Well, that was soapy, wasn't it?
Wealthy Wisconsin farmer Henry Linden (Melvyn Douglas) falls in love with New York dancer Olivia Riley (Joan Crawford), who likes Henry a whole lot, but can't say she loves him. Henry's brother David (Robert Young) comes to New York for a look at Olivia, delivers some smug comments, gets a smack for his trouble. Olivia marries Henry, tosses over ex Roger (Allyn Joslyn) and her celebrity to become the Wisconsin farmer's wife.
Back in Wisconsin David is a cheery guy because that smack in New York made him fall in love with Olivia. Problem is, he's already married, and to a very sweet woman, Judy (Margaret Sullavan), who's been in love with him since they were little kids. Judy's been a swell pal to David, but he's never really been head over heels in love with her ... sound familiar?
Judy welcomes Olivia with open arms and defuses any potential trouble from their first meeting. But Judy was never going to be the problem. It's Henry and David's older sister, Hannah (Fay Bainter), who greets her new sister-in-law with nothing but snide wisecracks and harsh feelings.
Meanwhile, David doesn't just like Olivia, he loves her and, guess what, she's kind of sweet on him too. Especially after he dusts off the piano keys with an enchanting tune inspired by Olivia's arrival. Hannah sees it right away. Judy sees it too, tries not to take it too seriously at first, but eventually comes to realize her marriage is in trouble. Henry's doing too much paper work to notice for awhile.
Poor Melvyn Douglas is wasted here, way too much actor for the scraps of a part he's given. The other four stars get plenty to do, and the women are great at it, while Robert Young is a bit drippy. For all of the passions stirring, everybody also likes one other a whole lot, except Hannah, who sees Olivia as a homewrecker from day one.
This was based on a play that I really hope had an entirely different climax because this one was weak in idea and sloppy in execution, though I'm sure Margaret Sullavan loved the opportunity its aftermath provided. It also gave Fay Bainter a highlight. I suppose her character must have claimed temporary insanity after the fact.
Directed by master of melancholy Frank Borzage, whose suffering lovers are typically a lot more rewarding: 7th Heaven (1927), Bad Girl (1931), Man's Castle (1933), History Is Made at Night, and even Big City (both 1937) are all far superior to The Shining Hour. The only character I ever really cared about this time was Margaret Sullavan's Judy.
My IMDb rating: 6/10, purely for the performances.