The Silver Cord is a film that made me shiver a bit when I watched it. Joel McCrea and Eric Linden’s characters David and Robert Phelps have the Oedipus complex to the max because of their over powering and overbearing mother Mrs. Phelps (Laura Hope Crews). They take Norma Bates’ “A Boy’s best friend is his mother” to a realistic level that is disturbing.
David has been living in Heidelberg, Germany studying architecture with his wife Christina (Irene Dunne) who is a scientist. They both receive offers to work in New York so they move from Germany back home to the United States. Before they begin their new life in the city David wants to stop at his mother’s home since he has not seen her in months and for Christina to meet her.
The couple arrives at the mother’s house early and she is not home. Robert is home along with his fiancé Hester (Frances Dee). Hester is a very sweet girl who immediately takes a liking to Christina. As soon as Mrs. Phelps walks in the door all she does is yell for David. She will not let him get a word in and she completely ignores Christina and Hester. Right away we see that Mrs. Phelps is very controlling and possessive of her sons: she makes David and Christina sleep in separate rooms and once David begins to tell her of his and Christina’s plans to work and live in the city she gets upset. Mrs. Phelps is upset that David does not want to build a house on the land around her house and that Christina is a career woman. She also feels that Christina is taking her son away from her.
As David and Hester show Christina to her room Mrs. Phelps and Robert are left alone. She convinces her youngest son that he should leave Hester cruelly putting into his head that she is pretty and has probably had several men before him and that she probably does not truly love him. When Robert tells Hester she has a nervous breakdown. She knows Mrs. Phelps put the idea into her head. She tells the woman how cruel she is and that whatever the old woman has said is not true. Hester really does love Robert but his mother will not let him see that. She wants to go to a hotel rather than stay the night in the house but Mrs. Phelps tells her she cannot to save face.
Christina feels terrible for Hester. She tries to talk it over with David she tells him his mother is the one to blame but he will not hear the truth about his mother. Mrs. Phelps has her sons so attached to her and brainwashed they cannot see the truth. Since Christina is the only one that can think rationally she lets Mrs. Phelps have it. She tells the woman what she is doing to her sons and how her relationship is ruining hers with David. Christina stands up for Hester, the mother wants to tell everyone that the poor girl is insane but Christina will have none of that. David keeps sticking up for his mother instead of his wife so Christina and Hester walk out.
As the two women leave Mrs. Phelps is more than delighted that her boys are staying with her. David thinks over what has happened and he realizes that he needs to be with his wife and leaves. The last scene is Mrs. Phelps holding Robert’s head in her arms telling him how he is a good boy for staying with her and how he is never to leave her.
Goodness gracious I love my parents but not this much! I could never see how a girl could have an Electra complex or a boy can have an Oedipus complex it makes my head spin. My dad drives me nuts so bad thinking he is funny and just pushes my buttons to the breaking point that I could never imagine being obsessed with him. I just love how this mother’s obsession was shown as a bit of a taboo subject for a pre-code film. Mrs. Phelps was in a way very creepy with her obsession with her sons and her sons were in turn really weird with their love for their mother. I did not even know what this film was about until I started watching it otherwise possibly would have held off trying to find this (nah, who the hell am I kidding Irene Dunne, Frances Dee, and Joel McCrea are in the film there was NO holding me back from finding this!). It just drove me nuts how this woman had such a hold on her sons. I was so pissed with David that he would pick his mother over his own wife whom he was having a child with (yes they were having a baby I did not mention that in the review but that just totally put the mother over the edge). The mother gives an explanation as to why she coddled her boys it almost sounds like it is right but you just cannot forgive her for the way she has treated Hester and Christina she was so cruel to them.
Irene Dunne was always absolute perfection. This is by far her best pre-code film I have seen so far. No matter what film you see Dunne she just oozed professionalism and an ease in front of the camera, she just made acting look so easy. Her best scenes are when she told David the truth about his mother and when she told off Mrs. Phelps while keeping a cool head. As she was telling the mother off she kept her absolute cool she did not yell or go into a rage because she knew that none of that would help. Frances Dee was awesome; she almost gave Irene Dunne a run for her money. I can just gush about Dee all the time I adore her so much. I felt terrible when she had her breakdown after Robert told her that he was not marrying her, she was a bit over dramatic in the scene but still to me making Frances Dee up is like kicking a puppy. She was just so good at acting that you just believe she is the character just like Dunne. Now I love Joel McCrea but he really did not do anything for me. He was handsome as hell but he was not the stand out here. Eric Linden was PERFECT as the big momma’s boy because that is what he reminds me of, he just looks and sounds like a big gullible baby. Laura Hope Crews just dominated her scenes in a good way she was great. She is most famous for playing Aunt Pittypat in Gone with the Wind and she is the same character in this film- overbearing, childlike, and obnoxious. All I wanted to do in both films was smack her in the damn face! Crews played the role of the mother on the stage in 1929 and you can see she had that confidence and that knowledge of someone who has played the character before and knows how to handle it.
Now when you read trivia or other reviews on The Silver Cord you read that this is the film where Joel McCrea and Frances Dee met. They have one quick scene together when David and Christina first come into the house. It was neat to see them together for that scene though knowing that this is where they met. McCrea and Dee married that year and remained married for fifty-seven years until he died. I read somewhere I believe on IDMB that Dee was dating Eric Linden at the time of the film but they broke it off, yeah, she definitely traded up she and McCrea were beautiful together.
The Silver Cord is an excellent film. The entire cast lead by Irene Dunne was great. As I said at the beginning the story gives me the shivers and creeps me out a little but it was great. I love its pre-code aspects of a sort of taboo subject with the mother obsessing over her sons and a woman who could and wanted to balance having a family while having a career. There was a scene that showed how the times had greatly changed in a short time: Mrs. Phelps told Christina that when she was young women did not even think of working they were meant to stay in the home and take care of the family. I was so glued to The Silver Cord as I was watching it, the story and the acting just sucks you in.
The Silver Cord is currently available on Youtube.