Norma Shearer who shoulders the brunt of the histrionic burden, somehow misses in a vacillating characterization which was made necessarily so, for censor purposes alone, if nothing else. As for Clark Gable, he is eclipsed by Alexander Kirkland as the weak husband of the heroine and Ralph Morgan as the mawk with the mother fixation.
Through their life’s span, as the story proceeds into old age, when Nina Leeds (Shearer) sees her illegitimate son moulded to conform with her life’s ideas, the episodic, transitory cinematurgy is as much a credit to the hairdressers and the makeup staff on the Metro lot as to Shearer, Gable, Kirkland and Morgan. The makeup is excellent but the make-believe isn’t.
No question that the devitalizing of the [1928 – 29 Pulitzer Prize play by Eugene] O’Neill has much to do with it. The formula cinematic contrivances employed to pitch emotions falsely, to misfit climaxes, are very apparent.
The O’Neill asides, in screen treatment, might be said to be somewhat of an improvement over the stage original. The actual words are uttered, and then the subconscious thoughts are voiced by the same player on the soundtrack (with a different inflection, of course).