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Joan Crawford Retains a Fierce Sense of Control in 'I Live My Life'

I Live My Life is a film that lands in the lineage of the '30s films about the screwball comedy derived from marital bickering.

I Live My Life

Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Cast: Joan Crawford, Brian Aherne
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1935
US DVD release date: 2014-03-05

Here are the rules for a film like I Live My Life: a man and woman must spend the whole movie arguing in order to prove they're made for each other, and a headstrong woman must ultimately give way to what the man wants. In the wake of the 1934 classics It Happened One Night and Twentieth Century (which are more even-handed), Hollywood unleashed a flood of bickering screwballs, of which Joan Crawford and Brian Aherne play their parts as Kay Bentley and Terry O'Neill in I Live My Life.

Kay, a spoiled heiress of self-parodic lapels, literally stumbles into Terry's archaeological dig on the island of Naxos. The smug archeologist is excavating a Venus, and he compares himself to Pygmalion, leading Kay to call him Pyg. Their literary and articulate repartee is courtesy of writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. He erects a three-part structure that wobbles in the last act (when Terry tries to be an executive vice-president) but makes up for it by getting louder. Crawford fans will enjoy the fire when she unleashes her anger, as she's far more interesting in those scenes than when politely apologizing or casting down her face and making cow-eyes, though she always retains a fierce sense of control.

The movie's nicest element and saving grace is the convincing warmth and love between Kay and her befuddled father (Frank Morgan). When their consideration for each other drives their actions, the movie becomes refreshing. It feels like the movie's real love story, while the alleged romance is forced and artificial at all times. Crawford would re-team with Morgan in the 1937 version of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, where he played the mark to her con artist.

Praise classic Hollywood for littering every movie with character actors. Sterling Holloway makes a few snide remarks as Terry's assistant, similar to the manner in which Eric Blore lisps sly utterances as Kay's butler. Arthur Treacher scores as the hostile butler of Jessie Ralph's "old battle-axe" who runs the family. She's perpetually angry because all the men "are women", and she's waiting for a real man to put her in her place. Esther Dale gets a good line as the put-upon housekeeper who observes that somebody somewhere may not care, and Aline MacMahon stands around rolling her eyes and making wisecracks as the gawky spinster who's probably in love with Terry. That would normally be the Eve Arden role, but Arden wasn't on the scene yet.

An excellent print of this film, along with its battered trailer, is available on demand from Warner Archive.


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