Warner Brothers takes a dip into the non-gangster market with director William Keighley. He may have seen this as an assignment to get over and done with. Keightley would work with James Cagney many times and be in the director’s chair for co direction credit in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938).
THE RIGHT TO LIVE (1935) or the original title, THE SACRED FLAME, presents a ‘woman’s picture’ with all its tenderhearted intentions. The acting of the ensemble cast, lead on the poster by Josephine Hutchinson and George Brent, have the film stolen away from them by Colin Clive and Peggy Wood.
The story moves along quickly as the running time is only a little over sixty minutes in North America, cutting a full fifteen minutes from the UK release. Maurice Trent (Clive) is a happy, go lucky, very much in love with Stella Trent (Hutchinson) fellow. Maurice and Stella have a lovely country house and share the joy of adventures to come. Maurice’s mother (Henrietta Crosman) comes for a visit when the unthinkable happens as they are driving to the house. The horrified family witness the plane crash of Maurice’s aircraft as he is playfully stunting the road the car is on. The world has been turned upside down and now Maurice is paralyzed from the waist down and bedridden.
Maurice is remains a happy fellow, still very much missing his wife when she goes away to sleep in a separate bedroom, as was the norm of the day. The family hires a full time caregiver in the person of Nurse Wayland (Peggy Wood) . Maurice seems to think that Stella no longer has ‘color’ in her cheeks as they would dance the night away and go horseback riding. Maurice sends for his brother Colin (George Brent) who has a plantation business to visit them and take Stella out more. Maurice will read business books on plantations and advises his brother of changes to the operation .
One can understand what happens as Colin and Stella go out more as the days pass. Maurice doesn’t see it at all and is still jovial while his nother and his nurse do see for very different reasons. Maurice is under treatment by Doctor Harvester (Leo G. Carroll), who confers with with a colleague that they will operate on Maurice in five months time to regain full mobility. This is a lie and Maurice’s condition’s would not be “cured,” yet it is decided to tell him this to bolster his spirits.
George Brent plays Colin Trent similar to the measured way he played Jim Gilson in THE PURCHASE PRICE (1932) with Barbara Stanwyck. Brent doesn’t have much to do except play the honorable brother who finds himself in a situation of love he did not expect or want. Josephine Hutchinson does well in the role of Stella as she plays her moments with Clive wearing smiles and offering laughter. Stella is in love with Maurice but cannot help being drawn to Colin. They are both caught in a rain storm while horseback riding and the inevitable happens under the trees. Stella and Colin both understand they must not go any further in this tryst and cook up a reason for Colin to head back. The moment in the storm is well played with good effects and camera work.
Colin Clive in the role of Maurice Trent steals this film with sensitivity, laughter and a sadness akin (although not as deep) to his Stanhope in JOURNEYS END (1930). Clive spends most of the picture on his back in a chair or movable bed, using his cane to pull himself along or get things. He always has a smile on his face and a happy tone to his voice that is not far from desperation. His scenes with Hutchinson show a real affection that may have actually gone off screen as well as Clive was thought to be a ‘ladies man.’ The opening moments in the opera house as Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde unfold are sensitive as Clive watches a tear roll down Stella’s face. The family then good naturedly makes fun of her after. Maurice and Stella’s gaze during the song is magnetic. Seldom has the public seen this side of Colin Clive, who was known for playing tormented people. Maurice is tormented by different forces.
The ending is something you may think is rather cliche, however, it follows the cavalier Maurice’s character and reveals Nurse Wayland even more. Peggy Wood is brilliant as the nurse with a stark, matter of fact delivery consisting of a lot of words and quick movements that suddenly change to something else. The nurse also sees all the trouble and black days that Maurice has while Stella and the family only see the good side.
THE RIGHT TO LIVE (1935) has a lovely cast which also has C. Aubrey Smith playing an Englishman and the voice of reason and decorum. Colin Clive would go on to make BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and other roles, only to pass away due to alcoholism to quell inner demons of inadequacy in 1937. Josephine Hutchinson appeared in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), that featured a scene with a portrait of Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein.
THE RIGHT TO LIVE (1935) is worth a look to see what an ensemble can do with a story of who really has a right to live and love.