Cast & Crew
Laura Hope Crews
When budding architect Dave Phelps receives word about a post in New York, he and his new wife Christina, a research biologist who has been offered a job at the Rockefeller Institute, leave Heidelberg and return to the United States. Before going to New York, the newlyweds visit Dave's mother, his brother Robert and Robert's fiancée Hester in the country. Although she has never met Christina, Mrs. Phelps all but ignores her daughter-in-law and showers gushing affection on Dave, calling him her "big boy." Later, after insisting that Dave take the room next to hers, alone, Mrs. Phelps has a private discussion with Christina in which she accuses her of selfishly taking Dave away to further her own questionable career. A jealous Mrs. Phelps then convinces Robert that he and Hester are not truly in love and talks him into breaking off their engagement. After she hears Hester's hysterical warnings about Mrs. Phelps, Christina, who has announced that she is pregnant, begins to worry about the depth of her husband's commitment to their marriage. Dave, torn between his desire for Christina and his simple love for his manipulative mother, refuses Christina's pleas to leave immediately for New York, but insists that he still loves her. However, after Hester, crazed with humiliation, runs from the house and falls into a frozen pond, nearly drowning, Christina gives Dave an ultimatum either to stay with his mother or leave with her that morning. Before departing, Christina confronts Mrs. Phelps, accusing her of using her sons as a romantic substitute for her dead husband. Mrs. Phelps, stubbornly defends her "right" to love her sons and orders Dave to stay with her. Although he first gives in to his mother's demands, Dave finally asserts himself and runs to Christina's side.
Laura Hope Crews
Pandro S. Berman
Merian C. Cooper
George Nicholls Jr.
Van Nest Polglase
James G. Stewart
J. O. Taylor
The Silver Cord
In 1933, the head of production at RKO, Merian C. Cooper, was enjoying the peak of his career. That same year, Cooper's dream of a larger than life gorilla terrorizing Manhattan, King Kong (1933), had become a reality. Cooper's executive assistant and right-hand man Pandro S. Berman, who had survived David O'Selznick's layoffs when he took over the studio, teamed with Cooper to bring Howard's play to the big screen. Cromwell moved from Paramount to RKO in 1933 and was assigned as director. Crews, who delivered many impressive performances as the domineering Mrs. Phelps, was brought on to the project to reprise her theatrical role. Screenwriter Jane Murfin was tasked with adapting Howard's play and according to the AFI had "toned down the more overtly sexual aspects" making it fit for the silver screen. Had the film production been delayed, it may not have passed the strict guidelines of the Hays Code that were more strictly enforced starting in 1934. play lived on and continues to be performed in off-Broadway productions to the present day.
In addition to Crews, the other principal players include Irene Dunne, Joel McCrea, Frances Dee and Eric Linden. Dunne had success with her Academy Award-nominated role in her second film Cimarron (1931) for RKO, but according to RKO historian Richard Jewell, she was "hardly an overnight sensation... [and] did not become a major asset for several years." McCrea had been a member of RKO's stock company for some time after moving from MGM. Dunne and McCrea play the principal couple, a biologist and architect whose marriage is put to the test. play lived on and continues to be performed in off-Broadway productions to the present day.
The Silver Cord is perhaps best known for its connection to Joel McCrea and Frances Dee's enduring love story. McCrea had seen Dee in the Paramount film An American Tragedy (1931) and personally requested that she play a part in The Silver Cord . The two met for the first time on the set of the film. Dee had been dating co-star Eric Linden, who plays Mrs. Phelps' emotionally vulnerable son Robert, and it wasn't until after filming had wrapped that Dee and McCrea began their whirlwind courtship. They married later that same year and appeared together in four more films. Dee and McCrea remained together until McCrea's death in 1990. play lived on and continues to be performed in off-Broadway productions to the present day.
Production on The Silver Cord took place in Wrightwood, California. The action in the film is mostly confined to a few rooms, keeping true to the stage play origins. Dunne and Crews play notably strong female characters in the film. Dunne's Christina Phelps is an accomplished biologist who is revered by her mentor, a German doctor played by Gustav von Seyffertitz. It's understood that while she has married a man who will move the family to New York for his own job opportunity, she will be able to maintain a balance between her relationship and her own successful career. Crews has many shining moments in the film, especially with her cutting diatribes and long-winded speeches. Crews' Mrs. Phelps has command over both of her sons and it's only McCrea's David, who for the majority of the film is torn between mother love and his new wife, who is able to escape her tenacious grasp. Provocative themes that include pregnancy, suicide and implied incest were toned down but still relevant to the final story. play lived on and continues to be performed in off-Broadway productions to the present day.
The Silver Cord premiered on May 4th, 1933 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It garnered mixed reviews. Time Magazine called the film "a searching and bitter character study of a woman whose exaggerated affection for her children has made weaklings of them and a monster of herself." The New York Times film critic Morduant Hall wrote, "there is a great deal of conversation and comparatively little action in the picturization of Sidney Howard's play." He went on to note that new Hollywood releases at the time featured sparser dialogue and The Silver Cord "easily outdid all the others in the abundance of words and yet it held the attention of the audience throughout its length." play lived on and continues to be performed in off-Broadway productions to the present day.
The Silver Cord became a rarity over the years. It was shown twice on cable television during the 1990s and was part of the FilmStruck streaming service line-up in 2018. Howard's play lived on and continues to be performed in off-Broadway productions to the present day.
By Raquel Stecher
The Silver Cord
Laura Hope Crews played the part of Mrs. Phelps on stage, and John Cromwell directed the original Broadway production. According to reviews, the film script toned down the more overtly sexual aspects of the play. Background shots for the production were taken in Wrightwood, CA, according to International Photographer. Joel McCrea and Frances Dee, who was borrowed from Paramount, appeared together for the first time in The Silver Cord and married shortly after the production; they remained married until McCrea's death in 1990. George Meeker was identified in a production still from the picture, but does not appear in the released film.