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Case Number 22728: Small Claims Court

Buy the DVD at Warner Archive


Warner Bros. // 1934 // 69 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // November 14th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge P.S. Colbert once felt like an underappreciated, overworked housewife, but the fever broke. He's doing much better now.

The Charge

The pre-code tale of adultery that squeaked past the censors!

The Case

How the mighty have fallen!

In eight years, Bill Reynolds (George Brent, Dark Victory) has gone from being the handsome athletic toast of Hyde Park High School, to an underpaid overworked office assistant in an advertising agency where his ideas aren't considered, much less appreciated.

His sweet supportive wife, Nan (Ann Dvorak, Scarface), encourages him to tell his abusive boss to stuff it, and open up his own agency. But when Bill considers the millions currently out of work in the Great Depression economy and how lucky he is to have a job at all, he can't help but think the wisest course of action for a man with a wife and son to support is to grit his teeth and resign himself to a cruel fate.

It all gets to be too much, however, when the office brings in a new copywriter named Patricia Berkeley, (Bette Davis, Jezebel) who leap-frogs over Bill into her own office and a starting salary that more than triples his. To make matters worse, Bill discovers the luscious blonde who's now giving him orders was once his shy, homely classmate who readily admits she once worshipped the ground he walked upon.

Thoroughly humiliated, Bill finally takes Nan's advice and strikes out on his own.

Success is not immediate, but within a couple of years, the William H. Reynolds advertising firm is going great guns, and looks to do even better after securing the services of one Ms. Patricia Berkeley, who makes no bones about her aim to become Bill's full partner, inside the office and out.

Decisions, decisions: Does Bill stick with steadfast and loyal Nan, the practical, provincial mother of his child, or does he allow himself to be lured away by the pleasure-seeking Ms. Berkeley, who has the cutest way of batting her baby doll eyes when speaking about "the way of all flesh?"

At 69 minutes, Housewife feels more like a parable than a feature film, and the whiplash speed of the resolution no doubt beggared belief just as much with 1934 audiences as it would today's. But that doesn't mean the film is a total write-off. Quite the contrary. The cast is top-notch and, dare I say, much better than the material, which nonetheless has a distinct ring of truth.

Warner Archives publicity material for this picture centers on the fact that it managed to get into theaters despite the "Motion Picture Code,"—more casually known as the "Hays Code," after former Postmanager General Will H. Hays who was then the movie industry's chief censor—which was established in 1930, but not rigorously enforced until 1934, the year Housewife was released.

One of the code's major restrictions was on the subject of adultery, in word or deed, and Housewife pulls no punches in dealing with the causes and effects of marital infidelity.

Of course, there's no nudity, no sex scenes, nor any more than one person in a bed at a time here, so kiddies don't have to be shooed from the room when this film is screening, though keeping their attention on this antiquated "Woman's picture" for its duration might prove to be a real challenge!

Credit director Alfred E. Green (The Jolson Story) for making the most of what little time this soaper is allowed to suds-up the screen, and for keeping the melodrama from becoming turgid by deftly blending in comic relief, particularly with help from veteran scene-stealers Ruth Donnelly (Mr. Deeds Goes To Town) and Hobart Cavanaugh (Kismet).

Warner Archives has remastered a 1.37:1 standard definition print that manages to deliver a picture and 2.0 Mono audio track with a minimum of distraction. No extras are included. Note: This release is an MOD (Made on Demand) selection that comes with a warning—"This disc is expected to playback in DVD Video 'Play Only' devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives."

Considering the brevity of this rather minor cinematic achievement, Housewife's list price seems unnecessarily excessive. Smart shoppers are hereby advised to catch this one on TCM.

The Verdict

Not guilty on a technicality; Buyer beware!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 69

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 69 Minutes
Release Year: 1934
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Drama
• Romance

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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