Struggling to overcome the notorious fiasco caused by von Stroheim’s 1929 "Queen Kelly," Gloria Swanson starred in a handful of early talkies, most of which have been forgotten today. The subsequent failure of these ventures drove Swanson, in the 1940’s, to the legitimate stage and an avocation as a sculptress. Her correspondences from 1949 discuss a comeback via a new film about which she was ecstatically enthusiastic. This was, of course, Billy Wilder’s "Sunset Boulevard."
So, if you are curious about Swanson’s talking screen roles prior to her immortal characterization of Norma Desmond, check out "Perfect Understanding," just released on DVD and Blu-ray by Cohen Media Group. The company specializes in unusual, independent, and foreign films; and Swanson’s British-made, self-produced, 1933 effort is certainly a rarity!
The plot concerns a pair of progressive newlyweds whose free-wheeling lifestyle is complicated by issues of fidelity and jealousy. "Perfect Understanding" boasts some interesting camerawork and location shots in Southern France. Uncredited, Michael Powell apparently wrote much of the script.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is the starring duo. At 34, Swanson was already at the tail end of her career, but still looking stunning. Her leading man was a young and equally beautiful Laurence Olivier, a relative newcomer to the screen. Both acquit themselves ably, and are assisted by a fine supporting cast.
The Blu-ray quality is quite good, and the extras include some comic film shorts from the same year. In one, Franklin Pangborn attempts to butch it up in a rare "straight" role.
Though hardly a great film, "Perfect Understanding" is an engaging little curio, and certainly a more worthwhile addition to the catalogue than yet another re-release of "Casablanca."