An oddity in the filmography of each of its stars, Henry Hathaway’s Now and Forever contains the sort of good-natured hokum one associates with melodramas of the 1930’s. Produced by Paramount in 1934, this adaptation of the short story Honor Bright by Jack Kirkland and Melville Baker clocks in at a little over 80 minutes, Hathaway not concerned with character development as much as moving the story from one big moment to the next.
Gary Cooper is Jerry Day, a con artist who, along with his second wife Toni (Carole Lombard), is always one step ahead of the law, trying constantly to figure out a new scheme to get them enough money to live the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to. Intent on selling the custody rights of Penny (Shirley Temple), the daughter from his first marriage that he’s never met to his ex-brother-in-law, Jerry makes the mistake of meeting the charming tyke and is immediately smitten. With Toni pretending to be her mother, the trio attempt to find a comfortable living in Paris, Jerry struggling to go straight for the sake of his daughter but tempted to return to his thieving ways when times prove rough.
In many ways, Forever is an outlier for the three stars. Not a western or romance and far before his image was retooled by his work with director Frank Capra, Cooper cast as a charming schemer goes against type and, in fact, there are times when he seems ill at ease with the role. However, his charm shines through in his scenes with Temple, their chemistry undeniable. As for the tiny titan who was Paramount’s biggest star, this is not the usual song-and-dance for her either. While she does sing one song, the cleverly ironic The World Owes Me a Living, she isn’t allowed to dominate the film. No, the focus is on Cooper and Lombard, who lack the chemistry you’d think two stars of this magnitude would produce. Unfortunately, the actress isn’t allowed to cut loose as she does in her best roles.
Still, Forever is worth a look, if only to watch these three in a movie that challenges our preconceptions of them and see them in what proves to be a transitional movie for each. The new Blu-Ray edition from Kino-Lorber features a 2K restoration and commentary from historian Lee Gambin and costume expert Elissa Rose who provides keen insight on the wardrobe on display. All in all, a very solid package that should be of interest to any fans of Hollywood’s Golden Age.