BW-74m. Closed captioning.

by Scott McGee
The Common Law

The Common Law

Released in 1932, The Common Law stars Joel McCrea as John Neville, a supposedly impoverished American in Paris trying to etch out a living as an artist. He meets up with a striking beauty named Valerie, played by Constance Bennett, and hires her as his model. The pair then moves from just dabbling with watercolors and into falling in love. But soon a series of misunderstandings about Valerie's recent past, the return of her former sugar daddy boyfriend (Lew Cody)--not to mention John's true blue-blood roots--threaten to undermine their future together. Based on a novel by Robert W. Chambers, The Common Law had already been adapted twice for the screen. In 1916, Lewis J. Selznick (David O.¿s dad) produced a version starring Clara Kimball Young and Conway Tearle. Then in 1923, Myron Selznick (David O.'s brother) produced a version with Tearle reprising his leading man role. This third version was considered a choice role for lead actress Constance Bennett. The Common Law was the second of four pictures that Bennett and McCrea made together. Their first one, Born to Love (1931), came about after Connie overheard actress Marion Davies express interest in the young McCrea to her own sugar daddy, William Randolph Hearst. Bennett figured that if Marion Davies saw something in him, then maybe she should too. Given this was a pre-Code production, a few eyebrows were raised about the scene where Bennett peels off her clothes to model nude for McCrea's blank canvas. While it is relatively tame, RKO saw a hook with this scene. They promoted it as one reason why audiences should see the movie. RKO ran magazine advertisements for the film on two-sided pages that allowed an optical illusion of a scantily clad Bennett "appearing" on McCrea's painting canvas. Future Hollywood power player Hedda Hopper co-stars as McCrea's devious sister. Hopper played supporting roles in two other Constance Bennett pictures, including The Easiest Way (1931) and Topper (1937). Connie Bennett and Hedda Hopper reportedly nursed a grudge against each other. Much of the animosity may have been the Bennett family's contempt for the muckraking press and critical know-it-alls. Connie's father, distinguished stage actor Richard Bennett, was famous for having battles with critics and wrote scathing letters to them, while Connie's sister Joan Bennett once sent a de-scented skunk to Hopper. Connie Bennett harbored this same powerful disrespect for the power of the press. Producer: Harry Joe Brown, Charles R. Rogers Director: Paul L. Stein Screenplay: Robert W. Chambers (novel), John Farrow, Horace Jackson Cinematography: Hal Mohr Film Editing: Charles Craft Art Direction: Carroll Clark Music: Arthur Lange Cast: Constance Bennett (Valerie West), Joel McCrea (John Neville, Jr.), Lew Cody (Nick Cardemon), Robert Williams (Sam), Hedda Hopper (Mrs. Claire Collis), Marion Shilling (Stephanie Brown). BW-74m. Closed captioning. by Scott McGee

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

A pre-production Film Daily news item announced that Gilbert Roland was to share "menace honors" with Lew Cody, but Roland did not appear in the film. According to other Film Daily news items, Julia Swayne Gordon and Erin La Bissioniere were cast in the picture, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Film Daily also states that the Comtesse Margot De La Falaise, wife of Comte Alain De La Falaise, was to make her screen debut in this film under her maiden name, Margot Webb. Alain De La Falaise was a writer for RKO, and his brother Henri was head of the studio's French language film production and was Constance Bennett's husband at the time of this production. The comtesse's participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Although onscreen credits list Lew Cody's character name as "Carmedon," he is called "Cardemon" in the film and is credited in reviews as such. According to RKO inter-office memos, atmospheric footage for the film was shot in Paris by William H. Dietz. It is not known, however, if Dietz' footage was used in the finished film, or if the studio opted for stock footage instead. In addition, for the nightclub scene, RKO "borrowed" First National's "Viennese Street," which was located at its Neville studio. In 1916, Albert Capellani directed Clara Kimball Young in a Lewis Selznick version of Robert Chambers' novel (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.0767). In 1923, George Archainbaud directed Corinne Griffith in a Selznick Pictures version of the novel (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0987).