Gilbert Speaks on “Strange Interlude”

12 Apr

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This past week, the Turner Movie Classics offered up a few gems featuring women as very capable detectives. After watching Murder She Said, The Lady Vanishes, and the comical Penguin Pool Murder, I encountered one of the strangest movies, I have ever watched. Strange Interlude might actually make it to my Granny’s Insomnia Theatre Collection. Here is why…

Plot

Strange Interlude is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1932 drama directed by Robert Z. Leonard. It is based on the Eugene O’Neill play. The play was an experimental nine-part play written by Eugene O’Neill. The play was long and often included a dinner break for the audience. What made it different was twofold: the subject matter was quite controversial for the 1920’s; the play used a technique where the characters spoke their inner thoughts to the audience.

The film was just as controversial in 1932, but it was produced before the Pre-Code Hollywood, which explains the casual view of infidelity. The film stars Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, Alexander Kirkland, Ralph Morgan, and Robert Young as college aged Gordon Evans.

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When Nina Leeds (Norma Shearer) learns that her true love, Gordon Shaw, was shot down and killed during World War 1, she is inconsolable. She was supposed to marry Gordon before he went off to war, but her father forbade the marriage for selfish reasons. He didn’t want to be alone. A close family friend, and perpetual Mamma’s boy, Charlie Marsden (Ralph Morgan) tries to console Nina, but he is also in love with her. Nina decides to go away to work at a hospital that tends to injured soldiers…while there, she befriends two handsome doctors. Sam Evans (Alexander Kirkland) and Ned Darrell (Clark Gable)…both doctors are in love with her, but after her father’s death…Nina marries Sam Evans…another Mamma’s boy with a big secret.

Stay with me here because I am going to tell you what made the film so freaking confusing. All the actors would think aloud their thoughts, which was fine except I had to pay close attention to their lips to see if they were thinking aloud or speaking aloud. The shocking part came after the wedding. Apparently, while they were on honeymoon and a world tour, Mr. and Mrs. Evans were happily having sex. Then they came home to visit Mama Evans.

Bats in the Belfry

Sam and Nina are happy, and working at getting pregnant, but while Sam runs out to buy food, Mama Evans drops the news on Nina. Mama Evans tells Nina that she must not get pregnant because mental illness runs in the family….to put it bluntly…mental illness is quite rampant in the family, but I think Mama Evans is the craziest member of the family.

Mama tells Nina, that she has kept this little secret from her prominent doctor son his whole life, and to prove her point…she takes Nina upstairs to the attic where Mama’s sister-in-law is locked in a closet. Nina is shocked to see the growling woman in the closet. If the fact that Mama was able to keep Sam from knowing that his crazy aunt lived his entire childhood in an attic closet doesn’t strike you as strange, then what comes next will…Mama tells Nina to have sex with another man, and pass it off as Sam’s baby. Not once is the word adoption ever mentioned.

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As I stated earlier, Mama Evans is crazier than her sister-in-law. At first, because Nina is unable to commit adultery, she refuses to have sex with Sam. She uses the old “I have a headache” routine for a while until the handsome Ned (Clark Gable) comes to visit. They waste no time making whoopee while poor clueless Sam goes shopping for food. To make matters worse, good ole Charlie is constantly popping in on his friends. Charlie is like a vulture waiting for one of the men to die so that he can swoop in.

Conclusion

A bouncing baby boy played by Tad Alexander is born. The side chats to the audience increase as Ned wants Nina and the baby to leave Sam. She doesn’t, but as the boy grows older, he becomes suspicious of the hugging and kissing going on with his mother and Ned. Sam is clueless to everything going on….but then again, if he never heard his aunt’s screams and growling coming from the attic….Nina and Ned could have probably had sex in front of him…and he wouldn’t know what was going on.

This triangle love affair with the three men drooling over Nina wears thin half way through the film, as does the side chats to the audience. It may have worked on the stage, but in the film, it was frustrating. Charlie, the poster child for a Mama’s Boy, is finally free of his duties to mother dearest (Mama thankfully died) and now he is free to take his positon as the vulture in waiting.

The relationship between college-aged Gordon (Robert Young) was creepy because Nina wanted Gordon to stay with her forever, and his kisses were not the kind a son would give his mom. In the end, Sam dies, Gordon gets married, Ned leaves for good, and good ole Charlie is there to keep Nina company in their old age.

What are the lesson learned from this film? The rich have way too much money and time on their hands. Never, ever, marry a mama’s boy. If your mother-in-law takes you to the attic to meet a family member…run for your life.

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I have decided to add this film to my Granny’s Insomnia Theatre Collection because it was so weird that someone should redo it as a comedy.

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