Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Unguarded Hour: Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon

One of my go-to films for a healthy dose of romance, glamour, and intrigue is the 1936 film The Unguarded Hour. It was the first Franchot Tone DVD I ever purchased and stars my other favorite screen star (not to mention a lady who inspires me greatly) Loretta Young. Like Franchot, Loretta always impresses me with her performances. Whether she's portraying a young business girl struggling in a pre-code, a witty socialite falling for Tyrone Power, a mother going to college for the first time, or simply herself introducing the Loretta Young Show, Loretta never misses. Yes, she's a gorgeous, talented actress, but there's something else, too. Loretta and the characters she plays are always relatable. You know her, ache for her, root for her. 

In The Unguarded Hour, you know, ache, and root for Loretta's character, Lady Helen Dearden. I'm thrilled to be covering this film as part of the Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon hosted by Cinema Dilettante, Now Voyaging, and The Young Sisters Appreciation Group on Facebook. 

The Backstory

The Unguarded Hour is notable as it is Loretta's comeback film after the secret pregnancy and birth of daughter Judy. Louella Parsons wrote about Loretta's return in her column on January 29, 1936:
Loretta Young, who had such a long and dangerous siege of illness, is well and ready to step into a motion picture. She looks more beautiful than ever and she was entirely recovered from the cold and cough that kept her in seclusion for so many months.
In June 1936, Hollywood Magazine also heralded Loretta's return to the limelight:

That happy glint, long missing from Loretta Young's eyes, is back again after many stormy months. A year ago she basked warmly in the bright light of popularity. She completed two smash hits, The Crusades and Shanghai. Every producer was either at her door demanding her services, or lamenting his ability to line her up.
And then it happened, strangely and forebodingly. The radiance faded from her glance, the sparkle from her manner. Serious-faced doctors gathered around, ordered Loretta to take a complete rest before she encountered a complete breakdown. The ensuing months passed slowly for Loretta. She couldn't help fretting over her enforced vacation, but like a good scout she repaired to the desert and took the rest cure prescribed for her. 
Now she is back at work, busy as ever and full of the spontaneous gaiety she has always displayed. She recently finished The Unguarded Hour at M-G-M with Franchot Tone and is now doing Private Number with Robert Taylor.

Screenland article on Loretta's return
I find it interesting that The Unguarded Hour and Private Number are the two films that Loretta starred in directly after having to hide a pregnancy and her new motherhood. Private Number would find Loretta's character secretly married to her wealthy employer's son and pregnant with his child.  In that film, her character is rejected by her husband's family and moves to a secluded cottage to have her child.

The plot of The Unguarded Hour revolves around there being an unguarded moment in each person's life, a moment in which circumstances may make a person appear suspicious and there's not a witness around to vouch for one's true actions…or as the New York Times review defined it, a moment when a person "may be stripped of his normal defenses and tossed to the unkind fates."  How Loretta must have identified with these two films after going through the experience of an unexpected pregnancy and having to cover it up in order to protect the careers and reputations of Clark Gable and herself. Last year, it was revealed by her family that Loretta, in later years, privately confided that her pregnancy was the result of date rape. With this new knowledge, it is even more telling of Loretta's strength and resilience that she immediately tackled a film about being powerless to prevent a situation and the untruths that can be perpetuated for years after. Whispers and harsh judgement about what did or did not occur during Loretta's private unguarded hour would follow her for the rest of her life, but Loretta's grace, dignity, and optimism never faltered.

The Movie

In The Unguarded Hour, Helen (Loretta Young) will protect her husband, Alan Dearden, at all costs.  Alan (Franchot Tone) is a young barrister whose reputation and career are on the rise. When Helen is presented with evidence of a clandestine affair Alan engaged in before their meeting and marriage, she immediately moves to protect him.  Helen agrees to privately pay the blackmailer (devilishly played by Henry Daniell) in exchange for the handwritten love letters that will surely end her husband's career.

In the drop off of cash and retrieval of letters on a remote nature trail, Helen comes in contact with a gentleman and his wife on a leisurely hike. She sees the friendly husband and hears him warn his wife not to stand too close to the edge.

Believing that the scandal is over, Helen enjoys a casual holiday with her husband. This is one of my favorite scenes in the film, because Loretta and Franchot, decked out in casual sporty attire, are so passionate with one another. The actors completely glow in these scenes where the two playfully flirt and show what a pure connection and attraction the characters they play have in their marriage. Loretta truly is at her most gorgeous in these laid-back scenes.

But this ideal moment is cut short when friend Bunny (Roland Young) stops by with a front page headline: a woman has fallen off a hiking trail and her husband is now being prosecuted for murder. The prosecutor? None other than Sir Alan Dearden.

Here's where the film's plot gets really intriguing! Helen knows she must speak up for the kind man she met on the hill, a man she is certain did not kill his wife. But to stand up for that stranger and defend his unguarded hour will, in turn, expose her husband's (engaging in a pre-marital affair) and her own (quietly buying and destroying the evidence of her husband's love affair).

The plot thickens when Diana Roggers (Alan's former lover) is found murdered and Alan returns home late with a suspicious wound on his hand. What follows are smartly written scenes in which Alan is confronted and must use the law he so dearly respects to clear his name. Each of the main characters in this film have secrets that they are withholding and must decide if the cost is too great to reveal what truly occurred in these private moments.

Filled with clever dialogue, effective actors, and a smart plot twist, this film is one of the most sophisticated of the 1930s. In addition to the actors mentioned, the film stars Lewis Stone as General Lawrence. When the film was released, it was well-received. The New York Times pointed out the illogical plot holes, but noted the film "leaps from peak to peak with such assurance and dexterity that some of the spectators are bound to be convinced it is headwork, not just footwork, they are admiring...we must admit it has been served with decorum and effectiveness." Harold W. Cohen, in The New Films column printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette dated April 25, 1936, described the film as "a shrewd combination of coatroom melodrama, murder and blackmail" with an "intelligent narrative".

Whether you are drawn to the film for the star performances, mysterious plot, or simply, Loretta's amazing fashion, you must watch it! It is one of my favorite films and one that I revisit often. It's available on DVD through Warner Archive and is sold at Amazon and WBShop online.

Loretta and Franchot

Loretta and Franchot not only starred in Midnight Mary (1933) and The Unguarded Hour (1936) together. They must have enjoyed each other's company personally as well, because they were photographed together out on the town in 1939.

Photoplay, 1939

Modern Screen, 1939

Huge thanks to Kayla for sharing this one with me!

I'm so glad I was able to participate in this year's Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon! To read all of the fascinating entries from this year's event, please check out the roster here.

If you'd like to see screen captures from The Unguarded Hour, here's a post I did on the film back in May. For incredible photographs and information on Loretta, I highly recommend checking out her official website, official Facebook page, the Young Sisters Appreciation Group, or Cinema Dilettante's blog!

I have been a Loretta Young fan for ages and even before I started my Franchot Instagram and blog accounts, I had an Instagram page dedicated to Loretta. You're welcome to follow me there if you want a regular dose of loveliness in your Instagram feed!

Midnight Mary Screening

There will be a special screening of Loretta and Franchot's first film Midnight Mary on February 2, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. at the University of California Riverside, Palm Desert Campus. This special event is free to the public and will definitely be a night to remember! William Wellman, Jr. and Chris and Linda Lewis will introduce the film and share stories. Here's the link: http://palmdesert.ucr.edu/calendar.html

Happy birthday, Loretta!

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