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Devotion (1931)

When Devotion (1931), based on Pamela Wynne's 1930 novel A Little Flat in the Temple, was released in late September 1931, Leslie Howard was already a star, having become a Broadway sensation in the 1920s. Ann Harding, who specialized in elegant or heroic female roles similar to those of MGM's Norma Shearer, already had an Academy Award nomination under her belt for Holiday (1930). The release of Devotion was most important for Robert Williams, who, like Leslie Howard, had acted with Ann Harding on the stage before any of them came to Hollywood. In the fall of 1931, Williams was on a professional high, having recently completed Platinum Blonde (1931) opposite Jean Harlow and word was getting around Hollywood that he was about to become a star.

Directed by Robert Milton from a screenplay by Horace Jackson and Graham John, the story of Devotion is a convoluted tale of mistaken identity. In a nutshell, Howard plays David Trent, a London barrister with a young son and an estranged wife. Shirley Mortimer (Harding) is the young society woman who falls instantly and secretly in love with him. In order to be closer to Trent, Shirley dons the cliché Hollywood disguise to appear unattractive - she hides her light blonde hair with a dark wig, wears a frumpy gown and puts on glasses. Calling herself Mrs. Halifax, Shirley is hired by Trent to be his son's governess, and while in his employ she helps him in various ways. Eventually, Trent recognizes the real Shirley and declares his love. Complications ensue when his long-lost wife suddenly shows up and the once dowdy Shirley leaves to become a model with Harrington (Williams), a famous artist asking for her hand in marriage. What's a girl to do? It's Hollywood in the 1930s, so it's not hard to predict the ending.

Despite the odd plot, Devotion proved to be popular with the critics. Screenland magazine listed the film among its Top 10 best films of 1931. Mordaunt Hall in The New York Times called it "pleasing entertainment, owing principally to the excellent cast, headed by the radiant and talented Ann Harding, and to Robert Milton's competent direction." However, Hall noted that there was "a certain vagueness about some of the incidents," such as when Trent gets Harrington off on a murder charge for killing his wife after she slashed one of his paintings while drunk. "From the way Harrington behaves in subsequent episodes one would imagine that he had done nothing more than box his wife's ears."

Devotion was still playing in the theaters when Platinum Blonde was released on Halloween, 1931. With two strong performances before the public, Robert Williams was suddenly in the news....but for a different reason. In late October 1931, Williams underwent an operation for appendicitis. Like Rudolph Valentino, who had a similar operation, Williams developed peritonitis. He died on November 3rd at the age of 37. At the time of his death, he was in the midst of filming another movie with Ann Harding, Prestige (1932).

Producer: Charles R. Rogers
Director: Robert Milton
Screenplay: Horace Jackson, Graham John (screenplay); Pamela Wynne (novel)
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Art Direction: Carroll Clark
Film Editing: Daniel Mandell
Cast: Ann Harding (Shirley Mortimer), Leslie Howard (David Trent), Robert Williams (Norman Harrington), O.P. Heggie (Mr. Emmet Mortimer), Louise Closser Hale (Mrs. Mortimer), Dudley Digges (Sergeant Herbert Coggins), Alison Skipworth (Mrs. Matilda Coggins), Doris Lloyd (Pansy), Olive Tell (Mrs. Trent), Ruth Weston (Margaret Mortimer).
BW-81m.

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
Hall, Mordaunt "The Screen: Love at a Glance" The New York Times 6 Oct 31
"Former Stage Stars Take Cinema Roles," Los Angeles Times 1 Oct 31
Merrick, Mollie "Stars and Talkies," Spokesman Review 4 Nov 31
"Prestige" http://www.fandango.com/prestige_v106534/plotsummary VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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