May 7, 2019

Pre-Code on DVD: Constance Bennett in Our Betters (1933)

I’m a big fan of pre-code Constance Bennett, with her razor sharp hip bones and saucy quips. She doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her contribution to the lively adult-themed flicks of that time. While Our Betters (1933) is not the best of those films, Bennett is reliably excellent as an American heiress who marries a titled man and thrives in the morally flexible world of British aristocracy. Now available on DVD from Warner Archive, this was an entertaining flick.

As the wealthy Pearl Saunders, Bennett is still in her wedding dress post-ceremony when she realizes her new husband (Alan Mowbray) has a lover and he has only married her for her money. Years pass, and she has discarded any pretense of wedded bliss, instead becoming a scandalous society sensation among the upper class. Though not given to passionate affairs, she keeps an open mind and doesn’t clutch her pearls at the prospect, a fact her squeaky clean sister Bessie (Anita Louise) begins to realize with alarm.

While there are multiple romantic dramas unfolding at any given time, Our Betters is an essentially plotless look at the energetic if meaningless lives of these social elite. With characters given to comments like, “If I leave you, you’ll have nobody but your husband” and a bizarre reference to bananas as a “most unpleasant vegetable, so fattening,” the action may occasionally flag, but it is never entirely dull. As empty as these people may ultimately be, you want to blow raspberries when a sanctimonious outsider makes a plea for “honor, decency, and self-restraint.”

After seeing many a film where a pre-code heroine sins freely until she accepts matrimony in the last act, it is almost a relief that Bennett is only temporarily punished for playing the game as she sees it and remains essentially her own woman. In the end, she emerges triumphant because she retains her power to manipulate any situation as she sees fit. If her perspective has become a bit more moral, so be it. You get the impression the halo won’t stay in place for long.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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