New Morals for Old is an interesting family drama released in the heart of the pre-Code era. Based on a short-lived 1931 John Van Druten play titled After All, it concerns siblings Ralph (Robert Young) and Phyl (Margaret Perry, who was also in the Broadway cast), who want to live their own lives and make their own mistakes, to the consternation of their loving but “old-fashioned” and controlling parents (Lewis Stone and Laura Hope Crews).
Phyl is in love with a married man, Duff (David Newell), while Ralph dreams of leaving the family wallpaper business to study art in Paris.
This being a pre-Code film, the treatment of certain issues is quite a bit more frank than would be the case in films just a couple of years later. Phyl moves into her own apartment in order to have a love affair with Duff, whose wife won’t divorce him, and when Ralph studies art in Paris, he has a fling with the charming lady in the apartment next door, played by Myrna Loy in a small but noticeable role. It’s a bit of a surprise, for an “old” movie, to have Ralph and the young lady meet, then appear together in pajamas in the very next scene!
The film retains a theatrical feel, with the viewer having the sense of watching a filmed stage play much of the time. Along with the theatricality, however, some of the small moments and family relationships ring true, and the movie proves to be a satisfying 75 minutes as Ralph and Phyl “live and learn.” As the film drew to a close, I reflected that I was glad I had watched it.
This was one of Robert Young’s earliest films, and he acquits himself well, developing from a rather immature young man given to sleeping away most of his weekend to someone who can see that while his parents may have been overly possessive and rigid, struggling with him being an autonomous adult, they loved him and provided him with a good home and a good start in life. He also finds the truth in that old cliché, “There’s no place like home.”
Margaret Perry was the daughter of Antoinette Perry, for whom Broadway’s Tony Awards were named. New Morals for Old was the first of Perry’s three films. She’s quite effective, so it’s interesting she didn’t develop a longer film career. An interesting side note is that she was briefly married to actor Burgess Meredith in the late ’30s. Perry passed away in 2007.
It’s also interesting to note that in the original Broadway production of the play, Perry played opposite Humphrey Bogart as her love interest.
The film was directed by Charles Brabin and filmed by John Mescal, also known as John Mescall. The film’s supporting cast includes Elizabeth Patterson, Louise Closser Hale, Jean Hersholt, Ruth Selwyn, and Lillian Harmer.
The church seen in the opening shot is the still-standing Hollywood United Methodist Church, located on Franklin Avenue near Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The church has been seen in other films, including 1941’s One Foot in Heaven, and its website even includes a locations photo page to recruit filming.
Laura G. is a proofreader and homeschooling parent who is a lifelong film enthusiast. Laura’s thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005.