The funniest aspect of Our Betters is its title. Released in February 1933, the RKO Pre-Code film is a straightforward adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s play of the same name. It centers on a group of British aristocrats and the American heiress who takes advantage of their surprisingly loose morals. These people are all supposed to be “our betters,” but they are clearly only better than the average person in their own minds.
Our Betters is a great example of Constance Bennett’s skills. She stars as Pearl Saunders, an American heiress who marries Lord George Grayson (Alan Mowbray) and learns on their wedding day he has no interest in sticking to their vows. So, she decides to follow by his example, leading a philandering life in England by taking on her own rich lovers and becoming friends with jealous aristocrats.
Pearl’s life is upended when little sister Bessie (Anita Louise) shows up with dreams of following in her sister’s footsteps. Unfortunately for both of them, Bessie’s childhood sweetheart and cousin Fleming (Charles Starrett) followed her across the pond. Pearl begins pushing Bessie into a life of luxury without love, but soon realizes the pain in her own life.
Our Betters was one of three films directed by George Cukor to hit theaters in 1933, and is overshadowed by Dinner at Eight and Little Women. It shows a filmmaker still honing in on his craft, and trying to make a very, very talky script more than just a filmed play. The cinematography by Charles Rosher helps, beautifully capturing the actors and giving Bennett and Louise almost angelic looks in their close-ups. Cukor also brings out the best in the talented actors here, while also unknowingly highlighting the limitations of the young male actors here.
Bennett remains a little secret among classic movie fans as a great actress long forgotten in the mainstream today, despite her astonishing beauty. Our Betters shows how her unique charm could lift any material. However, it could have some squirming today, as all the action plays out in dialogue. Better introductions to Bennett’ work include Cukor’s What Price Hollywood? (1932), the inspiration for A Star Is Born; and her best-known film, the 1937 comedy Topper with Cary Grant.
Warner Archive released Our Betters on DVD in 2019. The disc does not include a trailer or any extras.
Thanks to Warner Archive for providing this disc to review. The screenshots are from the DVD.