Cast & Crew
When Diane Winters, an American socialite living in Paris, receives word that her estranged daughter Valentine, is coming from America to visit her, she is forced to cancel a trip to Nice, Rome and Budapest. Diane is certain that Valentine, now nineteen, has been reared by her father to hate her, but after meeting her, she is surprised at how well they get along. On the day of her arrival, Valentine is courted by Tony, an alcoholic and a rake. Valentine, who is led to believe that the house and all its furnishings belong to her mother, quickly becomes accustomed to Diane's chic lifestyle and the Paris "whoopee" set. When the drunken Tony takes Valentine for a drive, he crashes his car. Bob Blake, whose car was also involved in the accident, helps Valentine pull Tony from the wreckage. Bob and Valentine take Tony home, and Bob, a Harvard athlete from a conservative Boston family, falls in love with Valentine and proposes to her. After Valentine accepts Bob's proposal, his parents visit them in Paris, and are shocked when Tony leads a party of drunken revelers through the house. As a result, the Blakes forbid their son's marriage to Valentine and leave. When Bob eavesdrops on a conversation between Diane and André de Graignon, he discovers that Diane is his mistress and that de Graignon is the real owner of the house. Bob then tries to rush their marriage plans so that he can take her away from her mother's deception without discovering the truth, however, Bob eventually does tell Valentine the truth about her mother and insists that she forget about Diane. Valentine is insulted by Bob's demands and they break their engagement. Sensing that her daughter is upset, Diane asks her what Bob had said, and Valentine repeats his accusations. When confronted with the truth, Diane admits that she deceived Valentine but, after a heart-to-heart talk, Diane is forgiven by her daughter. Diane moves out of de Graignon's house and into Valentine's small apartment, and Valentine starts seeing Tony again. One day, Valentine sees her mother being dropped off at their apartment by de Graignon, and she is heartbroken. Once in the apartment, Diane informs Valentine that she is leaving for Berlin with de Graignon and asks for one last hug, which Valentine refuses to give. When Bob shows up at the apartment unexpectedly, he encounters Diane, alone, packing her bags, and admonishes her for not accepting Valentine's help. Unable to contain her frustration, Diane informs Bob that she went to his parents to beg their forgiveness and ask them to allow him to marry Valentine. She tells him that his parents responded coolly, and because of this she has decided that it would be best for her to leave. Bob is appalled at his parents' reaction to Diane's visit, and he and Diane search for Valentine. When they find the despondent Valentine with Tony, Bob carries her out and insists on marrying her, and Diane swears off her affair with de Graignon.
This Modern Age
But all grown up and ready for action, Valentine takes a very different view of her chic mother's pleasure-seeking. Valentine is instantly smitten with Diane's flip, sophisticated, good time girl demeanor. Before long the well-matched mother and daughter are inseparable companions on the Paris party circuit. Over the course of director Nick Grinde's sparkling comedy/drama, Valentine is pursued by relentless, playboy drunkard Tony (Monroe Owsley) who promises everything but marriage.
One night Valentine and an inebriated Tony are in a car accident. As Valentine stumbles from the wreckage, she is rescued by a passing motorist, Robert Blake (Neil Hamilton), an Ivy League prince and Harvard football star from a long line of New England swells. The pair are instantly smitten. After their almost immediate engagement Valentine has only to prove herself to Robert's conservative, blue blood parents. That desire to make a good impression and hide her fun-loving past proves more difficult than expected when Valentine learns an ugly secret about her own mother.
Steeped in the cautionary moralism of Thirties Hollywood in which audiences were treated to visions of a glamorous, amoral, devil-may-care high society before matrimony and decency prevailed, This Modern Age (1931) depicts a world of liberated, marriage-fearful women like Diane and Valentine who provided audiences with a taste of how the other half lived. Co-scripted by MGM producer Irving Thalberg's sister Sylvia Thalberg, films like This Modern Age were meant to appeal to impressionable shop girls eager for a glimpse of upper-crust thrill-seeking and the expensive accoutrements of high living -- like Crawford's gorgeous Adrian gowns.
Crawford was the period's consummate Jazz Age baby, who appeared in numerous tales of girls gone wild like 1928's Our Dancing Daughters. F. Scott Fitzgerald reportedly called her the "best example of the flapper, the girl you see at smart nightclubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living." Not everyone was amused at such films and This Modern Age was included on a list of boycotted films compiled by the Catholic Church of Detroit.
One unique aspect of This Modern Age is seeing Joan Crawford as a blonde. According to Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell in Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography (The University Press of Kentucky), Joan "wore her hair that color because the actress who was originally to play the part of the mother, Marjorie Rambeau (who'd played her mother in Laughing Sinners, 1931) was a blonde. When Rambeau became ill, the part was recast with a brunette actress, Pauline Frederick, whom Joan greatly admired. Joan's scenes had already been shot, and the difference in hair color was not reason enough to reshoot them. Besides, there was no reason why a brunette mother couldn't have a blonde-haired daughter - or maybe she was just into peroxide."
The critics seemed to agree that Crawford was well-suited to playing the frivolous and thrill-seeking Valentine. The New York Times said of Crawford "she gives a better portrayal here than she has in any of her previous talking pictures...she succeeds in being quite convincing in cheery and serious moments." Other reviewers tended to see The Modern Age as a film with only limited appeal. Variety thought that Grinde's film would be "a shop girl's delight" but predicted that it would bore men. "There must have been a lot of shop girls, bless 'em," quipped Crawford after This Modern Age became a smash hit.
Director: Nick Grinde
Producer: Irving Thalberg
Screenplay: Sylvia Thalberg, Frank Butler, John Meehan based on the story "Girls Together" by Mildred Cram
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons
Cast: Joan Crawford (Valentine Winters), Pauline Frederick (Diane Winters), Neil Hamilton (Bob Blake), Monroe Owsley (Tony), Hobart Bosworth (Mr. Blake), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Blake), Albert Conti (Andre de Graignon).
by Felicia Feaster
This Modern Age
The working title for this film was Girls Together. A June 1931 Motion Picture Herald cast list credited Marjorie Rambeau as "Diane Winters," Sandra Ravel as "Louise" and Armand Kaliz as "Diane's sweetheart." Rambeau did not appear in the final film, but the participation of Ravel and Kaliz has not been confirmed. A production still from the picture confirms that Ravel was in the cast, but her role May have been cut from the picture. A production still also shows Ann Dvorak in the cast, but her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to M-G-M publicity material, over one half of the cast of This Modern Age was comprised of French actors. Studio publicity material also notes that a unique sound technique was used to capture and balance the simultaneously occurring sounds of Joan Crawford taking a bath and Pauline Frederick speaking on the phone with Albert Conti. The sound engineers, using an invention they called the "sound recording light valve," accomplished the feat after hours of thought. Also, a new type of "camera crane," consisting of a balanced beam twenty feet long with a camera secured to one end, was built to facilitate the filming of the scene in which Crawford and Neil Hamilton crawl upstairs on their hands and knees. According to a biography on Crawford, when asked for her comments on this film many years after its release, she responded: "Forget This Modern Age."