The Man in Possession ★★★

Charming, sophisticated, Cambridge educated Robert Montgomery arrives home after a stint in jail for auto theft. His mother greets him warmly, but his father (C. Aubrey Smith) and brother (Reginald Owen) do not want to associate with him. His father offers him money and a ticket to Australia, or anywhere he will go. He declines and leaves the house.

Owen is engaged to Irene Purcell. Although both Owen and Purcell are poor, each of them believes the other is rich.

A bailiff and Montgomery, a sheriff’s man, arrive at Purcell’s home with a writ for the 83 pounds owing on the house. She does not have the money, and Montgomery remains as the court’s “man in possession”. He is attracted to the pretty Purcell.

She is expecting guests, and Montgomery attempts to justify his presence in the house by masquerading as the butler. Purcell’s dinner guests are Montgomery’s family. The dinner goes poorly. A playboy lord comes during dinner, but Purcell gets rid of him. Montgomery’s family leaves, as does her maid, Charlotte Greenwood. Purcell and Montgomery are alone in the house, and he makes love to her. Next morning, Purcell is regretful, but Montgomery is happy and in love.

Owen comes calling, and Montgomery shows Owen the writ which proves that Purcell is poor. Owen leaves rapidly. He also gives Montgomery the money to leave the country. Montgomery proposes, Purcell accepts, and they plan to start a new life in Canada.

Pre-code film has Montgomery and Purcell spending the night together. The next morning her maid finds her torn underwear at the foot of the bed. Purcell and Montgomery openly discuss it. She feels cheap, but he does not agree. The sex act is made acceptable by their getting married.

Robert Montgomery, handsome and debonair, easily fills the role of a devil-may-care hero. Montgomery was a talented actor, especially in light comedy. Irene Purcell, a stage veteran on Broadway from 1924, is a pretty and charming comedian and pairs well with Montgomery. Her film career was brief, she made only 7 films in 1931-1932. C. Aubrey Smith often played lovable curmudgeons, rather than the stuffy and greedy father seen here. Reginald Owen overacts but is funny.

The Man in Possession, written and directed by H. M. Harwood and starring Leslie Banks, had 98 performances on Broadway in 1930. The comedy transfers easily to film; its stage origin is evident but does not detract from the fun.