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Love and the Law

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Saint Valentine Number by Frank A. Nankivell, 1911. [Courtesy Prints & Photographs]
Since our post on Christmas Movies and the Law was so successful, we decided to try our hand at a post about movies, love, and the law in celebration of Valentine’s Day.  As with our Christmas post, we found some of our colleagues were cynics, but although they may have a jaundiced eye regarding love they supply keen insights into the legal issues at hand.

Robert’s choice was War of the Roses, which he characterized as undoubtedly the greatest movie ever made about a bitter, protracted divorce. This black comedy features a wealthy couple who have fallen out of love, and are absolutely determined to not let the other get the better of the marital property division. At one point, the wife even drives a monster truck over the husband’s Morgan 4/4, which is one of the most tragic scenes in cinematic history. For those who have not seen it, we will not give away the ending, but this is definitely not a film where things end happily ever after.

The only time Andrew makes it to the movie theater is for something that is probably related to his kids.  He recently sang along to Frozen.  A major plot point of the movie is the need to find an act of true love to mend a frozen heart, not the most legal of issues (contracts perhaps?).    Outside of the theater, there is a different question playing out.  Disney filed a trademark lawsuit against the very similar logo of “Frozen Land.”

Barbara suggested several different movies.  One of her most intriguing suggestions was Shakespeare in Love.  One of the main points around which the plot revolves is the restriction against allowing women to perform on the stage.  Indeed it was not until 1660 and the restoration of Charles II that women were allowed to act in the theater in England.  However, after some investigation, this restriction appears to have been based on church rules and not in English statutory law.  Barbara also suggested The Bachelor in which the main character, Jimmie Shannon, must marry by his 30th birthday in order to inherit his grandfather’s considerable fortune – in this case he finds out about the relevant clauses in his grandfather’s will 24 hours before his birthday.  Although the movie hinges on the terms of a will, it is highly improbable that Jimmie would not have been made aware of these conditions when the will was probated.  The movie takes place in California and the California Probate Code has a number of different requirements for the probating of a will including the need to notify the superior court in the county in which a person was resident at the time they died be notified of the death.

Another contribution came from our former colleague John Cannan who had this to say on the subject.  Love is not all flowery sentiments and paper lace cards.  It has its darker side, unbridled passion which can lead to intrigue…even MURDER!  This is the theme of Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 movie Body Heat.  William Hurt stars as down-on-his-luck lawyer, Ned Racine, who falls for femme fatale, Matty Walker.  Irrational love proves the hapless Racine’s undoing as he finds himself entrapped in the devious Walker’s web of deception.  Actually, the real love affair with this movie is the professional one between it and property law students and teachers.   A major plot twist in the film revolves around the Rule Against Perpetuities, bringing a pop culture edge to a legal principle that is hard to learn and even harder to teach.

The movie which came to mind for me, was Green Card.  This movie involves a marriage of convenience – an old and well-tried plot device.  In this case, the heroine marries a Frenchman who is living in the country illegally.  The movie is actually about two different legal issues, one state and one federal.  The heroine, played by Andie McDowell enters into this marriage of convenience in order to qualify for a condominium in New York City, while her erstwhile husband hopes to remain in the United States as a permanent resident by qualifying for a “green card.”  Immediate relatives including spouses, parents and children under 21 are eligible for green cards.  But Title 8, section 1255 of the United States Code states that the marriage must have been undertaken in good faith and the alien must not have violated the terms of a nonimmigrant visa.  My recollection of the movie is a little hazy, but I believe Gerard Depardieu’s character had overstayed his visa and even with marriage would not have been eligible for permanent residency.  However, a  movie about a modern marriage of convenience which turns to love is considerably more romantic than a movie about visa violations.

Donna enjoyed a movie with a similar theme, The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.  Bullock plays Margaret Tate, a successful if somewhat heartless editor at a New York publishing house.  Reynolds plays Andrew Paxton, her harried assistant who typically does whatever she demands.  When Margaret is told by her superiors that she is going to be deported back to Canada for visa violations, she “reveals” to them that she plans to marry Andrew (an American), much to the poor guy’s surprise.  The film touches on the same theme as Green Card – marriages of convenience – but also brings in another complicated theme of sexual harassment in the workplace.  As Andrew’s superior, Margaret compels him to play along in exchange for a promotion.

Ruth suggested The Return of Martin Guerre.  As she pointed out, this is a good example of a film where love does not turn out well — I seem to have a lot of colleagues who like the darker side of love.  This film’s protagonist has been gone for several years when he apparently returns to his village.  This new version of Martin is better liked by most including his wife, but property ownership is at stake and “Martin” is put on trial to determine if he is indeed who he claims to be.  As France was a civil law country, the case was heard before a judge who was responsible for investigating the facts of the case and then making a ruling.

The post would not be complete without mentioning the 1949 classic comedy, Adam’s Rib.  The movie stars Katherine  Hepburn and Spencer Tracy playing married lawyers who end up facing each other in court as they respectively prosecute a case involving a wife’s attempted murder of her philandering husband.  The case starts to tear apart Hepburn and Tracy’s marriage, but this is a comedy and by the end of the movie we know they will live “happily ever after!”

Comments (2)

  1. As an immigration attorney I have to note that Gerard Depardieu’s overstay of his visa would not prohibit him from being eligible to obtain permanent residence (a greencard) in the U.S. as long as he entered the U.S. lawfully. Foreign nationals married to U.S. citizens are exempt from the general rule that you are not eligible to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. if you have violated your status in the U.S. (as long as the person was inspected and admitted lawfully.) Gotta love exceptions to the rules.

  2. Once again, entertaining column for the holiday! Can’t wait to see if you can meet the Easter challenge.

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