Wednesday, October 21, 2020

CMBA 2020 FALL BLOGATHON, POLITICS ON FILM: What Every Woman Knows, 1934


Politics on Film
is the topic for the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fall Blogathon running from October 20th to 23rd. Click HERE for the fascinating contributions to this timely blogathon.



John Shand is a young man of great confidence and ambition. Shand has a lot of opinions and a talent for self-expression. Shand feels that he was born to be a politician. Brian Aherne plays up all of John Shand's vanity and flamboyant self-interest. 

Shand's confidence is somewhat tempered by his lack of education which is dependent upon non-existent funds. However, where there is a will there is a way. The way is the library of the Wylie family. The merchants are very successful but their library is mostly for "show." Shand will put those books to good and proper use, as any Scotsman worth the title would do, even if he has to break into the house at night to do so!

Maggie Wylie is a few years older than John Shand and has a clear-eyed picture of her place in the grand scheme of society. She may be the light of her father and brother's eyes for her cleverness and sweetness, but there is no denying she is a spinster. A minister, her most recent prospect, has vacated the post, and Maggie's family worries for her future. Helen Hayes plays Maggie's subtle humour and pragmatic personality to perfection. After all, she played Maggie in a 1926 Broadway revival of the play for 268 performances.

Brian Aherne, Helen Hayes

James M. Barrie's What Every Woman Knows opened to great success in both London and New York City in 1908. Through his plays, including Quality Street, Rosalind, and Mary Rose, Barrie showed great empathy for and understanding of his female characters. What Every Woman Knows moves deftly between very public and very private matters.

The Wylies comically set a trap for the intruder and are not subtle about their demands on the said intruder, once Shand is in their grasp. The affectionate and blundering family are played winningly by David Torrence as the father David, and his sons blustery David by Donald Crisp, and hesitant James by Dudley Digges.

Brian Aherne, Janet Murdoch, David Torrence
Dudley Digges, Helen Hayes, Donald Crisp

The Wylies are willing to finance John Shand's education if he agrees, five years hence, to marry their Maggie. Maggie is attracted to John Shand and agrees to agree to the bargain. Shand agrees to agree to the bargain, even to the extent of signing a contract. He sees this as a great sacrifice to assure his political future. Maggie views her situation with a strong sense of irony and absurdity, much as she views life in general. Her attitude goes over the collective heads of her family but is something that they admire in her just the same. 

John Shand eventually wins a seat in Parliament and keeps his bargain to marry Maggie Wylie despite her offering him an out. She doesn't want to take someone who is unwilling but he feels that sense of obligation to a bargain. Shand also takes comfort in seeing himself as somewhat of a martyr to a greater cause.

The ego of the standard-issue politician cannot see past his own glory. In John Shand's case, he does not realize how many of his ideas emanated from conversations with Maggie. Nor does he realize it is Maggie's skill at letter writing that has impressed members of his Labour Party and others of influence.
 
Brian Aherne, Lucile Watson, Madge Evans, Helen Hayes

John's success brings him into contact with wealthy patrons in London. La Contessa le Brierre played by Lucile Watson and her niece Lady Sybil Tenterden played by Madge Evans make a strong impression on the young politician. The beautiful and cultured Lady Sybil finds the charismatic newcomer to London very attractive, and the feeling is mutual. For the time being, Mrs. Shand can do nothing but watch from the sidelines.

John's influence in his Party and in Parliament continues to grow, along with Maggie's lowkey assistance which is noticed by La Contessa and her old friend, the leader of the Labour Party, Charles Venables played by Henry Stephenson. In the meantime, romance has overtaken John Shand, who is willing to throw everything away for the love of Lady Sybil.

Maggie plays one more hand to save her marriage and John's career. She is assisted by La Contessa who offers her country estate as a getaway for John to work on an important paper. Also invited is Lady Sybil. Will she be impressed spending so much time with the basically vain and shallow John Shand? Will Shand find pleasure being drawn away from his work to pay homage to the basically vain and shallow Lady Sybil? 

Maggie takes a major stand in one last move to save John's career for him by composing a letter of resignation that so impresses Venables that John is offered an important post in a newly forming coalition government. Finally, after the let down of the Lady Sybil affair and an uprising by the Wylie clan in defense of their Maggie, John's eyes are opened to the true worth of his wife and of himself. John Shand begins to see life through Maggie's ironic eyes and to accept his own absurdity.

Directed by Gregory La Cava (My Man Godfrey) in 1934 for MGM, the former animator had the right touch for letting the comedy in the manners and characters take precise precedence over any drama in a situation. La Cava's sensibilities combined with Barrie's play and its screenplay by Monkton Hoffe (The Lady Eve, story), John Meehan (When Ladies Meet), and James Kevin McGuiness (The Cat and the Fiddle) provided a sturdy platform for the performances.

The characters, even or perhaps especially with their faults are endearing. The males of the Wylie family with their stubborn Scottish pride and unwavering affection for Maggie paint a picture of a true family. Aherne as Shand is an energetic mix of pride and sincerity. Helen Hayes as Maggie owns the movie with the delicate handling of her loved ones and the task of making John into the man he should be.

What Every Woman Knows has been revived and adapted continually since its premiere. Illustrating the old adage "Behind every successful man there is a strong woman," the play/screenplay also gives an honest look at how one woman reacts to what society expects of her and what she expects of herself. What Every Woman Knows shows us that the political manipulation of Parties, policies, and constituents is nothing new, but a game that must be learned in order to succeed.

Despite its pedigree and its genuine thought-provoking entertainment value What Every Woman Knows was a box office failure. Perhaps audiences in this American election year will find something to enjoy in this tale set in a fictional British election of long decades past.












28 comments:

  1. Was Aherne really tall or was Hayes really short? He looks like he’s got almost an entire foot on her. That must’ve been a challenge for the cinematographer.

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    1. Cinematographer Charles Rosher, Oscar winner for Sunrise and The Yearling, was up to the challenge of a 4'9" leading lady and a 6'1" leading man!

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  2. Some of the movies that I remember BRIAN AHERNE from are MERRILY WE LIVE (with CONSTANCE BENNETT and the delightful BILLIE BURKE), THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (with HOPE LANGE, SUZY PARKER, DIANE BAKER and MARTHA HYER) and ROSIE! (with ROSALIND RUSSELL and the adorable SANDRA DEE).

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    1. Those are favourite Aherne movies of mine as well. Also, My Sister Eileen, The Great Garrick, and A Night to Remember.

      Aherne stars in one of my favourite Twilight Zone episodes, The Trouble with Templeton.

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  3. Would love to see this. Being Scottish, I can’t wait to hear the accents!

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    1. David Torrence was born in Edinburgh and he's delightful as the father. As for the others, if you have an ear for accents, it is fun to use.

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  4. Well done. I love when a filmed version is made of a play with at least some of the principal actors, it preserves something of what might have been the stage performance, if not the stage magic. Since Helen Hayes did more theatre than film, it's delightful to have her captured in one of her stage roles.

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    1. Thank you.

      I have lately come to appreciate Helen Hayes talent beyond her reputation and awards. More films would have been grand but what we have is "cherce." Barrie is someone else I have come to appreciate beyond Peter Pan. The combination here is irresistible.

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  5. Well done, as always. Thanks for participating!

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    1. Thank you. And my pleasure. It is quite the impressive blogathon.

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  6. Well, this certainly sounds like something different from the man who created Peter Pan! I was unfamiliar with the play and the movie adaptation, so your review was a delightful read for me. Helen Hayes had quite a lengthy career in film & TV!

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    1. I think What Every Woman Knows might charm you should you come across it on TCM one day.

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  7. I haven't seen this film, but, based on your excellent review, I will keep an eye out for it. Your description vividly evokes the Wylie family scenes, which sound endearing! Barrie wrote strong roles for women, and his plays frequently served as stellar vehicles for actresses. I wish films would be made of Mary Rose and Dear Brutus, which are wonderful Barrie plays, but forgotten today. They both deal with an eerie, disquieting mood of ghostly fantasy, which could probably find a niche market today. And Helen Hayes, who seemed something of a Barrie specialist, appeared not only in What Every Woman Knows but also in Alice Sit By The Fire and Dear Brutus on stage.

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    1. Helen and Barrie are a match made in theatrical Heaven. I really like your idea about films of Mary Rose and Dear Brutus. If we had money and ability, it would be one thing, but where can we find the monied and talented with our point of view?

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  8. I didn't know this one existed but judging from your description, it seems well worth finding. I've gotten interested in seeing the films Helen Hayes made in her relative youth. Most of what I've seen of her has been TV movies and such made in her later years and are mostly character parts. Great review!

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    1. Thanks. I caught this on TCM a while back and was totally taken with it. Not surprising since I'm a Barrie fan, but I hope the channel gives us a chance to see it again soon.

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  9. There you go again - making me want to see another movie I know nothing about! As always, your lowdown is delightful and, I must admit,, a little Brian Aherne goes a long way for me!

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    1. It's what I'm here for!

      A little Brian Aherne with a lot of John Shand will be mitigated by the Wylie family. (fingers crossed)

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  10. HELEN HAYES was on an ep of HERE'S LUCY. HANK BRANDT had a small role as her nephew. Hank has over 100 credits on imdb. He guest starred on CANNON and BARNABY JONES. Also both of RAYMOND BURR'S hit series-PERRY MASON and IRONSIDE. Some of the westerns he guest starred on were THE BIG VALLEY, GUNSMOKE and WAGON TRAIN. He certainly had an impressive career!

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    1. Hank Brandt had a very familiar face. He seemed to be on everything I watched growing up, but it took me a while before I remembered the name.

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  11. As you know JAMES MACARTHUR was the son of HELEN HAYES. He is best known for HAWAII 5-0 with JACK LORD. He was in SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN with MAUREEN O'HARA and HENRY FONDA(as his parents). He was also in the DISNEY movie SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON with DOROTHY MCGUIRE and JOHN MILLS(as his parents). In that movie his brothers were played by TOMMY KIRK and KEVIN CORCORAN who played brothers in several DISNEY productions including OLD YELLER and BON VOYAGE.

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    1. I enjoy all the aspects of James MacArthur's career and even had a little crush on him once upon a time. Helen, in one of her memoir, said that when she looked at baby James that she knew he was meant to be her son.

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  12. This is a new one for me! It sounds terrifically entertaining. And a nice antidote from all the American political drama drowning many of us right now.
    Wonderful job, as always.

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    1. Oh yes! I know far too much about the characters involved in the current American political scene than I ever wanted to know.

      Barrie's style is delightful and his points are made without hitting his audience over the head.

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  13. JAMES MACARTHUR guest-starred on THE LOVE BOAT four times. I think I have only seen the last one. He played an older man that VICKY-the captain's daughter-has fallen for. (Vicky was played by JILL WHELAN). LAUREN TEWES played cruise director JULIE MCCOY. Lauren is 67 today! She was nominated for a GOLDEN GLOBE for her role as Julie. Lauren guest-starred on an ep of MURDER, SHE WROTE where her character is married to CHARLES FRANK. SUSAN BLANCHARD, MRS. FRANK, was also in the ep-married to LAURENCE LUCKINBILL. Laurence is the real-life husband of LUCIE ARNAZ. WHEW!

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    1. Long, successful marriages are more common in the acting community than many realize.

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  14. JAMES MACARTHUR did an early ep of M.S.W. with JOHN ASTIN, JOHN SAXON, MORGAN STEVENS, SAMANTHA EGGAR and MELISSA SUE ANDERSON. Also I mentioned the JEAN PETERS ep once. As you recall LUCIE ARNAZ was in it along with PATRICIA MCCORMACK. LAUREN TEWES, the birthday girl, was good in a dramatic role on HUNTER starring FRED DRYER.

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    1. The spoof of Cagney and Lacey that Lucie Arnaz and Patty McCormack did in The Wearing of the Green was very enjoyable.

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