Guardsman The (1931)

Guardsman The (1931)

Directed by Sidney Franklin (The Good Earth (1937)) who would go on to produce such films as the Academy Award winning Best Picture Mrs. Miniver (1942) and receive the Irving G. Thalberg Award this Ernest Vajda screenplay with continuity provided by Claudine West stars husband & wife thespians (and eventual Tony Award winners) Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne recreating their roles as a competitive bickering stage couple they’d played on Broadway. Lunt in the title role and Fontanne both received their only Oscar nominations in this their first talkie and effectively their last (of only a handful of) film(s) unless one counts their appearance as themselves in the World War II extravaganza Stage Door Canteen (1943). It was the first time that a husband and wife received Academy Award nominations in the same year and in the same film; a feat that wasn’t equaled for more than 20 years. It’s really just an average comedy drama though one that feels like you’ve seen it before (and what you saw was probably a lot better).

Set in Vienna Lunt plays a stage actor married to actress Fontanne who suspects his wife may be unfaithful to him. So with the full knowledge of a mutual monocled friend & critic Bernhardt (Roland Young) Lunt pretends to be a Russian soldier and then effectively entraps his wife into an affair. Young (Topper (1937)) is suitably amused by the goings-on. The film’s funniest scene involves Lunt and Young debating the number of men that Fontanne has had. Lunt says seven Young says nine to which Lunt accuses Young of casting (untoward) dispersions upon his beloved. In fact Young’s character had hoped to be a lover (or husband?) of the actress himself. Zasu Pitts plays their maid Maude Eburne plays Mama – both women enable the “extramarital” liaison; Pitts by warning her mistress of her master’s presence by squeaking “Him him”. Herman Bing plays a creditor who admires Lunt’s talent as an actor. For his part Lunt perfectly portrays an actor’s persona striking the right balance between pomposity and insecurity. Fontanne plays her character credibly enough that in the film’s finale when the question as to whether her character knew “the guardsman” was her husband the truth is ambiguous.

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