Plot: Laura (Dorothy Mackaill) and Jay (James Rennie) are freshly married, but they plan to avoid the usual pitfalls of wedded bliss and go for a more progressive approach, to keep their individual freedoms. The two hope a more open minded marriage will lead to less jealousy, more spark, and allow each to maintain their unique identity, all while also enjoying the bonds of matrimony at the same time. No small feat and many others have tried and failed, but this couple is convinced they are modern and forward thinking enough to make it work. Soon however, each one is drawn into complicated situations, with Laura working late for her lecherous boss and Jay attracts the attention of another woman, who has designs for his affections. Will the two be able to put their progressive ideals into action and make their unique marriage last, or will the jealousies sneak in, despite their open minded intentions?
Entertainment Value: I found Party Husband to be a solid pre-code effort, especially since it explores open marriage with a direct approach, but it never quite rose above solid. I suppose it could be that I watched it so close to Mackaill’s The Office Wife, which was a fun, brisk romp, but this movie felt a little too drawn out and lacked the pep I had expected. The narrative is interesting and as I said, open marriage being looked at like this is an eye opener, but pre-code cinema isn’t shy, so the various trials of such an arrangement are examined here. Not as lurid or scandalous as it might have been, but there is some sizzle here and the more exotic elements are present, just handled in more subtle ways. But the pace could have used a little goose at times and at just over 70 minutes, there’s no real reason for the lulls. A sharper, snappier approach could have worked some wonders here, but while on the slow side at times, I never found Party Husband to be dull or stagnant. And I still think this is a solid watch, so fans of Mackaill and pre-code movies are likely to appreciate the movie.
The main draw of Party Husband is likely to be Dorothy Mackaill, who does prove to be the film’s strongest element. She is able to showcase her talents well here, ranging from light comedy to romance to more dramatic, emotional moments, so it is a good role and she is more than up to the challenge. While the movie isn’t one of her best that I’ve seen, her performance is strong and would make a good introduction, as it is likely to pull viewers back to see her other work. There is a sweetness to her turn as Laura, but also a toughness and intelligence, so this is a well developed role and Mackaill makes the most of the chance to shine. James Rennie is fine as the husband in this special marriage, but his performance doesn’t rise to the level of Mackaill’s, though their shared scenes do fare better than the ones without her. The chemistry between the two is solid and gets the job done, even if not intense or overly passionate. The cast also includes Joe Donahue, Dorothy Peterson, and Donald Cook.