Classic Film Guide

Single Standard, The (1929) - full review!

Produced and directed by John S. Robertson, based on Adela Rogers St. Johns (What Price Hollywood? (1932)) novel, with adaptation & scenario by Josephine Lovett (Our Dancing Daughters (1928)), this average Greta Garbo silent also stars Nils Asther and Johnny Mack Brown. Garbo plays a debutante whose first love affair, with a chauffeur, ends in tragedy. This colors her future relationships which begins with an affair with a boxer, artist, adventurer (Asther), progresses to her settling for a more stable gentleman (Brown), with whom she has a child, and ends with her having to choose between the two.

Getting some fresh air, Arden Stuart (Garbo) witnesses several married men's philandering before they arrive at a party that she's attending (reportedly, Joel McCrea and/or Robert Montgomery, in his screen debut, are among them!). Tommy Hewlett (Brown) comes outside to encourage Arden to join him, he's been wooing her to marry him, but she refuses on both accounts. Instead, she attracts her chauffeur's (Robert Castle, uncredited) attention, and they go on a fast ride before they stop by the sea and spend most of the night together. When they return, Tommy and her brother Ding (Lane Chandler) are appalled, telling the chauffeur that he is fired. The chauffeur, formerly an ace pilot, drives the car recklessly into a wall, killing himself. This incident will affect Arden profoundly, causing her to withdraw for society. That, and the fact that she is shunned for her dalliance, hence, the double standard (and the film's title).

Much later, Arden decides to go for a walk in the rain. Though she wants to walk alone, she is pursued by a man (Wade Boteler, uncredited). To get away from him, she enters an art gallery. In the gallery, she meets Packy Cannon (Asther), the former champion boxer who now paints. Though his exhibition was closed to a few of his friends, he invites the beautiful Arden to join them. One of Packy’s guests questions whether the champ has gone soft from all his painting, and challenges him to a fight. The two brawl, with Packy coming out on top. But Arden has won his heart away from his girlfriend (Anita Garvin, uncredited) and, after they breakfast the next morning, Packy takes Arden on his yacht for an extended trip. During their sail, they swim and (presumably) have a love affair. However, Packy must work, so he returns Arden to her home saying they'll always share the memories of their perfect love. You see, Arden, having been withdrawn for so long, required his full attention, which he simply can't spare.

Again Arden withdraws, but no such much that Tommy eventually convinces her she must move on by marrying him. Arden agrees, but admits that she is scared what might happen if Packy ever returned to her. Years later, after they've had a son (Wally Albright, uncredited), Arden bumps into Packy, who'd spent a significant amount of time in China, at the beach. Packy proclaims that he should never have left her, but a forlorn Arden walks away, following her husband and child.

*** SPOILERS ***

Of course, the temptation is too great for Arden. She returns to Packy’s boat where the two discuss their future plans together. She says that she must tell Tommy herself what she plans to do. Tommy, who had seen his wife venture to the boat, surprises Packy with a gun. He tells the adventurer that he won't stand in their way, that he plans to kill himself in a hunting accident, but that there is the child to think of, and that he'd like her to be at home when he's gone. Packy agrees. However, when Arden is kissing her child goodbye, she realizes that she can't leave her marriage to Tommy. She goes to tell Packy and then returns as Tommy had made Packy promise, but without realizing that it was her idea. Luckily, her husband's suspicious actions, e.g. with his gun and their child, tips off Arden as to what he'd planned such that she's able to inform him that she's not leaving him, that she'd sent Packy packing ... and they lived happily ever after.

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