Consolation Marriage (1931)

Steve (Pat O’Brien) is in love with Elaine (Myrna Loy)… but she’s left him and married someone she thinks is a better suitor. Mary (Irene Dunne), likewise, is in love with a man named Aubrey (Lester Vail)… but he’s left her behind for someone else.

Glamorous Elaine ditches __ and marries another man. (Image via Notre Cinema)
Glamorous Elaine ditches Steve and marries another man — a wealthy, British one! (Image via Notre Cinema)

Heartbroken Steve and Mary become friends, finding comfort in their shared unhappiness at being left behind by those they adored. Both remain in love with those who left them, but they decide to marry each other — a “consolation marriage,” which they both agree will be passionless but will at least provide them some sense of companionship.

Complications ensue as Steve and Mary hold on to their former flames, but also come to enjoy each other’s company quite well. Can love be found between two shattered hearts, or will the arrangement end in disaster?

Paul Sloane directs 1931’s Consolation Marriage, from a story by Bill Cunningham.

The plot of Consolation Marriage takes several turns toward melodrama, though there are also plenty of lighter, sweeter moments as Steve and Mary get to know each other. (In one scene, Steve and Mary have a pillow fight, which of course ends in a smooch.) And the whole ordeal wraps up with a very happy Hollywood ending.

The performances are a tad shaky at times on part of Lester Vail and, quite surprisingly, Myrna Loy, who seems unnatural in the scene where she tells Steve she is married. Irene Dunne and Pat O’Brien, however, are both great, and since they’re the focus of the film, the weaker moments of acting aren’t too distracting. Dunne’s character of Mary is very sweet and the actress wins the audience over from the start.

A year after Elaine's wedding, and on the night of Aubrey's, Steve and Mary meet. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
A year after Elaine’s wedding, and on the night of Aubrey’s, Steve and Mary meet. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

This isn’t the most fast-paced film. It runs at about 80 minutes but feels a tad longer, though it isn’t so slow that it becomes dull or tedious. Irene Dunne makes sure of that! The audience stays hooked into the film regardless of the pace through investment in her character.

I’ve also got to give Consolation Marriage a little puppy bonus. Mary and Steve attend a dog show early on in the film, and adopt an adorable St. Bernard puppy! A fuzzy, chubby St. Bernard puppy. Be still, my heart!

Consolation Marriage is no career-best for anyone involved, but it is a decent little watch, with a cute romance and a touch of drama that attempts to ruin it (while never posing too serious a threat). I would recommend this one to Irene Dunne fans in particular. The score: 3/5


4 thoughts on “Consolation Marriage (1931)

  1. I am somewhat obsessed with this movie since seeing it several months ago.

    First of all, I love any early Irene Dunne film. Plus there is a blonde Myrna Loy. I actually think Myrna is good in the movie. Of course she’s beautiful, and her tone is just right for a young woman who isn’t bad, but is definitely immature, self-obsessed and somewhat clueless. Much like the man who is the love of Irene character’s life.

    To me Consolation Marriage is the pre-code of all pre-codes. Once the two main characters meet, there is absolutely nothing in the film that would ever survive code enforcement.

    Mary and Steve agree to a marriage that’s not really a marriage — a definite “no no” on it’s own. However, the film goes beyond that. The pillow fight between Mary and Steve ends with more than a kiss, it ends with a child. Even with a child in the picture, Steve and Mary continue their open, consolation, half-marriage. I don’t think I’ve seen that in any other film. Nor have I seen the leading lady deliver a speech on the place of children in a woman’s life anything like the speech Mary delivers to her baby. It hardly matters that she ultimately doesn’t mean it. She says it just the same.

    Beyond it’s predominant pre-code status, the film also illustrates, sans maudlin displays, what true, sustainable love really is.

    Steve and Mary cling to relationships that couldn’t be because they couldn’t be. Neither of them could dare to be their unvarnished selves with their fantasy lovers. Whereas, Mary and Steve are easy and truthful with each other from the beginning. They come to love each other as real people not out of reach ideals.

    This is done so effectively, I have to keep watching the movie again just to see how they do it.


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