Stronger than Desire (1939)

US / 78 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Leslie Fenton Pr: John W. Considine Jr. Scr: David Hertz, William Ludwig Story: Evelyn Prentice (1933) by W.E. Woodward Cine: William Daniels Cast: Virginia Bruce, Walter Pidgeon, Lee Bowman, Ann Dvorak, Ilka Chase, Rita Johnson, Richard Lane, Ann Todd, Paul Stanton, Ferike Boros.

A remake of Evelyn Prentice (1934)—which see for a more detailed plot summary; here we look mainly at the differences. For the remake the names were changed in a vain attempt to persuade audiences it wasn’t really a remake. A lot of the dialogue is reproduced verbatim from the original.

High-flying lawyer Tyler Flagg (Pidgeon) achieves the acquittal of socialite Barbara Winter (Johnson); soon thereafter, another case takes him to Boston, and to his dismay he finds Barbara on the train, desirous to “thank him” for the acquittal; his response is to spank her, a maneuver that appears to turn her on. (Today he’d face an assault charge; in those days this was humorous.) Back home, Tyler’s wife Elizabeth (Bruce) meets gigolo predator Michael McLain (Bowman), who hopes to entrap her into a blackmailable situation. As in the earlier movie, the denouement hinges on the fact that, at the time the blackmailer was murdered, two shots were heard rather than just one.

Stronger than Desire (1939) the shit hits the same fan as in Evelyn Pfentice

                                                The telegram may differ in its details, but it hits the same fan as in Evelyn Prentice (1934).

A major difference between the two movies is that the Flaggs’ houseguest Jo Brennan (Chase) isn’t the same lovable floozy as in the original; instead she’s a sort of bluestocking Flora Robson figure. Another difference is in the treatment of the central lawyer figure: the debonair, humorous Powell is replaced by the straitlaced Pidgeon; this could have been a disaster but arguably is just what the movie needed. A shared implausibility is that the court decides Eva was perfectly justified in killing her ghastly husband and that her massive perjury should be overlooked. Overall, this version successfully avoids the unevenness of tone that marred the original; it’s probably the better movie.

Dvorak’s quite memorable as Michael’s long-suffering wife Eva. Boros gives a sort of Elsa Lanchester performance as the janitress, Mrs. D’Amoro, who saw Elizabeth flee from the murder scene. The child actress Ann Todd does her best to be as nauseating as Cora Sue Collins in the earlier movie; that she can’t quite manage it is no denigration of her thespian skills. Todd would later be more usually billed as Ann E. Todd; she’s not to be confused with the UK actress Ann Todd, whose occasional appearances in classic borderline noirs such as The Paradine Case (1947) and Madeleine (1950) had such an impact.

On Stronger Than Desire

One thought on “Stronger than Desire (1939)

  1. Pingback: Evelyn Prentice (1934) | Noirish

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