Evelyn Prentice (1934)

My single Black Friday 2012 purchase was the TCM Spotlight: Myrna Loy and William Powell boxed set from shop.tcm.com – I got it at a whopping 60% off! The set contains five films I hadn’t seen before (though I was, of course, a fan of both Loy and Powell from The Thin Man series and the films they made individually).

The first film I decided to view from the set is 1934’s Evelyn Prentice.

(Image: annyas.com)

(Image: annyas.com)

French poster for Evelyn Prentice (Image: Doctor Macro)

French poster for Evelyn Prentice (Image: Doctor Macro)

Evelyn (Loy) is married to John Prentice (Powell), a powerful New York City attorney. The couple is well-respected in the city, and due to John’s success in his career they live a very comfortable life with their daughter.

While Evelyn enjoys all of the high status and financial security that comes along with her husband’s career, she is less enthusiastic about the fact that he must spend so much time away from the home. She begins to feel neglected and bored.

In her boredom Evelyn begins spending time with a smarmy womanizer of a writer named Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens) – a decision that takes a criminal turn for the worse.

Evelyn Prentice is directed by William K. Howard (Johnny Come Lately) and based on the novel of the same name by W. E. Woodward. The book was adapted for the screen by Lenore Coffee (Four Daughters), with uncredited assistance from Howard Emmett Rogers (For Me and My Gal).

Rosalind Russell makes her film debut as Nancy, a client of William Powell’s character. Also appearing is Una Murkel.

It goes without saying that the cast of the film is absolutely phenomenal. Loy, Powell, Russell, Merkel! Expectations are always high with so many great players at work on a film, and they all give solid performances here.

Myrna works well as the film’s focus. She has all of the beauty, charm and sincerity required to make the audience love her immediately. This is true in every film in which she appears, but there is an added element of sympathy here since she is portraying a neglected wife.

Una steals a few scenes, but it is Loy’s fantastic and steady performance that carries the film. She is so, so, so good here, especially in the final half hour.

(Image: Hollywood Poster Auction)

(Image: Hollywood Poster Auction)

The film itself isn’t quite as immediately gripping as expected with such a great cast at work, but the story is still interesting throughout and picks up greatly as Evelyn becomes involved in criminal drama.

There are a few funny and cute moments (such as the family exercise time in the lobby card), especially between William and his on-screen daughter, but the film generally remains focused on drama, mystery and a pinch of romance.

The films greatest downfall may be in the casting of Lawrence, or “Larry” as Evelyn sometimes calls him. Harvey Stephens gives a decent performance in the role but isn’t quite sinister enough to give the character the punch he could have had. Stephens’ screen time is quite small, but he could have easily made the character seem like more of a threat to Myrna. Next to Myrna’s stronger performance, he doesn’t seem like much of a foe at all.

The plot of Evelyn Prentice starts out simple but becomes more complicated, full of impact and heavily dramatic as it progresses. By the end it is a very engrossing tale, slowly but successfully building toward an ending that’s almost too nice. The score: 3.5/5

Buy your own copy of the Myrna & Bill box set: Amazon | TCM Shop

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