When a Man Loves (1927)

Genres - Drama  |   Release Date - Aug 21, 1927 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 83 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Several intimates of John Barrymore claimed that he was so enamored of his future wife, Dolores Costello, that he threw scenes to her in When a Man Loves. A close inspection of this costume adventure-drama indicates that this may very well have been the case -- as Fabien des Grieux, Barrymore gives one of his most restrained performances, and he tones it down even more when Costello is sharing the frame with him. Luckily, Costello lives up to the demands this puts on her -- not only is she beautiful, she is also captivating as Manon Lescaut, the woman who inspires Fabien to leave his studies for the priesthood, and several other disastrous life choices. Neither Barrymore nor Costello, however, get any mercy from Warner Oland, who hams it up marvelously as Manon's brother, a wicked character who is nevertheless impossible to hate. Manon, who becomes the mistress of an old count (Sam DeGrasse) and then freely spends Fabien's money when she returns to him, shouldn't be very sympathetic either, but somehow her faults only serve to make her more human. The fact that she suffers so terribly in the end, when she is arrested as a whore and chained to be shipped off to a penal colony, helps to redeem her. When a Man Loves plays it safe by blending elements of previous Barrymore films: virile action, glamour, romance...and lots of close-ups of the "the Great Profile." But it's presented in such all-out epic fashion that it doesn't matter that no new ground is being broken. While it's not a great film, it is very, very good -- it's close to being a classic, and just barely misses making the grade.