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23 year old Barbara Stanwyck became a leading film star in 1930 with
the release of LADIES OF LEISURE, after having starred in two flops in
1929. This is a very slender story of a good time girl who falls in
love with a millionaire's son who basically is just interested in her
as a model for a painting he wants to do. Given how free-wheeling and
blunt most early talkies were on morality, this movie is surprisingly
discreet about Stanwyck's character's past. We are supposed to read
into the story she's a prostitute (or more accurately, a former
mistress) - but in her first scene she is fleeing a yacht party that's
too risqué for her!! Stanwyck rings honesty out of a cardboard script
and she's got good support from three second-tier silent stars who are
quite good in talkies - Ralph Graves as the object of her affection,
Marie Prevost as her wisecracking, less prudish pal, and especially
Lowell Sherman as Graves' drunken buddy who is very open to being
Stanwyck's next sugar daddy yet the best scene is the confrontation
being Stanwyck and Graves' mother, superbly played by a somewhat unsung
character actress, Nance O'Neil.
The movie's minor fame today rests on it being Stanwyck's first screen success and an early hit for director Frank Capra yet Capra's direction is rather dull and often awkward and the movie is very badly edited with some scenes conspicuously made up of different takes with shot angles and acting rhythms off among other giveaways (to say nothing of the scene where Graves answers the phone and says "Hello" way before the receiver is anywhere near his mouth!!) As mentioned by another reviewer, a "silent" version of the film was also shot (the smaller studios like Columbia were still making silent versions of some of their films up to 1931 for the ever dwindling number of movie theaters that were still not wired for sound), I don't know anything about the silent version being available on video and not the sound film, possibly the silent version fell into public domain and that's why that version alone is on tape, however the sound version still exists and was shown on American Movie Classics in the early 1990's back when that channel actually showed classic movies. Turner Classic Movies, on the other hand, has so many MGM and Warner Bros. films at their disposal they hardly need to go elsewhere for films so it's not likely they will bother to pick up rights to this movie from Columbia. I wouldn't be surprised, however, one day to see it and a number of other early Capra talkies together in a boxed DVD set given his legend as a director.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The sound version of Ladies of Leisure is immeasurably better than the
silent version which has floated around for years. I suspect the silent
is easily available because it is public domain and the sound version
is copyrighted and being hoarded.
A friend in Europe sent me a rare copy of the sound version on PAL disc which I converted to NTSC for myself. The silent version I've had a few years.
It was a delight to actually SEE the sets in the sound version, first of all. Clarity is so much better! In the silent version the artist's (Ralph Graves) dwelling looks like a slimy, dirty hovel because the print is so lousy. In the sound version it looks just what it was supposed to be: a very rich guy's penthouse apartment in Manhattan. What a contrast!
In the sound version Marie Prevost gets many more scenes; in the silent version her part is cut to practically nil. However in both versions I did get a little ticked off at the script constantly harping on her weight. We all know how Marie died and it's terrible to hear lines constantly like: "If you gain another 10 pounds no one will look at you." Poor dear Marie. It wasn't bad enough she had to hear it in real life, she had to hear it on screen as well! The big problem is she does NOT look fat! She looks NORMAL! Just not a skinny stringbean like so many other actresses. She was a delight no matter what she weighed; why didn't someone help that woman instead of knock her down? She made a lot of money for the studios in her day and then they dumped her when she needed help. Cruel Hollywood!
In the sound version the music is MUCH better, more sophisticated. The silent version has a rather horrid piano soundtrack as I recall which made me think of fingernails being scraped against a chalkboard.
There are also more scenes with Lowell Sherman in the sound version as well but that didn't make much difference because his part wasn't substantial and neither was his character's personality; just another wolf after the girls for cheap sex.
If there is anything that is better in the silent version it is the key scene where the two people, the artist (Graves) and the model (Stanwyck) finally admit they are head over heels in love with one another. That's such a bittersweet scene. Because there are no words spoken in the silent version Ralph and Barbara had to communicate more with their eyes and body language, and that made this key scene more powerful and far less awkward than in the sound version. So for all you readers who have only seen the silent version rest assured you at least can enjoy this beautiful love scene in its best framework.
A pleasant precode for the early Barbara Stanwyck fan and interesting to study the differences in the two versions.
8 out of 10
It's the old hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold story but Barbara Stanwyck and director Frank Capra make it shine. Not only is Stanwyck great but there isn't a bad performance by anyone in the film, even down to the minor characters. Capra attains a naturalness from his actors rare at this point in the talkies. The only complaint might by that Ralph Graves' accent is more convincing for a cowboy than a son of the upper crust, but that's a quibble. Other pluses are Jo Swerling's smart dialogue with hardly an unnecessary line and John Walker's cinematography, the best of its time (the night scene as Stanwyck spends the night on Graves' couch is a marvel of lighting, pacing and atmosphere).
LADIES OF LEISURE, adapted to the screen from a play, is another in a
long line of Frank Capra-directed films that pits the lower orders
against the upper through the device of a romantic entanglement. In
this case it's "lady of leisure" (read: prostitute or good time gal)
Barbara Stanwyck against the slightly bohemian scion of a wealthy
banking family (Ralph Graves). The theme of the movie is set right away
as we see a bustling Manhattan street at night. Suddenly bottles fall
from the sky and explode on the sidewalk, narrowly missing pedestrians.
They are coming from a group of drunken young women who are tossing
them over a penthouse terrace balcony for kicks. These party girls have
been hired by dissolute swell Lowell Sherman, a friend of Graves, who,
offended by the crudity of the party scene, hops into his roadster for
a drive into the country. He stops by a lake where he sees a young
woman (Stanwyck) dressed in an evening gown rowing herself ashore in a
canoe. It turns out she too is a party girl and is also escaping a wild
party, this time on a yacht. He finds her attractive and offers her a
ride back to the city. As is her habit, she picks his pocket while he's
driving. Thus the plot line is set. We know what will happen by the
end. Along the way we are treated to a beautifully etched
characterization by Stanwyck who covers a wide range of acting
territory from crude and lowdown to transcendentally idealistic. The
equally inventive Marie Prevost provides generous support as her
overweight roommate. Lowell Sherman, playing the same type of
hard-drinking, pleasure-loving sophisticate as he often did in other
movies (Bachelor Apartment, What Price Hollywood), is also excellent.
For whatever reason, Ralph Graves cannot perform like a flesh and blood human being. His movements are stiff and unmotivated, his emotions seem forced and sudden. Even the expression on his face looks pasted on from some other character in some other movie. All wrong. One is not surprised to see that within a few years he was playing uncredited bit parts in third-rate movies. His silent film credits are numerous and go back to the teens so one can only wonder what his appeal was. He is not bad looking, so one must assume that his substantial silent film career owed a lot to his appearance.
Considering that movies only began to talk in 1928, this early sound
film starring BARBARA STANWYCK as a girl of ill repute (she calls
herself a party girl), and RALPH GRAVES as an artist who wants to use
her as a model, is not bad at all. It's certainly one of the better
jobs in sound recording for a film made in the early '30s. As usual
with films of this period, there is almost no music on the soundtrack
except for the moment when "The End" is flashed on the screen. In the
TCM print I watched, the screen then fades to black while some "exit"
music is played against a dark screen.
Stanwyck is the prostitute with a heart of gold who finds a good man and doesn't want to let him go, even when his family objects to their union when he proposes marriage. She is convinced by the mother to give him up--but circumstances change after she makes a rash decision.
Stanwyck is excellent at conveying the brassy qualities of the character, but then reveals the softer nature of the girl as she falls in love with the man who only wants to paint her portrait. The tenderness of the romance that develops is full of nuances that one wouldn't expect from a Frank Capra film. The sentimental ending is more in keeping with his usual style.
RALPH GRAVES gives a quiet, assured performance as the man who finds that he does really love Stanwyck. LOWELL SHERMAN does his usual schtick as an inebriated friend who flounces around making wisecracks. MARIE PREVOST has some good moments as Stanwyck's roommate and NANCE O'NEIL does a good job as Grave's well-meaning mother.
Stanwyck fans will appreciate her well modulated performance.
...which makes us ask the question: why??? In 1930 Columbia Pictures
produced Ladies of Leisure in both sound and silent form; probably a
way to satisfy audiences who either preferred one or the other. Barbara
Stanwcyk was a hot item by this time and was heavily marketed by both
Columbia and later by First National, Warner Brothers. Frank Capra
directed this early Stanwyck vehicle which gives it more credence to
have this tape available to all who wish to see it. I saw this film
only once, back in 1974 and to the best of my knowledge, this gem has
never surfaced again.
I checked TCM to see if this movie was available on tape and only the silent version is. For some reason (litigation?) this film has not been shown, yet deserves to be. I know that another Stanwyck vehicle, (So Big - 1932) was embroiled in litigation for decades, finally making it's "premier showing" on TV just a couple of years ago! Is this the same problem with Ladies of Leisure? Ladies of Leisure is a great movie for those who are interested in Stanwyck's early career in films. It should be available on VHS/DVD or even televised again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was very surprised by this early talkie. While it begins very much
like an exploitative Pre-Code film like Barbara Stanwyck's BABY FACE,
this film turns out to be quite different. Now some of the material in
this film probably would not have made it past the censors in post-1934
Hollywood, this isn't a sleazy film. Though I enjoy occasionally
watching some of the wilder and raunchier Pre-Code sizzlers, this is
not one of them, as Stanwyck's character is not the amoral gold digger
you think she might be.
Early in the film, a bored rich guy (Ralph Graves) leaves a party early and meets up with Stanwyck--who narrowly escaped a party that was too wild for her taste. He takes her home and proposes that she come to work for him as a model, as he's trying to start a career as a painter. It's pretty obvious that she is just a "good time girl" but Graves sees her as the ideal subject of his new painting. When word of his spending time with this loose woman spreads, Graves' parents are distressed and dad threatens to disown him. However, in the meantime, Stanwyck and Graves have fallen in love and plan on marrying--as Stanwyck has given up her wicked ways and wants to be a good wife. But, when she receives a visit from the man's mother, she has second thoughts in a very touching scene. See the rest of the film to find out how all this is resolved.
While this is definitely a soap opera-like movie and has many very emotional moments, somehow director Frank Capra and Stanwyck managed to avoid sappiness and seems true. In fact, while many of her later films are far more famous, this is one of her best performances--with what seem to be real emotions when she acts--complete with tears. Because of this, a rather standard film manages to be so much more--and is well worth watching.
By the way, another reviewer stated that only the silent version is available. However, just recently Turner Classic Movies did play the sound version and my review is based on this one. For a 1930 talking film, the sound quality was pretty good and very watchable.
One reviewer here complimented the whole cast of "Ladies of Leisure."
Well, I must respectfully disagree. I found Ralph Graves' performance
to be rather wooden. Graves had been in films since he was teenager
just after Word Ware I had ended, but clearly he found it difficult to
deliver a natural performance in the sound medium.
I do recommend the film for historical purposes if nothing else. It was released in the Spring of 1930 and may have been filmed in late 1929. That would definitely qualify "Ladies of Leisure" as a member of that first generation of sound films dating from 1928 to 1930.
One thing I wondered about is whether a boom mic was used. I think someone else opined that hidden mics, placed here and there around the set were still used in this production. I do know from my reading that sound film technology was making progress just about on a week by week basis in those early days.
This movie is one of the legendary Barbara Stanwyck's earliest starring roles. The title of the movie actually refers to prostitutes and that is what Stanwyck plays in this one, though it is, of course, only suggested. The set-up is that Stanwyck, a prostitute, is hired by a painter to be a model for one of his paintings. Through the course of the movie, Stanwyck's character, who has never know real love, is touched by the young painter's caring gestures (though to him, he is only being polite). As always, the beautiful Stanwyck carries the movie in the palm of her hand, and when the film is serious, it's pretty decent. Some problems arise in the humorous scenes with her chubby co-star (who died later in the decade because of self-starvation), a stereotypical, high-pitched, talkative New York girl who has too much of a silly vaudevillian personality to generate many laughs (remember, this is early 1930 and vaudeville was just beginning to wind down). Like a lot of early talkies, this movie is roughly edited, and the acting by the male lead is somewhat wooden. The story is okay, perhaps a bit too sentimental, but the movie is an interesting glance into the 1930s and the early stages of a screen Goddess' career.
The creative team of Barbara Stanwyck and director Frank Capra makes
its debut in Ladies Of Leisure which casts a young Barbara as a party
girl who falls big time for artist Ralph Graves after he hires her to
model for him. They did a total of five films together, the last one
Meet John Doe is considered a classic.
Ladies Of Leisure is far from that, but you can see why it helped make Barbara Stanwyck the star she became. Their are hints of her later Oscar nominated part in Stella Dallas in her performance here.
Ralph Graves isn't just any artist, he's the son of railroad tycoon George Fawcett and Nance O'Neil, but business just doesn't interest him which displeases dad. Fawcett wants him to forget this art kick and join the family firm. But that's nothing compared to how he and O'Neil feel about their son when he brings Stanwyck home after he's fallen for her.
The production values aren't the greatest, remember this is Columbia Pictures while it was still a poverty row studio like Monogram. Still Capra and Stanwyck show traces of the movie legends they became.
Nothing terribly special about Ladies Of Leisure other than these two people coming together for the first time.
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