Evelyn Prentice (1934)

Directed by William K. Howard

It was quite a busy year in 1934 for William Powell and Myrna Loy. A look at their careers shows Powell was in five movies released that year and Loy was in six. Of those films, three showcased the incomparable team of Powell and Loy: their best known pairing, The Thin Man as well as Manhattan Melodrama and Evelyn Prentice.

It seems clear Hollywood knew it had something special with the team. They clicked (and I believe it was Thin Man director W.S. Van Dyke, aka Woody Van Dyke, who saw it first and capitalized on it.

However, other than Van Dyke, it also seems clear Hollywood didn’t know how to best use the magic, at least not initially.

They were paired in a variety of different types of movies, such as the aptly named Manhattan Melodrama. With Evelyn Prentice we get one of those movies that has a sense that it may know it has something but isn’t quite sure how to use it.

William Powell as John Prentice, successful lawyer, and Myrna Loy as neglected wife Evelyn Prentice.

Myrna Loy plays Evelyn Prentice, wife of big name lawyer John Prentice (William Powell). She’s a neglected wife who, suspecting her husband of an affair, gets involved with a petty gigolo, in a relationship that ends in blackmail and murder.

As you would guess, this isn’t a comedy and as anyone familiar with Powell and Loy as a team knows, comedy is their strong suit.

Still, the movie isn’t quite the dramatic thriller you might think it would be. It’s actually a muddle of things as it never really knows what kind of film it is going to be.

It starts well with almost a muted The Thin Man feel with its sense of elegant comedy aided by the ease with which Powell and Loy interact and aided by the comedic talents of Una Merkel as Evelyn’s friend Amy.

Merkel doesn’t need the script to contain comedy; her voice and style are enough to make anything feel funny, if she so chooses.

The movie also has as a catalyst Rosalind Russell (His Girl Friday, Auntie Mame) in her film debut as Mrs. Nancy Harrison, the woman Powell’s John Prentice is defending and who shamelessly throws herself at him, initiating Evelyn’s suspicions and all that follows.

The movie’s sense of comedy soon fades, however, as it becomes more of a romantic melodrama as the marriage between Evelyn and John is threatened by her suspicions and John’s preoccupation with his career.

Then it veers into a whodunit where we know whodunit and then evolves into an improbable courtroom drama. Muddled, indeed.

You would be forgiven for disliking the movie because of its complete lack of sense and direction (and many don’t speak kindly of the film) but I found I liked it despite that. It has a few things going for it that, for me, redeem it. For one thing, it’s short — just 79 minutes — and that usually means, as it does here, it’s tightly edited and moves at a brisk pace.

Evelyn (Myrna Loy) with her friend Amy (Una Merkel).

More importantly, it has performance — Loy and Powell’s and Merkel’s.

While part of me was watching the movie and aware it wasn’t particularly good in cinema and story terms, most of me was simply enjoying William Powell and Myrna Loy on screen acting. They are so easy and natural together it’s almost always a marvel.

I enjoyed Powell in particular and I think watching the final courtroom scenes we see something quite remarkable.

Those courtroom scenes are fantastic in the fantasy sense. They are utterly absurd in their complete indifference to any legal reality. Yet Powell’s performance in them is so convincing with his naturalness you don’t mind. He’s oblivious to the absurdity; he simply performs.

(Loy gives a good performance in the movie too but in the final act she is unfortunately saddled with the “crying woman who must be saved by her man” routine that undermines the more interesting character that had been built up to that point.)

Strictly as a movie, Evelyn Prentice isn’t very good. However, it is worth watching once and possibly a few more times for the simple fact that it has William Powell and Myrna Loy in it, working together and being as charming as ever.

Other Loy and Powell movies:

2 Responses

  1. Rosie says:

    I’m sorry, but I didn’t particularly care for this movie. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I couldn’t even judge it as mediocre.

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