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Based on a 1913 stage play and twice filmed during the silent era, The Misleading Lady is a slight pre-code variant of The Taming of the Shrew, with Colbert as a scheming socialite who meets her match in the out-of-touch wildlife explorer (Edmund Lowe) she ventures to ensnare.
Neither gold digger nor vamp, Helen Steele is not particularly interested in landing a man. After all, she got both the finances and the fiancé to be set for life. But what a life! Parties, gossip, and insufferable boredom. It is the chance at reinvention that proves irresistible to her.
Finding it difficult to convince a theatrical producer that she is just right for the part of a siren in a new play he is mounting, Helen vows to give this sceptic a real-life demonstration of her seductive powers. To be considered for the role, she accepts the challenge of getting the thoroughly old-fashioned and downright misogynistic Jack Craigen to propose to her within three days of their first encounter. So, Helen's engagement ring changes fingers and the bet is on. Jack, who has just returned from a jungle expedition, turns out to be surprisingly easy preyuntil he discovers, in a rather humiliating manner, what we know from the start: that Helen has neither been forthright nor free.
Can this modern woman be conquered by brute force? Jack is enamoured enough to give it a shot. This is pre-code romance, so pretty much anything goes as Helen is abducted, trapped, stripped and chained. The farce, which also confronts the increasingly terrified young woman with a lunatic on the run (Stuart Erwin), would have been more enjoyable and less disconcerting in its handling of the conquest had it not been approached like a neo- Gothic melodrama, a genre for which director Stuart Walkerthe most "misleading" person in this productionhad a far greater affinity.
In 1935, Colbert's most memorable shrew-taming co-star, Clark Gable, played the role of Jack in a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation. Yet even though The Misleading Lady does not lack sex, sophistication, and subversionthe key ingredients of the later screwball comediesIt Happened One Night it just ain't.
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