The Silver Cord, 1933. 7.5/10

Sort of an early Bette Davis/Joan Crawford dastardly meddling-mom drama. Laura Hope Crewes is Mrs. Phelps; her son’s David and Robert (Joel McCrea and Eric Linden) don’t appreciate mom’s disruptive influence in their love lives, but, for the most part, they put up with her. Irene Dunne is David’s wife, Christina; Frances Dee is Robert’s girlfriend, Hester. Seems that both Hester and Christina have horrid experiences with momsy, and find it almost impossible to wrench their guys away from her.

Christina is working in her lab, showing Dave some part of an experiment; he tells her and her boss that he’s got a job offer in New York City. Here come the newlyweds home; Hester gets introduced around, then Robert.

Mother’s described as “perfectly marvelous.” She makes an overly- dramatic entrance “I can’t help worrying about these big boys of mine!” She’s histrionic, manic, and soaks up all the attention. It’s fascinating to see how she quizzes Christina about her job–err, her “hobby”–as moms sees it.

Moms actually asks Christina not to “take” all of Dave’s heart. Apparently, mom views Dave’s job offer as Christina’s idea. Mom thinks her son will be a “mere polliwog” in New York City. Christina knows by now she’s got a battle on her hands.

Amazingly, Robert takes mom’s side. She can’t stop talking either. She starts in on Hester, implying that Hester’s had tons of guys before Robert. Since it’s impossible to prove that something didn’t happen, her paranoia creates artificial problems.

She’s even got Robert to promise to break off his engagement to Hester. Luckily for sanity’s sake, Christina and Hester get chummy. Moms keeps talking about her sons as if they’re still little kids. Then, just to mix things up, Hester announces that Christina’s expecting. Hester tells Richard, “I’m marrying you, not your mother!”

Hester is flummoxed; she wants Christina to take her away. “Why did you talk Rob out of of marrying me!” she demands; unphased, Mom’s refuses to let her call a taxi. Hester has got to leave. Now mom’s working on the guys; Robert actually defends that he and mom worked together to dump Hester!

She goes to town on Dave: “If only she [Christina] learned to care for me…the four of us could be so happy together.” First Dave was sitting with his head on her lap in front of the fire; now she’s sitting on his bed. Christina intrudes. “I want to be safe and warm!” Dave has to think when she reminds him what love must mean…”what keeps life going?” Mmm, does he know that?

He can’t leave mom “now.” Because of his laundry, y’know. Christina learns that momsy ran off every girl the brothers had before she and Hester. To her husband, she lays the whole history of their marriage in terms of “your mother’s hold on you.” He basically shoos her out of the room.

Hester’s disappeared; eek! She’s fallen into the frozen pond. Mom’s more concerned with “the boys” catching pnuemonia than Hester drowning. She’s saved, and Robert cleverly uses the doctor’s visit to tell off mom (some of what he attributes to the doctor is probably exaggerated). Mom can’t help accelerating the nuttiness; as a result, Dave wants to abandon his pregnant wife to chaperone his mom overseas.

Big deal. Christina has resolved to leave with Hester in any case. She out-and-out tells Dave to choose between herself and mom. Kind of a boring dressing down for mom now–this is implicit and obvious. Her next comment clinches the deal: she’ll love her baby “unpossessively and unromantically.” Wow, double-barrelled attack.

Even more stagey, though, is mom’s rebuttal. (It does make Freudian sense). Hester and Chris up and go; Dave wants to go too, and, thankfully, he does. From the window, Richard gives an odd blow-by-blow of their departure. A final scene in the back of the car with the three escapees. That’s all.

Up until the Christina/mom speech-fest, this was an excellent psychodrama; then it just sort of stops dead in its tracks for some melodrama. Nonetheless, The Silver Cord is a captivating look at a deeply disturbed parent and family.

Crewes gives a masterful performance–she’s so convincingly awful that this is difficult to watch. In an unusual role reversal for its time, the two younger women are far stronger personalities, and much more interesting characters, than mom’s milksops sons.

There’s a definite economy of character and setting; with a very few exceptions, this drama plays out in a few rooms of the Phelps’ house, amongst these five people. With the notable caveats mentioned above, the pacing zipped back and forth, despite what’s essentially a set-piece mental war.

Relentlessly entertaining: 7.5/10

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