'Afraid to Love' is a comedy that isn't very funny, due to unrealistic and improbable situations. I can laugh at something that's completely unbelievable, such as a Marx Brothers movie, but 'Afraid to Love' takes place in an ostensibly real universe ... yet this film offers characters and motivations that we're unlikely ever to meet.
SPOILERS THROUGHOUT. Sir Reginald Belsize, a languid baronet, is romantically involved with Helen de Semiano ... but she is married, and her husband is in no hurry to give her a divorce. Out of the blue, Sir Reginald is abruptly informed that he is heir to a vast fortune, but only if he gets married -- to any woman, any woman at all -- within the next two days! See what I mean? This sort of contrivance happens often in bad movies -- and occasionally in good ones, such as Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' -- but how often have you ever heard of a real-life example of an inheritance based on marital status? Helen is eager to marry Sir Reginald, but she can't get shut of her husband in time to meet the deadline.
Now comes another contrivance. If Sir Reginald isn't married to some woman -- a total stranger will do -- within 48 hours, the inheritance goes to something called the Wapping Aquarium! In the real world, Wapping is a working-class neighbourhood, unlikely to contain anything so poncy as an aquarium. I suspect that the scriptwriter meant this as a parody of Battersea Dogs' Home, an actual charity.
Sir Reginald dashes off to his friend John Trevor, who runs a labour exchange. The baronet figures that Trevor can find some woman who's willing to marry him just long enough for Sir Reginald to collect the cash, then he'll buy her off with a quickie divorce. This is fine with Helen, but she insists that Sir Reginald marry an *ugly* woman ... to ensure there'll be no hanky-panky on the way to the banky.
Meanwhile, at Travers's office, we meet Katherine Silverton, known in this silent film's screen titles as 'Kitty'. She's trying to persuade Travers to hire her as a typist, but is somewhat hampered by the fact that she can't spell. Kitty is pretty, though not very witty. (A pity.) When Sir Reginald arrives, she sees him and is attracted to him. She also overhears Sir Reginald telling Travers that he wants to marry an ugly woman: any total stranger will do.
And so Kitty, who has just now clapped eyes on Sir Reginald and knows nothing about him, decides to marry him. See what I meant about contrivance? The plot would make sense if Kitty knew that Sir Reginald is about to become very rich ... but we're expected to believe that Kitty would marry an utter stranger *without* being after his money.
Kitty is played by Florence Vidor, an actress of some minor beauty but not much dramatic talent. Kitty is too pretty to qualify for Sir Reginald's matri-money (I mean his matrimony), so straight away she uglifies herself with several layers of make-up. I found this sequence quite distressing; it had Florence Vidor looking like a drag queen. But she makes herself ugly enough to meet Helen's standards.
Sir Reginald marries Kitty, and then they go off to Paris ... with Helen tagging along to make certain that Sir Reginald doesn't have sex with his legally wedded wife, thereby cheating on his mistress who's married to another man. But Kitty very quickly reveals her true looks, dismaying Helen when she discovers how attractive Kitty is.
This 'comedy' isn't very funny, although there is one amusing sequence involving a butler who has several 'accidents' on purpose in order to give surreptitious signals to Kitty. The butler is played by Arthur Lubin, who later had a long successful career as a producer and director of lowbrow comedies: notably the Francis the Talking Mule movies and the TV series 'Mr Ed'.
Eventually, Sir Reginald collects his inheritance and he duly pays off Kitty with a cheque for £5,000, as he had planned to do all along. He and Kitty divorce, and the baronet goes pell-mell to Pall Mall to relax in his club. When he tries to use his cigarette holder, he discovers there's something crammed into it ... his cheque! Kitty stuffed it in there. Apparently she was interested in Sir Reginald for himself, not for his money. (Pull the other one.)
There's a Cinderella ending, no less improbable than all that's gone before. Part of the problem is that we're never certain that Kitty isn't acting from mercenary motives. Even her refusal of Sir Reginald's 5,000 quid could be a ploy to lower his defences while she siphons more money out of him. It doesn't help that Clive Brook (as Sir Reginald) seems to be bored stiff throughout this entire film. I'll rate this rubbish 1 points out of 10, mostly for the title graphics and art direction. Vidor and Brooke were teamed much more effecitvely in 'You Never Know Women'.
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