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Easy Virtue (1927)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Opening title: "Virtue is its own reward, they say, but easy virtue is society's reward for a slandered reputation."

A divorce is announced in the press: "Filton v. Filton and Robson" - the latter being the artist Claude Robson, who was commissioned to paint the society portrait of Larita Filton. She tells the court the tragic saga:

During one sitting, Larita asked her husband to stop drinking, as it was making her nervous. At a second sitting, Larita was alone with Claude who discovered, during adjustments to her pose, that her wrist had been bruised. He swore to her that her husband would never be allowed to drink again in his studio. He then writes her an intimate letter asking her to run away with him.

Following this, Robson became noticeably bolder during the sittings, eventually embracing her. At this point, Filton returned and became threatening. Robson pulled out a gun, shot at him but missed. Filton beat him with his cane and collapsed with exhaustion. Their maid witnessed the scene and ran off to fetch a policeman. Panic-stricken, Robson killed himself.

The prosecuting counsel reveals that Robson left all his money to Larita in his will - nearly £2,000 a year. The jury decides that this is conclusive evidence that she was having an affair, and duly reaches a verdict of guilty. Larita is aghast.

She goes to the South of France to escape the publicity. One day, while watching a tennis match, she is struck in the eye by the ball. Hugely apologetic, the player, John Whittaker, takes her out for a drink, which develops into a whirlwind romance - he's so head over heels in love with her that he refuses to hear about her past.

Newly married, John and Larita return to England, where he introduces her to his family and his friend Sarah, the woman favoured by John's mother as a potential bride. The atmosphere over dinner is frosty - although Sarah couldn't be more supportive and Mr Whittaker is friendly, Mrs Whittaker is clearly suspicious, not least because she thinks Larita looks vaguely familiar. After dinner, she challenges John as to Larita's past, but is none the wiser.

During a polo match a few days later, Larita is recognised by a friend of the Whittakers who was also at her trial. Unnerved by both this and Mrs Whittaker's very obvious hostility towards her, Larita begins having nightmares and pleads with John to take her back to the South of France. He dismisses both this and the suggestion that his family is poisoning his mind against her.

Later, Larita overhears a conversation between John and Sarah in which she chides him for neglecting his wife, and he says that he thinks his marriage was a terrible mistake, and that his mother has opened his eyes to this.

Mrs Whittaker uncovers Larita's past thanks to a magazine article about her divorce. She confronts her with it, and shows it to the other Whittakers, including John - who is clearly startled, but springs to her defence: they were in love, and no explanations were necessary.

Mrs Whittaker says that the family is owed an explanation, as the revelation could disgrace them - "in our world we do not understand this code of easy virtue." This leads to a full-scale row that leads to Larita retreating to her room.

That evening, the Whittakers throw a long-planned party, and resolve to pretend as though nothing untoward has happened, hoping that Larita will stay in her room (telling disappointed guests that she has a headache). However, Larita appears dramatically at the top of the stairs, heavily tarted up and wielding a large feathered fan, and announces that this is how the Whittakers have always pictured her. She proposes a divorce, saying that she will leave the suit undefended.

After the hearing, Larita emerges from the court to face a bevy of photographers, all eager to see "the notorious Larita Filton". Larita's response is defiant: "Shoot! There's nothing left to kill."