Judge Daryl Loomis always agrees with everybody because he's never listening.
I love you so much that I hate you.
Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard) was one of the biggest stars of the silent era and her career spanned successfully into the early sound era, but she left pretty quickly. In her next to last film before her extended absence, she headed out to England for her only production across the pond. With with a very young Laurence Olivier (Clash of the Titans), she created Perfect Understanding, a rediscovered romantic comedy that defines the notion of stupid marriages and that the Cohen Film Collection has newly restored.
Facts of the Case
Judy Rogers (Swanson) and Nicholas Randall (Olivier) love each other very much, but neither one feels like marriage is for them. One day, though, they decide to tie the knot on the condition that they agree to never disagree. It seems like a great move and they get married to the delight of everybody, but when Nicholas travels to Cannes by himself, he meets up with an old flame, the inevitable happens. Wracked with guilt upon his return, he admits everything and Judy, predictably, doesn't take the news so well. As the marriage dissolves, they realize just how stupid their little pact was.
Screwball comedy is a thing of its time. It's very specific and feels old fashioned these days, but at its best, it can be very funny. Perfect Understanding is definitely not screwball comedy at its best, but still works really well and, given the eminence of its stars, something any early film fan can enjoy.
In a world of absurd screwball plots, this one just about takes the cake. The idea of two people getting married on such a condition is absolutely ridiculous, but everybody plays it straight enough. The trouble with the plot isn't that, though; it's that they don't spend all that much time together. Nearly a full third of the movie is spent with Nicholas in Cannes. Honestly, the funniest bits take place during this part, but aside from the point of Nicholas sleeping with his old flame, it doesn't really have anything else to do with the plot. They do advocate for drunken boating, which doesn't go so well, so there's that little thing that wouldn't be shown today, but not a whole lot else.
As dumb as the plot is, the biggest issue with the movie is the chemistry between Swanson and Olivier. They're both very strong actors and can do comedy perfectly well; they just don't seem to belong together. Hepburn and Tracy they ain't, so the romance doesn't work, the breakup doesn't work, and the inevitable reconciliation doesn't work. Director Cyril Gardner (Grumpy) does a decent job with the material, which was written by future director Michael Powell (Black Narcissus), but it's a little too disjointed to really gel at any point. Still, as a rediscovered film with notable stars, its success isn't as important as its existence, and I'm glad to have seen it.
The Blu-ray for Perfect Understanding comes from E1 distributing for the Cohen Film Collection, who has done some fantastic work in the past and nothing has changed here. The 1.33:1/1080p image looks great; they've done a near perfect restoration of the film. The print is surprisingly clean, with no significant damage at any point and excellent black levels. Contrast is occasionally variable, though, and there is a little softness in the brighter scenes, but given the film's age and relative obscurity, it's an excellent transfer. The two-channel mono sound is a little more problematic, though. There is a lot more variance here than in the image, with some parts sounding bright and clear while others are quiet, washed out, and occasionally scratchy.
The extras on the disc are limited to two early sound Mack Sennett shorts from 1933, both running about twenty minutes. The first, Dream Stuff, tells of an uncle trying to teach his nephew how to propose to his girlfriend. The second, Husband's Reunion, is a brief comedy about a man who happens to move into his ex-wife's house and infuriating her new husband. Both are relatively funny if you like that sort of early silliness, which I don't have a lot of time for, but they look pretty good (not as good as the feature) and sound fairly decent, as well.
Perfect Understanding isn't going to bust any guts, but it's a good example of the comedy of the time. Gloria Swanson and Laurence Olivier are always good and, even if they don't have the chemistry one necessarily wants in a romantic comedy, they play through the story well enough and make a good pair for the film. With the Cohen Film Collection's continued solid efforts restoring early film, it's an easy recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
• Short Films
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