Plush Cinematography, Lombard's Beauty Spark Minor White Telephone Movie
Love Before Breakfast features an amusing love triangle between three shallow, selfish characters, played to perfection by Carole Lombard, Preston Foster, and Cesar Romero. Foster, a filthy rich oil baron, "pushes buttons" to have employee Romero, Carole's fiancé, sent to Japan, so he can move in on Carole. Carole is devastated the man she loves is leaving her for two years, but the unworthy object of said love has a hard time hiding his glee at the promotion the overseas job means. Even as his ship sails with poor Carole tearfully waving goodbye, true love Ceasar can be seen at the railing obviously enjoying the attentions of a sexy countess, played with carnivorous exuberance by buxom Betty Lawford. Foster's character is such an egomaniac he smugly brags to Carole about his fiancé-to-Japan manipulation. Thus begins the battle of wills between Carole and Foster that lasts for the rest of this entertaining, witty, little "white telephone movie". They take turns alternately courting and resisting each other with lots of dirty tricks along he way. Both principles have wicked senses of humor. Preston thinks it's hilarious when Carole gets her eye blacked in a night club brawl she engineered. Her get-even prank is to set him up at the local riding club with an evil tempered horse that is sure to throw him. The entire episode at the stable is the funniest in this very amusing picture, except perhaps for the riotous closing scene.
One of the charms of this little comedy is very strong but subtle characterization, thanks to light comedy specialist Walter Lang's expert direction and a script which was surprisingly clever, considering that it seems to have been virtually committee written. Herbert Fields gets credit for the screenplay, but with input from no less than six other writers, including Preston Sturges! Of the Carole Lombard pictures yours truly has seen, this one gives her the best character. In some of her other movies she is just too much of a dizzy dame to be appealing. Especially in My Man Godfrey (1936), in which she's so foolish and childish, she seems almost retarded. In Love Before Breakfast Carole comes off more sophisticated, clever, and witty. Never mind she is spoiled, self-centered, wishy-washy, and lazy -- she lives in a swank apartment with her well-off mother (likeable Janet Beecher) and seems to have never even considered getting a job. And of course Carole is beautiful. Her beauty is well accented by Ted Tetzlaff's gloriously luminous black and white photography, a standout job here even in an era when terrific cinematography is practically taken for granted. The left side of Carole Lombard's gorgeous face was tragically scarred in a late 1920's automobile accident. Even the best of Hollywood makeup couldn't quite cover it, so that special care had to be taken with lighting and camera angles. Tetzlaff washes Carole's closeups in tenebristic shadowing which illuminates only the right side. A generous use of soft focus for her closeups seems to have set the tone for the overall look of the picture, and a very pleasing look it is.
Love Before Breakfast is a typical example of a type of picture called "white telephone movie" in the trade. Younger people, used to telephones of all sizes, shapes, and colors, may not remember, as sadly aged oldblackandwhite does, when nearly every one of them was an unglamorous, utilitarian, flat black. Only rich folks had the glossy white ones that you had to special order and pay extra for on your telephone bill. Hence white telephone movies are about rich guys and rich babes lounging in their ritzy apartments and palatial mansions, going out to glittering night clubs, sailing on their swell yachts, and gabbing on their white telephones. Standard cinema history wisdom portrays this type of movie as especially made for the depressed poor of the Great Depression, who wanted to escape into such fantasies, rather than watch any realistic social melodrama that would remind them of their own distressed lives. The Depression may have made white telephone movies more popular all right, but please note that the same type of picture was very popular in the 1920's, a period of previously unexampled prosperity, and continues to to be popular in various altered forms to this day.
Love Before Breakfast is a solid white telephone job. Charming cast, clever story, plush sets, sensuous cinematography, witty, amusing dialog, fast pacing, and funny gags. A lot of glossy, smooth Old Hollywood entertainment packed into and hour and ten minutes.
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