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Their Own Desire

Their Own Desire(1929)


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teaser Their Own Desire (1929)

Beautiful, vivacious Lally (Norma Shearer) lives a pampered and sheltered life. Brilliant at polo and quick with the verbal repartee, she is the life of every party and the apple of her father Hal's (Lewis Stone) eye. That is until the long married, restless Hal abandons Lally and breaks her mother's heart by marrying a pretty, much younger Beth Cheever (Helene Millard). Lally and her depressed mother (Belle Bennett) flee for their summer home on Lake Michigan where they try to recover from the dissolution of Harriet and Hal's 23-years of marriage. While vacationing Lally falls head over heels for a handsome, charismatic Princetonian, Jack Cheever (Robert Montgomery), until she learns he is the son of her father's new bride.

A tangled melodrama with an engaging performance from Norma Shearer as its centerpiece, Their Own Desire (1929) is also notable for its action packed screenplay (by Frances Marion) that includes an apparent suicide, a climax involving Lally and Jack lost in a boat during a storm on Lake Michigan and numerous complications aimed at keeping the lovers apart.

Though hyperbolic by today's low-key acting standards, Shearer's charisma carried this drama through its many shifts of emotion. Especially convincing is Shearer's transformation from the perky, fun-loving party girl, to the love-sick woman trying to distance herself from the man she loves out of loyalty to her mother.

Shearer received an Academy Award® nomination for her role as Lally, and she did win the Best Actress Oscar® that year, though not for Their Own Desire. Instead, Shearer -- who was nominated five times for Best Actress Oscars® over the course of her career -- won her statuette for The Divorcee (1930).

As a child Shearer moved in 1920 from her native Montreal to Hollywood with her mother and sister, who would later marry director Howard Hawks. In 1927 Shearer struck her own power deal with her marriage to MGM production chief Irving Thalberg. Some claimed that this well-placed marriage was the key to her success, since Shearer was soon able to cherry pick the best roles in the MGM repertoire. But in many ways Shearer merely represented the polished, ideal MGM star in films like Marie Antoinette (1938) and The Women (1939), demonstrating an admirable ability to shift gears and never allow herself to be typecast. And this "First Lady of the Screen" also made her fair share of bad career choices. After Thalberg's death in 1936 she turned down starring roles in Gone With the Wind (1939) and Mrs. Miniver (1942).

If Shearer was the First Lady of the thespian ranks, screenwriter Frances Marion was the First Lady of Hollywood Letters. Her script work on Their Own Desire (with dialogue provided by playwright James Forbes) was just one of the 150 scenarios, stories and adaptations she worked on over her prolific, highly profitable career.

Shearer's co-star in Their Own Desire was the well-born Robert Montgomery, the product of prestigious prep schools who ultimately had to find menial work when his wealthy father died penniless. After a successful stint in Hollywood playing the reliably handsome, happy-go-lucky romantic lead to such screen legends as Shearer, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Myrna Loy, Montgomery went on to distinguish himself in other ways. He served three terms as president of the Screen Actor's Guild, earned a Bronze Star for his role in the D-Day invasion and affirmed his conservative political leanings when he testified in 1947 as a friendly witness at Washington's HUAC trials, meant to root "Communists" out of Hollywood's ranks.

Montgomery made a name for himself as a director as well and in 1945 filled in for a bedridden John Ford on the set of They Were Expendable (1945). He also contributed some innovative point-of-view camerawork to his adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel, Lady in the Lake, 1947) with himself in the lead as detective Philip Marlowe. In 1955 Montgomery won a Tony for directing the Broadway production of "The Desperate Hours" and went on to father television actress (Bewitched) Elizabeth Montgomery.

Director: E. Mason Hopper
Producer: Irving Thalberg
Screenplay: Frances Marion with dialogue by James Forbes from a novel by Sarita Fuller
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Fred Fisher, Reggie Montgomery, George Ward
Cast: Norma Shearer (Lucia "Lally" Marlett), Belle Bennett (Harriet Marlett), Lewis Stone (Henry "Hal" Marlett), Robert Montgomery (John Douglas/"Jack" Cheever), Helene Millard (Beth Cheever), Cecil Cunningham (Aunt Caroline Elrick), Henry Hebert (Uncle Nate Elrick), Mary Doran (Suzanne Elrick), June Nash (Mildred Elrick).

by Felicia Feaster

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