W.S. Van Dyke – I Live My Life (1935)

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Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A brisk romantic/comedy Joan Crawford vehicle capably directed by W.S. Van Dyke and gamely written but not one of the better scripts by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It’s from the short story “Claustrophobia” by A. Carter Goodloe. It’s the usual class warfare Joan Crawford film of that era with the good looking actress dressed chic and defending her free-spirited upper-class superficial lifestyle in her argumentative romance with the commoner Brian Aherne, who thinks the high society crowd are idlers and lightweights.

Bored heiress Kay Bentley (Joan Crawford) travelling with her dad (Frank Morgan) on his yacht meets on the Greek island of Naxos handsome Irish archaeologist Terry O’Neill (Brian Aherne), who’s on an archaeological dig for the Pygmalion statue. Learning that he thinks very little of the society jet set Kay tells Terry she’s Ann Morrison, the secretary of Mr. Bentley. They kiss and he falls madly in love, surpisingly following the attractive secretary to New York where he hopes to marry her. Learning the truth, the two have a spat but nevertheless grow fonder of each other.

Kay learns that her father is in debt of $400,000 through speculation ventures outside of his business and thinks of marrying her security-blanket fiancé multimillionaire Gene Piper (Fred Keating) to help dad. But dad announces he cleared up the debt. Kay must now pick between the poor man she loves or the wealthy man she likes and would give her the kind of comfortable life she expects of luxurious townhouses, cocktail parties and servants.

When Kay’s imperious grandmother Mrs. Gage (Jessie Ralph) visits, she suss’s out that the Irishman might be a pinko intellectual but he’s a go-getter and would be good for her spoiled granddaughter. Kay at lasts agrees to marry Terry, but just before the wedding ceremony they have a spat and it seems the two social opposites agree they are not a good match. Terry finds it disagreeable to be given $3 million and a vice presidency in her old man’s company, and agrees to end their relationship by saving her any embarrassment by letting her jilt him at the altar. As expected, Kay has a change of mind and shows up at the church. The bickering couple, happiest when screaming insults at each other, agree to get married and return to Naxos for another excavation of relics.

Stylish, chic, and often witty, I LIVE MY LIFE is typical of the Crawford pictures of the era which parade her in several sophisticated outfits, give her some sharp lines to say and let her nibble, but not chew up, the scenery. Crawford is a devil-may-care New York debutante who is mired in ennui. She travels to Greece and meets Aherne, a bright archaeologist with naught but disdain for the society crowd. Crawford finds him somewhat amusing and flirts a bit before making her way back to her life in the big city. Aherne mistakes her flirtations for something more serious and follows her to the States. She introduces him to her hedonistic pals, and he is totally out of place in that milieu. Somewhat of a Socialist, Aherne puts them all down for their various practices. They are not insulted, just tolerant of this slightly-pink intellectual. Ralph, Crawford’s grandmother, likes Aherne and thinks he has something on the ball and might be able to lead Crawford out of her dissolute life. Aherne continues his courtship of Crawford and encounters some comic relief with Morgan, Crawford’s blotto Dad, as well as Treacher and Blore doing their patented snobbish butler routines. She finally relents and they are engaged, but, just before the wedding, they have a huge row and decide that they are from two different worlds. Aherne agrees to save her any embarrassment by showing up at the church and allowing himself to play the jilted swain. Need we tell you that Crawford sees the folly of her ways and shows up at the house of worship? The wedding takes place, and the happy couple plan to spend the rest of their lives excavating artifacts in the Middle East. It was not one of Mankiewicz’s best scripts, but there is enough brittle humor there to satisfy most people, and Van Dyke’s brisk direction takes care of the pace.

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Synopsis
While vacationing in the Greek islands, society girl Kay Bentley meets Terry O’Neill, a young archaeologist working on an important Naxos dig. At the mountaintop site of Terry’s dig, Kay forgets to hitch her mule to a post and finds herself stranded there. She feigns an ankle injury in order to get the serious-minded Terry to carry her down the hill and back to the village where her yacht is docked. Terry tells Kay that he feels nothing but contempt for the idle rich and says that the only thing he despises more than yachts is people who own yachts. After Terry lectures Kay on the subject of the idle rich becoming too “soft,” they arrive in the village, where Kay reveals that she had been faking her injury. Before she can get away, however, Terry grabs her, carries her back up the hill and forces her to walk back down herself. Later, Kay, intrigued by the handsome and stubborn scientist, pleads with the yacht’s captain to turn the boat around and return to Naxos. Back on the island, Kay apologizes to Terry, who tells the young socialite the story of Pygmalion and admits that he has fallen in love with her. The two share a brief romance, and when Kay readies to leave, the lovestruck Terry promises to visit her in New York and asks for her address. Instead of giving her real name, however, Kay gives Terry the name of another woman at her office because she does not feel that a mere fling constitutes the seed of a permanent relationship. Terry is determined to see her again and sails to New York, accompanied by his assistant, Betty Collins, who realizes that the inexperienced lover may need some guidance in the romance department. Upon his arrival in New York, Terry discovers that he has been jilted by Kay, and attends a museum board of directors meeting, where the topic of discussion is a new archaeological acquisition. There he meets Kay’s father, a board member who becomes interested in Terry’s professional opinions and invites him to his home to continue their discussion. Kay is shocked when she finds Terry in her house, but quickly takes him to meet her wealthy friends as they are preparing to leave her party. Terry is introduced to Gene, whom Mrs. Gage, Kay’s grandmother, intends for her to marry, and Gene snobbishly asks Terry if his firm handshake is a result of vigorous polo playing. Upset about the condescending attitude of Kay’s friends, Terry tells her that they are nothing more than selfish, thoughtless and worthless people. Later, Kay learns that her father had privately invested $400,000 in a deal that is in danger of falling through unless she appeases her grandmother by marrying Gene. Hoping to save her father from financial ruin, Kay leaves for Connecticut, where she plans to announce her wedding to the acerbic Mrs. Gage, who owns her father’s company. Kay regrets abondoning Terry when she learns that her father’s deal went through successfully, and calls her sweetheart on Christmas Eve to apologize. Terry immediately departs for Mrs. Gage’s residence, where his presence causes a great commotion in the house. The outraged matron nearly throws Terry out when she overhears him call her an “old battle-ax,” but soon takes a liking to her future son-in-law and hires him at her company. Terry, however, flounders in the corporate setting and admits that he has no flair for business, longing instead for the freedom of the outdoors. A quarrel between the engaged lovers results in the last minute cancellation of their wedding. In order to save Kay the embarrassment of losing her groom at the altar, Terry agrees to show up at the wedding and play the part of the jilted suitor himself. Terry is surprised when Kay shows up for her wedding, and when asked if there is any reason why the couple should not be wed, Terry speaks up. Kay realizes that he has misunderstood her change of plans, mistaking her presence as a double-crossing, and quickly settles matters by telling him that she bought two tickets to Naxos, Greece.


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