For Reel

Merry Wives of Reno (1934)
April 20, 2012, 1:40 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: H. Bruce Humberstone

The summer of 1934 saw the the birth of the Production Code Administration, which would impose its moral standards on Hollywood pictures for the next three decades. Merry Wives of Reno, released in May of that year, can then be considered one of the last of the pre-Code films, and what a high note it was to go out on. Joseph Breen must have been pulling his hair out within minutes – just after the credits, a young couple wakes together in bed, having clearly sexually celebrated their one year anniversary the night prior. The writer, Robert Lord, was no stranger to such controversy – Convention City, which he penned in 1933, was infamously banned and eventually destroyed, making it the last missing feature from Warner Brothers studios. Much of the cast of that picture returns, including Guy Kibbee, Ruth Donnelly, Hugh Herbert, and Frank McHugh, and, if it isn’t quite as blatant with its sexual promiscuity as Convention City was said to be, it nonetheless possesses a cynicism in dealing with marriage that was certainly not allowed in Hollywood in the coming years. The survival of three couples dangles on the precipice of divorce, as the women make their way to Reno to make their separations official. For the oldest of the couples – Kibbee and Donnelly – divorce has long been a wish of theirs, however they continue to bargain with one another over the potential alimony payments. Though the series of sentimental conclusions comes as little surprise, what is particularly effective about the final act is that the characters don’t ever come to reason with one another, but instead the husbands contrive a situation of infidelity for their wives in order to illustrate the misunderstanding that put them in the dog house. Their “revenge”, then, keeps things from becoming too sweet, as does a memorable bellhop played by McHugh who, in the end, walks off arm in arm with two happy divorcees.

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