This Modern Age (1931)

Pauline Frederick and Joan Crawford star as a mother and daughter who are finally getting to know each other after living apart for almost two decades. (Image via doctormacro.com)

Di Winters (Pauline Frederick) unexpectedly receives a letter from her estranged daughter, Val (Joan Crawford). The two don’t know each other, since Di divorced Val’s father long ago.

Val writes that her father has passed away, and that she now wants to come to Paris to get to know the mother that is a stranger to her. Di reacts to this with both nerves and excitement.

When Val arrives in Paris, the two ladies move in together. They live the high society life of amusement for a while and have a delightful time with it. They find excitement, a few romances and a scandal or two as they finally spend time together after nineteen years apart.

But eventually, Val begins to rebel against her mother’s lifestyle and values. And eventually, one of her mother’s biggest secrets is revealed.

Nick Grinde directs This Modern Age, a pre-code drama based on Mildred Cram’s story “Girls Together.” Starring alongside Crawford and Frederick are Neil Hamilton, Hobart Bosworth, Monroe Owsley and Emma Dunn.

Unfortunately, This Modern Age is a film that never quite meets its potential. Aside from the two leads of Crawford and Frederick, many of the performances feel a bit flat. There is a decent energy and quick pace to the story, which would have to be fast-paced in order to be resolved in such a short running time. (The film clocks in at just over an hour.)

Crawford wears beautiful costumes and gives the film’s best performance in her role of Valentine “Val” Winters. (Image via doctormacro.com)

Given the premise, which has potential for all of the tension that comes along with high society scandal, the story is not quite as engrossing as it could have been either, despite the nice pace of action. It would need more emotional impact and truly tense moments in order to be considered a great drama. There are a few surprises in the plot, but they don’t have enough of a “wow” factor to really draw the viewer in, and many of them come far too late, when the viewer’s interest in the characters and their lives has already waned.

There are two bright elements here, though. The first is the aesthetically pleasing design of the film. The costuming and styling are gorgeous, particularly for Crawford. The set decoration is also very good, displaying a very distinctly early ’30s (and very distinctly MGM) style.

The second is Crawford’s performance. Frederick does a very good job of provoking sympathy for her character in her role as the spunky mother who is trying to form a relationship with her daughter, but Crawford as that daughter shines the most.

This film was released somewhat early in Crawford’s career. She had many films under her belt by this time, since her screen career began in 1925 and she released multiple pictures each year from then on, but considering the fact that she appeared in over 100 titles (including both film and television), this is still a relatively early film for her. Already she has built a great screen presence, and her natural talent is obvious despite the film’s many problems. She plays the somewhat moral role here, and she plays it well. It’s an interesting role for her, since she became known for her more outspoken, brash characters and is often typecast as that type of woman in the mind of modern viewers.

This Modern Age is a definite drama overall, but has its moments of silliness and amusement as well. It’s a decent film with two good leads, but is certainly not one of Crawford’s best. Still, if you are a fan of Crawford or Frederick, it would be worth a viewing. The score: 2/5

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