Today we reminisce about
Robert Young in The Shining Hour (1938)
Directed by Frank Borzage
* Published specifically for The Reel Infatuation Blogathon hosted by Ruth at Silver Screenings *
I was first introduced to Robert Young when ploughing through the filmography of my favourite actress, Joan Crawford. Joan and Robert starred in four films together: Today We Live (1933), The Bride Wore Red (1937), The Shining Hour, and Goodbye, My Fancy (1951). They also performed in a 1939 episode of MGM Theatre of the Air entitled “The Moon is on Fire”. While Mr. Young may not have been the most frequently cast Robert in Joan’s life – that honour would go to Mr. Montgomery – their chemistry together would have suggested otherwise. They were so naturally paired that you had the impression that they were made for one another. As luck would have, he never got the girl!
A double duel between Robert and Franchot Tone for Joan’s affections. (l) Today We Live, (r) The Bride Wore Red
Robert Young was not everyone’s idea of a dashing leading man. In fact, MGM had a difficult time knowing how to cast him because he was not an A-lister yet he had a lot of screen appeal. Robert himself joked that he got the roles that the studio’s most desired actors had turned down. Still, he was a well-behaved thespian who worked diligently and was never put on suspension for refusing projects. These qualities were very valuable in the eyes of studio head Louis B. Mayer who admired Robert and kept him on contract. His motives were not to please Mayer or MGM but rather to keep his growing family afloat with a regular income. Many years down the road, Robert would open up about the negativities of being a contract player and how these difficulties affected his life.
Contemporary audiences are more likely to recognise Robert from old re-runs of Father Knows Best or Marcus Welby, M.D., two very successful television series that garnered him much praise and critical acclaim. In actuality, Robert was very lucky to have made the transition from films and radio to television, allowing him to continue working until the age of 80. All in all, his documented career spanned 57 years.
Robert knowing what to do with a smoking pipe, as Jim Anderson in “Father Knows Best”.
Perhaps you are wondering why I chose Robert as my infatuation considering he was just a B-actor who later played one of the most wholesome father figures on network television. What is so sexy about that? Well, there is plenty. He was very handsome and more exotic than simply being relegated as the boy-next-door type. His voice was deep and commanding plus he was very quick-witted and approachable. When he played a good guy, he was so very lovable and jovial without ever being a weakling. It was when he turned bad boyish that he really stood out, however; his dark looks emphasising the intensity of his gaze and boosting his physical stature. Simply and plainly put, Robert Young was irresistible. If you need any convincing, here are some photos for good measure:
Robert as David Linden
As per the usual in his films with Joan, Robert’s character was in steep competition for her affections. In The Shining Hour, that other person is none other than the equally desirable Melvyn Douglas. Seriously, what is a girl to do? Robert’s David is a decent guy underneath though he is outwardly pretentious and his rudeness gets him off on the wrong foot with Joan’s character. You could say that David was raised well but that he has a personal streak of egocentrism inside of him.
The story goes as follows…
The Linden family from Wisconsin is well-known for their legacy and also for their wealth. Its members have been schooled at only the finest institutions of higher learning and are generally a close-knit clan who stay within their social circle. So when the news comes out that Henry Linden (Melvyn Douglas) is to engaged to nightclub dancer Olivia Riley (Joan Crawford), worry is in the air. Older sister Hannah (Fay Bainter) decides to send Henry’s younger brother David (Robert Young) to New York to try and bring Henry to his senses before making what they consider to be a mistake.
David goes to find the couple at Olivia’s nightclub in Harlem although Henry is not present. Nonetheless, he takes a table and watches Olivia dance, admiring her beauty and grace from afar but secretly loathing what someone like Olivia represents. Later on he comes to her apartment where, after a short wait, Henry and Olivia finally appear with a big announcement: they are to be imminently married. Shocked and disturbed, David tells Henry that he is making a huge mistake. Olivia overhears the conversation and confronts her soon to be brother-in-law. He remains unapologetic about his attitude but she will not back down in trying to prove him wrong.
When the newlyweds arrive in Wisconsin at Linden Acres, they are greeted by David and his wife Judy (Margaret Sullavan). Hannah has decided to take a nap rather than greet them, which is actually a very poor excuse to cover up her obvious snub. Judy quickly warms to Olivia and helps her unpack while also giving her a bit of advice about the goings-on in the family, particularly in regards to dealings with Hannah who is a thorn in everyone’s side. Neither brother stands up to her authority however, as she has acted more like a mother than a sister to them since the death of their parents. With that, Hannah continues on hurting people with her latent yet direct insults, never yielding to when anyone snaps back at her.
Olivia is very uncomfortable living in the same house but does the best she can to occupy her time with other things. Interestingly enough, she finds an ally in David. Being unhappy and misunderstood in his life, he is attracted to the similarities he shares with Olivia and has fallen in love with her, neglectful of both their respective marriages. Although she initially fights it, Olivia has also fallen in love with him. The irony is that neither was madly in love with their spouses when they married aside from being very fond of them. Judy is well aware of the predicament and has tried to get David to love her from the age of 6, when they first met. As for Henry, he is generally rather aloof about the situation. This gives Hannah the perfect opportunity to undermine the situation and try to have the last word.
There is really no need to suspend your disbelief to enjoy this film or to be attracted to the idea of Olivia and David as a couple. Finding them to be a plausible romantic match also does not mean that you endorse infidelity or the break-up of marriages. Things happen in life and sometimes people fall in love with others who are not their significant others. These affairs can take many turns, both good and bad. This film does a good job of showing these positive and negative aspects in a very non-Code fashion.
It is also not strange that David would have such a change of heart about Olivia. He spent many years obeying and fulfilling the desires of his family, even going so far as to marry a girl he did not really love in order to please them. David never had the courage to go after what he really wanted in life, both personally and professionally, so he is stuck wherever he looks. Henry, on the other hand, picked the woman that he wanted regardless of her upbringing and social class plus he planned for them to build their own home away from the Linden mansion. Without really being able to say as much, David is very jealous of his brother.
“I want what I haven’t got and am bored with what I have.” – David
The above quote is partially true; the other part is that David feels free with Olivia because he sees someone with some of the same personal confines as him. Suddenly, a great deal of anger against his lifestyle comes to the surface and he lets go of himself. The first instance of this is when he is playing a piece on the piano upon Olivia and Henry’s arrival at the mansion. David decides to play Frédéric Chopin’s Waltz in C sharp minor, Op.64, No. 2 – the exact piece that was played that night in New York when David first set eyes on Olivia. Until that time, she had not known that he had been in the audience.
What entices me so about David is his determination and domination. Yet, at the same time, it is somewhat abhorrent because he has no business trying to steal another man’s wife, let alone that of his own brother. However, David’s masculinity outshines Henry’s more passive nature and lack of concern/action towards Olivia’s well-being in this new environment. Feeling uneasy and out of place, David’s presence was hard to resist especially since he was not just out to take advantage of her. His feelings were as true as Olivia’s also became for him.
“Unless you take David away with you there is nothing in the future for any of us. Don’t you see, Olivia?” – Judy
It could be that in an alternate existence, Olivia and David could have had the relationship they both had dreamed of in having mutual love with their significant other at the start.
Let us just take a moment and admire La Crawford in all of her splendidness.