“Listen, you can write her off your next year's income tax as an unavoidable”
If you have seen a Norma Shearer film you have pretty much seen them all. Shearer was “Queen of the Lot” at MGM and what people wanted to see from The Queen was melodramas. And boy did movie audiences get their fill of Norma Shearer melodramas in the 1930s. But unlike many of her films at the beginning of the thirties which were Pre-Code Riptide is her first Post- Code film.
Riptide has the most original beginning I have seen in classic films starting with Mary (Shearer) and Lord Philip Rexford meeting to go to a party. Their first meeting is odd because they were supposed to be on their way to a costume party where they had to dress like insects. They decide they look hideous and felt very uncomfortable so they skip the party. Mary goes to pick up Philip and they meet out of costumes. They are instantly drawn to each other and after a little flirting and eyes from Mary they kiss.
A few months go by and they cannot stand to be apart. Philip is supposed to leave to go back to England for business. He does not get on the ship instead he stays with Mary and they get married. Five years go by and they are happily married living in England with their daughter. One day Philip has to leave for business in New York. Mary cannot stand to be apart from him saying they have not been apart since they have been married. While they were talking Philip’s Aunt Hetty comes by to meet Mary. The two women hit it off perfectly and Hetty is next telling Mary she should go to the Riviera with her.
Mary goes to the south of France and has a great time. Also in the Riviera is Tommie Trent (Robert Montgomery) a man Mary used to hook up with every now and then in New York. Mary and Tommie have a fabulous drunken time together. Mary feels so light and free that she flips off a diving board into a pool fully clothed. Tommie tries to kiss Mary but she backs away but the rest of their time together she flirts with him. When she senses things are getting too much between them she leaves without saying goodbye. Tommie is not happy she left so back in his hotel room he decides to cut across the balconies to her room. He does not get to Mary’s room he falls from one of the balconies through a canopy. Mary goes to visit him in the hospital and she agrees to kiss him. Unfortunately a newspaper photographer gets a picture of them kissing and the next day their kiss is spread far and wide in the newspapers.
After this things get a little complicated. It becomes a big back and forth between Philip wanting to divorce Mary and then he does not but Mary is not sure she wants to go back to him but she is willing to work things out. The film gets to be kind of a pain at this point and because it is a post-code film you can guess the ending.
Norma Shearer has her moments where she is excellent and not over dramatic and then she has her over the top dramatic moments. I really enjoyed her scenes with Robert Montgomery when Mary and Tommie were drunk running around and dancing together. Shearer was really good at being silly but as I said at the beginning of this post she was known for her melodramas. I liked seeing her lighter side especially when she flipped into the pool. After the scene where she was caught kissing Montgomery she was back to being her over dramatic self. But I have to say she was a good actress and she does make the whole film. Out of all the films I have seen of her so far I think this was one of her best acted films. Shearer as Mary, just like in The Divorcee and A Free Soul, is very good at portraying sexuality and flirting which I feel a lot of actresses in her time could not pull off as convincingly as she did. I always feel like no matter what her sins are I want her to be forgiven and get back with the man she really loves. Her acting only enhances the film. You can almost feel her sexual tension and her desire for her leading man and that is what makes us want her to be sinful and lustful and why we root for her characters.
Robert Montgomery is always a joy to watch I always enjoy him in a film. I just wish that he was the leading man mostly because he seems to be the other man with Shearer (such as in The Divorcee) and he would have been so much more convincing it was difficult to see why Mary loved Philip so much.
Famed MGM costume designer Adrian made all of Norma Shearer’s gowns. He designed all of Shearer’s gowns while he was at the studio. I have issues with some of his designs the more I see of his costumes. Some of his costumes were just weird and over the top. There was one really questionable outfit Shearer wore towards the end of the film but for the most part her costumes were very pretty and were very typical 1930s- Art Deco clothing. There was one scene where Shearer was dressed in a nightgown and I have to say she looks stunning she had the perfect figure for it. Even in her other “racy” films prior to this she pulled off wearing “risqué” clothing to perfection.
Edmund Golding wrote and directed Riptide. I do not believe I have ever seen one of his films although the name sounds familiar. I think he did a great job directing the film he got some great close ups of Shearer and was really good focusing on the characters it was not all about the leading lady. The script was not bad but the plot got a bit confusing.
Riptide is typical Norma Shearer- MGM melodrama but it has some very amusing and well acted scenes. While the story lags in many parts there are many scenes, mostly when Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery are together, that pulls the film up. Riptide follows the typical 1930s marital strife plot but it should not be missed.
Riptide is available on DVD and to view on Youtube.