Today We Live (1933)
Director: Howard Hawks, Richard Rosson
Cast: Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Robert Young
Synopsis: During WWI, two officers, one a pilot and the other in the navy, compete for the same beautiful young woman.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
For the period in which it was made, Today We Live has some spectacular action sequences, both in the air (heavily borrowed from Howard Hawks’ earlier Hell’s Angels), and on sea. Unfortunately it is only during these sequences that the movie really takes off, the rest of the time it is firmly rooted in the mire, telling an unconvincing love triangle story.
The fact that the original 135 minute running time of this movie was eventually trimmed to just 113 minutes should offer fair warning that what we’re being served here is a botch job. And the fact that Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford declare their love for one another after one brief conversation and an even briefer bike ride perhaps shows where the editor’s scissors were at their busiest. Yet, despite this breakneck romance, the movie is actually quite slow and stilted as it laboriously sets up the backdrop (a rain-besieged war-time France during WW1) against which the drama is played out.
More damaging, though, is the way the entire dialogue is delivered in a curiously clipped manner, a kind of verbal shorthand, which is not only distracting but also detracts badly from the development of the characters. You find yourself paying more attention to the way they are talking than to the words they are actually saying. It’s a shame really, because William Faulkner’s screenplay is quite sophisticated for the era — as you would expect from a writer of Faulkner’s calibre, I suppose.
Although Joan Crawford looks beautiful and suffers wonderfully, it is a young Robert Young who steals the picture as the man she believes she loves before Gary Cooper and his bike come along and steal her heart. His scenes in the biplane are terrific, especially his apology to an enemy pilot after shooting him out of the sky. There is also a wonderfully touching scene in which the blinded Young asks his brother if he can touch him as he looks on at the sleeping Crawford.
The movie is worth watching if for no other reason than to catch a quartet of stars, still in the relative infancy of their careers, delivering performances that far outshine the quality of the material they are asked to perform.
(Reviewed 13th March 2003)