Gloria Swanson made her first picture in 1915, at sixteen, and became one of the giants of the silent era. She moved smoothly into talkies, but was never the magnitude of star of those early days. She was in London with her husband Michael Farmer to have a baby when PERFECT UNDERSTANDING was made. At the suggestion of Douglas Fairbanks, she formed a production company to make it.
She plays an American businesswoman in London where she meets playboy Nicholas Randall(Lawrence Olivier, twenty-six at the time) and they fall in love. With the naivete of the young, Nicholas devices a marriage contract based on perfect understanding, to not be husband and wife, but lover and mistress. Jealousy would never happen to them.
They leave on a whirlwind. extended honeymoon and we get a montage of trains, boats, and airplanes as they tour Europe. Then, somewhere in Spain, they seem a bit bored sitting in an outdoor cafe. Apparently they’ve been there a while as mail is delivered directly to their table by a postman on a bicycle. It from their friends, Kitty(Genevieve Tobin) and George(Michael Farmer, Swanson’s current husband) Drayton inviting them to Cannes for the week.
Nicholas wants one last adventure before they settle down. Judy wants to return to London to get their new flat in order. She sends him to Cannes promising to come in a few days herself. She extracts a promise not to enter the boat race this year.
In Cannes, Nicholas feels lost without Judy and hangs out on the sidelines from most activities. Then an old lover, Lady Stephanie Fitzmaurice(Nora Swinburne) arrives and seems ready to resume their earlier relationship, despite Nicholas’s admonitions of marriage and love of Judy. When a telegram arrives from Judy telling him she won’t make it after all, he impulsively enters that race he’d promised he wouldn’t.
The “Cocktail Regatta” it’s called, a drinking/speedboat racing game. Let’s see, alcohol and speedboats. You know that can’t end well.
Because Nicholas had won the race two years running, he’s under a handicap: four cocktails before the race starts. George gets two, but protests he’s as good as Nicholas and gets two more. All other entrants start with one. Then they have to swim out to their boats, crank them, and take off. At key points along the route they grab another cocktail on the run, and continue. As mentioned earlier, alcohol and speedboats. Completely drunk, George crashes into Nicholas and the race is suddenly over. Neither are hurt bad, mostly shook up, but Stephanie gets them to take Nicholas to her villa, where he spends the night.
Guilt ridden, he reveals all to Judy when he gets back to their flat and begs her forgiveness. She does, but one can see the hurt in her face.
This is billed as a comedy, but I hadn’t seen any yet. Now begins those series of misunderstandings. Nicholas is away on business and Judy goes one evening to have dinner with an old friend, Ivan Ronsson(John Halliday), who’s leaving the next morning for two years abroad, She tells him about the marriage problems and he professes his love for her. “Tell me the word and i won’t get on that boat!” She wants to think about it and leaves, deciding on impulse to walk. Ronsson tells his butler the lady may return. “I’m home to no one else.”
Nicholas returns a day early with flowers, the maid tells him where Judy is having dinner, but when he knocks of course the butler tells him no one is home. Judy’s car sits out front though and he hangs around a bit, gets a cab to ride for fours, finds the car there still at 3:00 a.m., and goes home. Judy wanders all night, then leaves a note innocently thanking Ronsson for their last night together, and returns home. She and Nicholas argue, he storms out to go confront Ronsson, and finds that he’s gone already. But there’s that note.
The pair separate and a month goes by until Judy learns she’s pregnant. Thinking that will bring them back together, it does the opposite. Nicholas still believes she slept with Ronsson and wonders if the child is not his. Another argument. Things aren’t helped when Stephanie shows up and begs Judy to give Nicholas up. She’s divorcing and wants them free to marry. Though she still loves, Nicholas, she’s only to happy to agree and initiates divorce proceedings.
Big elaborate court setting, Judy’s about to get her way, and Nicholas doesn’t want any of it. In desperation, he gets his lawyer to introduce that letter he’d found. British law allows for divorce if one party has been unfaithful. But if both have, no deal.
The sappy happy ending occurs.
At the beginning of the film. Swanson sings a song to her future husband. It’s the clip below.
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