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Sometimes it happens that a stage play is adapted to the motion picture
medium, and it still looks and feels like a stage play.
Seventy-six years have passed since this particular romantic drama was lensed, and watching it is almost like looking at the past with an acute case of tunnel vision. The protagonist is Richard Dix, as an independent electrician who is also well-read and well-versed in the trivia of his times. He meets two "New York swells" who concoct a wager, concerning one of their equally snobbish female friends, and who are just about as loathsome as cinematic fiction of that day allowed.
In short, one of these useless playboys ( Allen Kearns ), challenges the other useless playboy in a bet, for $ 5000, no less, that stakes his absolute belief in the uselessness of love. These are the kinds of gentrified men that working-class folks of 1930 would absolutely despise. They wear tuxedoes and smoke constantly ( everybody does ), even while playing billiards in the quiet of a penthouse apartment. They have an Oxford-educated butler at their beck and call. They're disgusting and boorish.
Contrast to them, the Richard Dix character as Darby, the electrician.
He's a fine fellow, noble in spirit, and full of "enthusiasms." In a really great sequence, the loathsome "swell" who doesn't believe in love offers Darby a thousand bucks to masquerade as yet another useless playboy, giving him thirty days to romance his friend, a cold and diffident socialite ( Renee Macready as Betty ). The wise-acre working class stiff refuses to let the pompous "swell" make 400 % on his "labor," and then negotiates himself into a fifty-fifty split. He's too proud to take a thousand dollars but not too proud to game this wager for twenty-five hundred !! Maybe that was funny in 1930 but today, in this time, it just seems to be really, really odd.
Useless playboy number one insists that Darby not reveal the details of this plot and proceeds to fit his 'mannequin' with a couple of good suits and a tuxedo. By this device he's converted into a gentleman.
I.e., another useless playboy. But "love" interferes. He meets the fiancé of useless playboy number one at the tailor shop where he's being fitted for his new suits. For him it's love at first sight.
One thing leads to another and the denouement of the drama happens over a week-end at the New London estate of the loathsome "swell" who concocted this farce. Darby pretends to be just as blasé and useless as the other two playboys but he doesn't do it very well. Maybe that, too, was funny in 1930 but it merely seems inscrutable now.
The thing about this movie that is charming, however, is the rapid-fire dialog and the plot twist of twists, wherein the socialite snob falls for the Oxford butler while the 'flapper' fiancé is falling for the disguised electrician. But when she suspects that Darby is just a romantic wolf, trying to charm every woman in the party, she recoils from him in disgust and sadness. That's actually a very touching moment. How it all works out is rather predictable for today's viewers but it may have been a workable premise for that time.
Dix recants his boorish masquerade, of course, and so the wager is quashed -- forcing obnoxious playboy number one to admit that it is all a trick, in front of his friend and both girl-friends -- and from there the film rushes to its inevitable happy ending.
What earns this film a rating of six out of ten is the pace of the snobbish chatter and the styles of the characters: they are all exact reproductions of New York "socialites" of the late 1920s. It is interesting to see, almost as a cultural document, how the standard of beauty for a young upper-class woman of that time was to be rail-thin and willowy. The two playboys are such boors that the whole 'romance' aspect of it seems unbelievable to these modern eyes. But it was clearly not out of the mainstream for 1930.
Unless some company decides to publish a retrospective of Richard Dix, this film will probably never appear anywhere else but on Turner Classic Movies. Perhaps it was written to be a farce, but if so, the elements of humor that would have been obvious to theater-goers then, have dissolved with the passage of time.
As it stands now, as a cultural document, it seems to be more of a critique of social pretense, and the pretentiousness of "the upper crust," which is in fact a fairly thin layer of American society. Dix, with his physical energy and commanding screen presence, makes this vehicle work, and it was intriguing to open a window on a world from our culture which is now so very long gone. A world that existed for so very few people, where a bet for $ 5000 represents the family income of ten working families of that day and age. Farce or not, it was enjoyable for those reasons and worthy of a better-than-neutral vote.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lovin' the Ladies is a cute light romantic comedy that has to be
enjoyed in the context when it was filmed (1930). The script is closely
based on the play "I Love You" by William Le Baron who also produced
this movie. All the action takes place "on stage" on the property of
Mr. Farnsworth and could have been easily recreated on a Broadway
In a nutshell, the action follows the tribulation of Peter Darby, an electrician (Richard Dix) who becomes the willing participant of a bet between a rich client, Farnsworth (Allen Kearns) and his socialite friend Van Horne (Selmer Jackson). The wager is that under optimal circumstances (environment, full moon, music, poetry ), the mood makes it impossible for any woman to resist falling in love with any man.
Farnsworth makes all the necessary arrangements to set the mood and chooses a stand-offish and upper-lipped Miss Duncan (Renée Macready) as the target of the bet. Darby, nicely dressed and combed, adapts quickly to his new role and performs with presence and class as a socialite. Miss Duncan is not very impressed by his candor but Miss Bently (Lois Wilson), Farnsworth's own fiancée, becomes very sensitive to his charms. I will let the viewer guess the denouement or enjoy the happy ending.
Richard Dix becomes very articulate and distinguished as he ascends the social ladder to the upper class. Lois Wilson remains adorable and charming as the cute innocent fiancée. The setting that Farnsworth has prepared for Darby to work his "seductive magic" is just gorgeous and makes us nostalgic of an era long gone. The high ceilings, the gigantic French doors, the stone balcony overlooking a beautiful misty garden under the romantic reflection of a full moon on the distant waters are just magnificent. Having been raised in the sixties, I miss the romance and the respect that Americans seemed to have for one another "back then".
The dialog is well written, fast paced and holds the viewer relatively captive especially since nearly all the action takes place on the set (Farnsworth's residence, I assume). I enjoyed this movie that I had a chance to view on Turner Classic Movie Channel. Going back to our long forgotten human values is such a relief from the daily gratuitous violence and profanity that Hollywood overwhelms us with.
With a title like "Lovin' the Ladies" and it being made in 1930, and
there being a tremendous dearth of pre-codes lately on TCM ... well, I
was hoping for some juicy pre-Production Code entertainment, but alas
that was not the case with this flick. Nonetheless, at less than 75
minutes, it was face-paced and mildly amusing enough. As with a lot of
these really old movies, I found I enjoyed it for the cultural
references and peak into the past.
The phrase "make love" was used a lot ... it seems to have *not* meant what we mean by that phrase today. In 1930, that phrase seemed to mean something more along the lines of "pitch woo". At any rate, it was quite funny to hear Richard Dix tell the group of socialites that Jimmy was going to pay him $2,500 to make love to Betty!
A reference was made to "Decoration Day", which from the context I took to mean some sort of patriotic and/or veteran-related holiday, perhaps a precursor to Memorial Day?
The acting was fairly wooden and stagy ... typical of early sound flicks, so having seen many early sounds, I wasn't too bothered by it, but it would definitely be annoying to modern audiences not used to that transitional style of "acting". Richard Dix did quite well with his role. I haven't seen him in a lot of flicks, but my impression is that westerns were more his forte. If so, this movie demonstrated that he could handle light comedy fairly well.
Dix plays an electrician who is talked into pretending to be a society gentleman by Jimmy, a rich ne'er-do-well who makes a bet with his buddy that he can make any two people fall in love given the right circumstances. His buddy, George, selects electrician Peter and snooty rich girl Betty as the two subjects. Predictable plot ensues, where Peter is more interested in Joan (Jimmy's fiancé), Joan is interested in Peter, Betty is interested in Brooks the butler (and Brooks seems to return Betty's interest), and yet a third woman, Louise, is at one point so overcome with lust that she practically ravages a very unwilling and uncomfortable Peter.
The plot was amusing and predictable, and although somewhat racy, not really racy enough to qualify as a genuine "pre-Code" despite its 1930 date.
There were a couple of amusing lines that made me laugh out loud. The premise behind them both is that Peter and Brooks, the working class guys, were more highly educated and knowledgeable than the buffoon "swells" whom they work for. Here's the two lines:
1 - George to Jimmy, "Do you mean to say your butler knows more than you or I do?". Jimmy's reply, "Don't be silly, George. He knows *twice* as much as I do, and a million times more than you do!"
2 - Brooks to Peter, upon seeing Peter for the first time in his fancy clothes, "Why Peter, if I didn't know you were an intelligent man, I'd certainly think you were a gentleman!" (the word 'gentleman' being a derogatory term in this context)
Another interesting timepiece thing: The movie used a couple of silent era-style intertitles to set the scene, for example, "The following morning." From a historical standpoint, it was slightly interesting to me to see this device borrowed by the infant sound picture from its well-established but firmly though recently departed ancestor, the silent film.
Richard Dix fairly acquitted himself. I enjoyed seeing Anthony Bushell (whom I remember fondly from one of my favorite pre-Codes, Five Star Final) as the butler. The other actors and actresses were just so-so ... ranging from occasionally good (the actor who played Jimmy) to downright dreadful (the actress who played Betty).
I wouldn't go out of my way to watch this if I were you, but if you have an interest in old movies from a cultural or historical standpoint, this movie does have a modicum to offer in that area.
... although RKO usually placed him in melodramas. This one is a
surprisingly unnaughty romantic comedy of errors considering this is
the precode era, and even though the Depression has not begun to hit
hard it makes sport of the idle rich as though they could not manage to
deal with a can opener if not for the help of their valets.
The film opens on a couple of rich men - Jimmy Farnsworth and George Van Horne - playing pool in their tuxedos in a fabulous art deco apartment. Unfortunately, the lights are on the fritz. Enter Peter Darby the electrician (Richard Dix). While Darby is fixing the lights Farnsworth and Van Horne enter into a bet. Farnsworth claims there is no such thing as love and that he can get any man to propose to any woman and get her to accept. They wager 5000 dollars on it. Farnsworth is allowed to use any means possible to accomplish the task, and Van Horne gets to name the man and woman. Van Horne names a difficult woman of their wealthy crowd, but for the man he names Darby the electrician. The odd thing here is that the two men bring Darby into full knowledge of the bet - he gets to keep half of Farnsworth's 5000 if he succeeds. Why Van Horne was OK with this was unclear. Most of the rest of the film has Darby as a guest at Farnsworth's estate where he is supposed to woo the unsuspecting heiress while masquerading as a wealthy man. Farnsworth may be a rather useless fellow, but he is quite good at providing the romantic ambiance. He is so good, in fact, that things go terribly and hilariously wrong and almost every woman at the party winds up passionately attracted to Darby except the object of the bet. You see, Farnsworth made one critical error while remaking Darby - he taught him to act and dress just like himself. Clothes may make the man but they also make a stuffed shirt, and the woman of interest wants nothing to do with them. Plus Darby has begun to develop an actual attraction for Farnworth's girl, Joan, with whom he has a great deal in common. I'll let you watch and see how this pans out.
Like I said before, the funny part is seeing how dim Farnsworth and Van Horne are portrayed here versus Farnsworth's butler Brooks (Anthony Bushell) and Darby the electrician. The two working class men discuss poetry, labor relations, and the burden of a good education early on in the film. Apparently Brooks, highly educated, took a job as a butler since all potential bosses were suspicious of his education and knowledge.
This one might have benefited by tighter pacing and perhaps a better supporting cast for Dix, but overall it was a pretty good drawing room comedy.
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