Larita Filton (Isabel Jeans) is in court, undergoing divorce proceedings. Through flashback we learn she has cheated on her husband (Franklin Dyall) with a painter (Eric Bransby Williams), hence the divorce. After the trial, Larita flees the incessant journalists and heads to Europe, where she meets John Whittaker (Robin Irvine), and soon marries him instead, without mentioning her previous marriage. Everything is going fine until John brings Larita back to his home in England to meet his family, many of whom – particularly his mother Violet Farebrother) – take an instant disliking to this new woman.
Easy Virtue is a film of three definitive acts. First up is the best of the three, the trial, which plays out in an interesting manner, all being told via flashbacks, with each one revealing a new piece of evidence or a clue as to what is going on, why, and how the characters involved have ended up. The second segment, and the second best, is the relationship between John and Larita, their meet-cute (he accidentally smashes her in the face with a tennis ball, however he must be a fairly terrible player in terms of his power as well as his aim because it seems to do no damage whatsoever). It’s a relatively run-of-the-mill segment, except for one sequence. John proposes, and Larita says she will provide her response via a phonecall later. This is a call we never actually hear (duh, it’s a silent movie), but nor do we see or receive title cards for either of the people involved in the conversation, instead it is told entirely through the reactions of the eavesdropping telephone operator, which was a really nice touch, showing Hitchcock knew how to get around the limitations of the technical availabilities of the time. The third segment, and easily the worst, is set back in England amidst John’s family, showing their distaste for their new daughter-in-law. It’s intolerably dull and even had me drifting off to sleep on more than one occasion, despite the early hour of my viewing.I suppose it doesn’t really help that the story here, adapted from the Noel Coward play, is very much a sign of the times, set during a period where there was nothing conceivably worse than a couple getting divorced, other than being in the family of the next person one of the divorcees married. Now the premise is laughable, and one finds it difficult to comprehend how much of a bitch Mrs. Whittaker is to her son’s new wife, even before she discovers this fact about her past. It’s all about keeping up appearances and rising above being the locals’ gossip material, but I found it all so damn tedious. Thank heavens it didn’t take the approach of the 2008 remake, which if I recall (I saw it on a plane, so my memory is even more hazy than usual) sets the entire film within that third act, but at least had the decency to add a more fun ending.Other than some interesting storytelling flourishes in the first half, there’s no reason to bother with this film.
Choose Life 4/10