August 10, 2015

Norma Shearer, Their Own Desire


I suppose you could say that Norma Shearer has worn me down; her propensity to make her characters quirky, upbeat, and plucky, bringing that perky little voice of hers which goes up high whenever she's speaking with those around her, almost as a means to communicate, "I'm adorable! Like me!" used to annoy the hell out of me (as reference, I once described her "voice and tone to be rather annoying" in this film). This time around, I was much more desensitized by her coquettish girlishness. This might be the fact that I realized that at one point in Their Own Desire, Lally is described as "a gay little kid," to which I would admit that Shearer has down well. Sure, sometimes her delivery comes off as contrived ("45? And falls in love? HAHAHA") but ignoring that aspect of Shearer, I found that her overall performance isn't so bad. She is surprisingly more grounded and heartfelt than I remembered her to be, and moments such as the big reveal scene with her father are handled pretty expertly, as she speaks and stares at Lewis Stone with bitter daggers. It's this sharp and bitchier side of Shearer that is refreshing to watch ("big strong he-men doing their stuff" is loaded with subtle shade); as bitchiness is practically a non-entity in her mid-to-late 1930s performances. And when it comes to the melodrama, Shearer does the expected maudlin and melancholic fare which hits all its required marks (I found her quick shots where she is stranded on the island, losing some of her sanity, to be particularly well done). Overall, while this is more of a solid performance as opposed to one that's for the ages, I leave this rewatch much more appreciative of the work and the actress.


  1. It is exactly that "coquettish girlishness" that Shearer was eager to leave behind, and she herself thought Their Own Desire was a step back, didn't want to do it, but "Irving made me." Thalberg could be a hindrance as often as help when seeking to guide Norma. It was his intention to place Norma "above the fray," while Norma understood that for a young actress in some very competitive ranks to be 'above the fray' was the same as being out of the game.

    Naturally, after being praised quite widely for the maturity she attained in The Trial of Mary Dugan and The Last Of Mrs. Cheney she was eager to explore further in that same direction. Luckily, that was only temporarily delayed.

    During the filming of Their Own Desire, Norma was alerted by Ramon Novarro of a wonderful new still photographer in town, George Hurrell, and showed some of the work Hurrell had done for him. Norma was already seeking the lead in Ursula Parrot's "Ex-Wife," about to be cast and filmed, and after having a session with Hurrell that revealed Norma posed sultry to the nines, Irving was convinced she could do it. The film would be retitled for release, Norma's next in line, and her Oscar triumph. And Hurrell would get a contract with MGM.

    I'm glad your appreciation for this one climbed. I didn't finally see it till the 1990s, and I didn't think it was bad at all. If you want to see Norma embarrassed, the culprit to a far greater degree, is she and John Gilbert's spoofing of the Romeo & Juliet balcony scene in Hollywood Revue of 1929. Yeech. Possibly Marie Dressler was the only participant in that sound-test, all-star extravaganza spared of regret.

    1. P.S. While the date still reads August 10, happy 113th birthday, Norma :)

    2. Haha, my Divorcee post has some of these factoids. You tell me them before I'm able to show you that I know of them!

  2. I think Norma's performance in this film starts out with too much gaiety and coquettish-ness (i.e., shrillness) but once the drama hits Norma settles down to some potent dramatic and subtle moments that are sublime. I also think she has some great scenes with Montgomery, especially when he tells her the truth about their parents' relationship (they're both excellent here) and the traumatic scene when they're lost on the island is some superb work. While creaky in the extreme, this 1929 relic still contains some fine acting by Shearer and Montgomery.