A LIFE BETTER LIVED (1940). Director: Morgan Birtcastle.
Years before Brokeback Mountain there was this never-released film version of Winston Braddock's 1927 novel about two married men who recognize that their feelings for one another are romantic and sexual. In the film version, which stars Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant as the husbands and life-long best friends, the subject matter was muted so that the two men simply realize that they love each other, platonically, more than they do their wives, and in fact their relationship is the primary relationship in each man's life. The script also was more of a comedy-drama than a drama. However, when studio heads saw the film, it was clear that the real theme of the picture was still fairly obvious to the more sophisticated members of the audience so the film was shelved and hidden away in the vaults for decades.
The comedy aspects of A Life Better Lived are pretty lame - the boys making dinner and making a mess of it and that sort of thing -- but the more dramatic sections have some bite to them. Grant's arguments with Helen Jordan as his wife have the ring of truth and go right up to the "Jim McGreevey"edge. When Bogart and Grant talk about how they're "like brothers" they almost seem to protest too much. While it's clear why the film made so many people nervous, in its "sanitized" form it seems to make the hardly revelatory or controversial point that the friendships (straight) men have with other men often matter more to them than their relationships with their wives. The studio was being overly skittish in shelving a film that was much less racy than some, and probably would have gone over the heads of most of the audience. A Life Better Lived ends with Bogart and Grant leaving their wives and going off to live together in the mountains, but it's sort of played for laughs!
Verdict: Surprisingly effective at times but a bowdlerization of the book. **1/2