Cynara (film)

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Movie poster
Directed by King Vidor
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Written byRobert Gore-Browne (novel)
Frances Marion
Lynn Starling
Starring Ronald Colman
Kay Francis
Phyllis Barry
Music by Alfred Newman
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • December 24, 1932 (1932-12-24)
Running time
75 minutes
CountryUnited States

Cynara is an American pre-Code 1932 romantic drama film about a British lawyer who pays a heavy price for an affair. It stars Ronald Colman, Kay Francis, and Phyllis Barry. It is based on the 1928 novel An Imperfect Lover by Robert Gore-Browne. In February 2020, the film was shown at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, as part of a retrospective dedicated to King Vidor's career. [1] A text panel at the beginning of the film explains the title: “Inspired by Ernest Dowson's immortal lines—‘I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion.” The poem in question, Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae , was first published in 1894.



In Naples, disgraced London barrister James "Jim" Warlock (Ronald Colman) prepares to part from his beloved wife Clemency (Kay Francis) and start anew in South Africa. When she asks him to explain the events leading to his downfall, a flashback ensues.

Hard-working, successful, and deeply in love, Jim is looking forward to his seventh wedding anniversary. His friend, John Tring (Henry Stephenson), thinks Jim needs “color” in his life, and laughs at him for being “the last of the virtuous men”. Jim is crestfallen when Clemency informs him that she has to take her sister Garla to Venice for a month to get her away from a parachute jumper, the latest in a string of unsuitable men with whom she has fallen in love.

While the women are away, Tring takes his friend out to dine. At the restaurant, a young shopgirl Doris Lea (Phyllis Barry) in the next booth dons Jim's bowler hat on a dare from her friend and flatmate, Milly Miles. Tring is enchanted, and persuades the reluctant Jim to join the girls. Doris takes a great liking to Jim and gives him her address. Later, he tears up the slip of paper.

Tring has other ideas. He arranges for Jim to judge a swimsuit contest and informs Doris, who becomes a contestant. Jim names her the winner. When she slips and injures her ankle, he picks her up and takes her back to her flat. There, he warns her that he is married and that nothing good can come of their relationship. She tells him that she will not cause trouble when he wishes to end it. They embark on an idyllic affair.

However, when Clemency, Garla, and Garla's new Italian fiancé finally return, Doris finds it impossible to give up the man she loves. Finally, Jim writes her a letter telling her he cannot see her anymore. She responds by committing suicide.

The letter is found, and Jim is forced to testify at the inquest. When the coroner (Halliwell Hobbes) asks if Doris had any prior relationships, Jim protects her privacy and refuses to answer, even though she told him of an earlier liaison. Jim is guilty of no criminal offence, but the scandal destroys his promising career.

The flashback ends. After Jim leaves to board his ocean liner, Tring comes to talk to Clemency. He accepts a share of the blame for what happened, and he reminds Clemency that she may never see Jim again. She rushes to the ship to join her husband.


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  1. "Berlinale 2020: Retrospective "King Vidor"". Berlinale. Retrieved February 28, 2020.