Today We Live is based off a book by William Faulkner of the same title. Faulkner himself even wrote the script. There are certain points of the film that are questionable from the acting, writing, and editing but the story holds up pretty well.
The film takes place during The Great War in England and France. Richard Bogard (Gary Cooper) has traveled from America to England to take over a house from an English family named Boyce- Smith. Before he arrives at the house the man’s daughter Diana (Joan Crawford) has received a letter from the War Office letting her know her father was killed in action.
Diana’s brother Ronnie (Franchot Tone) and their best friend Claude (Robert Young) have joined the Royal Navy. This seems to strike a nerve with Diana since her father has just died. All three are extremely close and have been since childhood. Claude has loved Diana for a long time and asks her to marry him. She says yes and then the two men have to leave for duty.
A while later during a bike ride together, Bogard professes his love to Diana. She tells him he loves her too. Also on the bike ride Bogard decides it is time for him to join the war. After that Diana has joined an ambulance corps to be near Ronnie and Claude.
Diana never gets over her love for Bogard even though she is engaged to Claude. She has told her brother about her feelings for the American. Unfortunately they receive a letter stating that Bogard died in a training accident. But Gary Cooper is the headlining actor so you know his character is not really dead.
One day Bogard takes Claude out on a flying mission where the British soldier takes out a few German planes. The next night Claude and Ronnie take the American soldier on a torpedo mission in the Channel. Claude gets hit by a bullet in the head but he survives and is only blinded.
By this time in my short review you should know that even though Diana is engaged to Claude she and Bogard wind up together somehow in the end and I’m pretty sure if you have seen enough films you may know what happens to get them together.
I was not a fan of the story. From my bit of research on the film I found out that the play did not include a woman. The reason a woman was put into this story was because MGM wanted to put Crawford into another film. It was just about men fighting in the Great War not about a love triangle and a woman suffering from worry. The dialogue was not written very well by Faulkner. The characters are supposed to be British they were not meant to be played by the wholesome image Americans. The dialogue is choppy to try to make it sound British but it just makes the characters look unintelligent and nervous when they speak. Crawford, Tone, and Young were the British characters. Crawford was the only one to pull of some sort of British-ness the best.
What really made some scenes odd was the editing. Apparently the original running time was 135 minutes and was then trimmed to 113. You can clearly see where the editors went to town. Out of nowhere after only talking to each other briefly in the house and on a very short bike ride Bogard tells Diana he loves her. At first I was totally confused and worried that the copy of the film I had was crap and skipped a scene (figured it was what I got for downloading it). But that was not so it was the editing. That bit taken out just made the “love” between Diana and Bogard so unbelievable. But I got to say that the chemistry between Crawford and Young was not believable either.
Since the script was stiff the acting was a bit stiff by the four leads but they still managed to do decent jobs. Crawford was excellent. Her character needed to do a kind of silent suffering or a held back suffering and she played it perfectly I did not feel she over acted at all. Cooper was good. To me he was the gentleman who had a bit of a toughness to him but he was not afraid to be a bit soft. He and Crawford worked well together but I think they could have been fabulous together if they had made a better film. As for Tone and Young I liked them. Tone was good as the protective older brother with Diana as well as a bit with Claude. Young was the little boy who really loved Diana but he did not go over the top with that kind of character. He was sweet but still knew how to be man. The scene when he was flying with Bogard and Bogard’s friend was really funny.
Howard Hawks directed Today We Live. Hawks did the best he could with the story and he made the plot and the characters less boring. He just had a great touch with his films he was always able to get the best out of actors and the characters they played. The plane and boat scenes were excellently directed.
Famed MGM costume designer Adrian created the pieces for Crawford. Right from the moment we see Crawford the woman is not dressed for 1916. She is wearing modern 1930s, Art Deco, whimsical clothing. All I can complain about the clothing was that it was not correct for the 1920s but I love Adrian’s clothing and 1930s fashion so I was able to look past that issue.
Since Today We Live was made in 1933 a year before all the codes were enforced on films Faulkner and MGM were able to keep a risqué piece of action and dialogue in the film. After a long night at the hospital Diana comes home to find Claude waiting for her on her doorstep. He is a bit drunk but she does not want him to be left alone outside. The next day they tell Ronnie that even though they are not married they slept together. Ronnie does not have an issue with what they did he said he knew they had. One of the MANY reasons why I love pre-code films.
With its faulty bits in the editing and the dialogue Today We Live is not a bad film. It is not one of the greatest but it is not horrible. The actors all work great together and Howard Hawks’ direction is as always very well done.
My Suggestion: See it if you can find it (available on DVD)