For Reel


The Common Law (1931)
July 18, 2012, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Paul L. Stein

Not long into The Common Low, Constance Bennett strips just off screen in a memorable expression of pre-Code sexuality. The display is relatively tame, but under Joseph Breen, even suggested nudity was unwelcome in Hollywood. Director Paul L. Stein titillates the audience with a shot of Bennett’s naked leg just before pulling the camera back far enough so that he can show her figure using only distance and clever blocking to obscure her body. Beyond the scene’s appeal in its unabashed eroticism, it is a fitting entrance for a woman who is wrought to be modern and appealingly unapologetic. She has live-in relationships with at least two separate men over the course of the film, which was undoubtedly worthy of gossip for an unwed woman of the period. McCrea’s sister is so appalled that he has fallen in love with such an immoral woman that she attempts to sabotage the relationship by inciting bouts of jealousy between them. The irony, of course, is that McCrea’s sexual history seems just as – if not more – dense, exposing the double standard that women faced (and certainly continue to face). Whatever intrigue these ideas of sexism and classism bring, however, Bennett is merely serviceable in her role while McCrea, on the other hand, is a complete bore, as he so often was early in his career.

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