Year: 1936
Director: Edward H. Griffith
Cast: Constance Bennett, Loretta Young, Janet Gaynor, Paul Lukas, Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Alan Mowbry, Simone Simon

Three working women decide to rent a large apartment together in a nice neighborhood in Budhapest to impress their male suitors. Yoli (Bennett) is a sophisticated model who wants a wealthy husband. She’s dating John (Lukas), a rich man who’s on an extended vacation, who doesn’t seem interested in marriage. Susie (Young) is a showgirl who falls for a nobleman (Power), and gets her heart crushed when she finds he’s already engaged. Martha (Gaynor) is former nobility whose family lost everything and is now performing odd jobs, like feeding rabbits for Rudi, a handsome psychiatrist. She gets a full time job working for an arrogant magician (Mowbry) and her romantic feeling get all mixed up.

There’s nothing particularly original about Ladies In Love. By 1936, the “three girls share and apartment and deal with complicated love lives” thing was well, well worn. And films like Beauty For Sale and Our Blushing Brides did do it better, though this one is better than The Greeks Had a Word For Them (though this one does lack Madge Evans). It’s not nearly as difficult or depressing as those first two films. It’s much more of a comedy/light romance, and though Loretta Young’s heartbreak does lead to a slightly dark place, in the end it is resolved happily. This film is really much more focused on the love lives of these women, and not so much about the world going on around them, so it is perhaps unfair to really compare it to those superior films.

All three actresses are stellar. It’s really a treat to see Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, and Constance Bennett pal-ing around, drinking champagne, and dishing on men on the same screen. Bennett plays the sophisticated, probably older, seemingly wiser one with so much presense. Young is, as always, completely delightful playing the naive young showgirl. The bliss of new love is clear on her face, and the heartbreak even moreson. Gaynor is also delightful, completely adorable even nearly 10 years after her star making performance in Seventh Heaven. Her’s is probably the most entertaining side of things. Her scenes with Mowbry are very funny, and her developing romance with Ameche is genuine and very sweet.

The boys don’t really match the girls, but they aren’t supposed to. Paul Lukas has the most screentime, and probably gives the best performance of the men. His storyling with Constance Bennett is a bit heartwrenching, watching them love eachother, feeling like they can’t say it out loud, and he does sell his side of it. Ameche doesn’t get a lot of screentime, but he’s very funny and sweet with what he has. Mowbry is awesome as always, over the top perfection. Tyrone Power probably has the least amount to do, but he looks good doing it.

There is a strange, potentially distrubing twist thrown in when Simone Simon shows up. She’s Lukas’ cousin or niece or something by marriage, and she quite clearly has a massive crush on him. But it’s hard to guage how old she is. She behaves childishly and he treats her as such, and then… well….. they way it turns out is a little bit squicky.

Overall, Ladies in Love is a bit of a missed opportunity as far as the weight of the storytelling goes, but I don’t want to unfairly judge it as something it’s not. As a light comedy, it’s pretty delightful/

By Katie Richardson

The Man in Possession (1931) and Personal Property (1937)

The Story: Raymond Dabney returns to his family after serving a prison term. His adoring mother welcomes him back with open arms, but his uptight father and brother Claude want to pay him to leave town. Raymond refuses the insulting offer and stumbles into a job working for the sheriff as a man in possession, assigned to the home of socialite Crystal Weatherby. Crystal is formerly wealthy, but has fallen on hard times after the death of her husband and cannot pay her bills, so Raymond must stay at her house and make sure she doesn’t try to sell any of her possessions. Crystal, meanwhile, is attempting to marry a rich man who can take care of her problems.

The fundamental difference between these films comes down to the times in which they were made. Six years may not seem like that much of a difference, but in terms of filmmaking it’s an enormous difference. The Man In Possession was made in the middle of the pre-code era, when a story about a morally questionable man staying alone in a big house with a sexy socialite could flourish. In 1937, the production code was being strictly enforced, and so many possibilities for this story are simply not allowed.

The Man In Possession….. Directed by Sam Wood
Starring…..
Robert Montgomery, Charlotte Greenwood, Irene Purcell, C.Aubrey Smith, Reginald Denny, Alan Mowbry

Robert Montgomery is cast as Raymond, and there’s nobody who could have played the role better. He was the best actor of the era. He had a huge range, but he seemed to delight in playing these kinds of roles – sexually charged, morally questionable, but ultimately decent and incredibly romantic men. He rules the role with a special gleam in his eye. He’s sexy, he’s mischievous, and we can tell from the very beginning that no lady would stand a chance resisting him. He’s not at all intimidating, though. He’s charming, and as the film goes on he becomes more and more romantic.

Irene Purcell is his leading lady. Purcell was a stage actress, and she made less than 10 films (and only a few of note). But she’s really a delightful actress. She has a quality that makes her perfect for Crystal in a way no other actress could be. She doesn’t feel like a movie star, which makes her more believable and likeable as social climbing schemer. Actresses like Joan Crawford or Constance Bennett could have played the role, but not as convincingly as Purcell. Crystal is a really unique character. She’s classy in a way, but it’s a feigned class. Like Montgomery, there’s a little gleam in her eye. She’s just coarse enough to be his perfect match.

The Man In Possession uses its pre-code status to perfect advantage. Like I said before, it’s a story that’s tailor-made for the era. These two beautiful, mischievous people spending the night in a house alone together? How can that be anything else but a pre-code set up. Their chemistry alone in scenes where they’re simply verbally sparring almost seems indecent. And then there’s the sex. It’s some of the most blatant I’ve ever seen in classic film. Obviously, it’s not an explicit sex scene, but it’s more than implied with the two of them kissing, falling back on the couch, the light turning off, and Crystal sighing Raymond’s name. And then, if there was any doubt about what happened, the next morning the maid finds Crystal’s nightgown at the end of the bed. Ripped in half.

But beyond the pre-code goodness, it’s just a great romance because of the chemistry between Montgomery and Purcell. They don’t just have sexual chemistry. They fell like two souls who are perfectly matched. It’s more than sex. It’s completely believable that in the span of one night together the two have fallen completely in love. That’s why the film works so well. It’s more than just a fun sex romp. It’s a wonderful love story.


Personal Property
……. Directed by WS Van Dyke
Starring….
Jean Harlow, Robert Taylor, Reginald Owen, Una O’Conner

Robert Taylor doesn’t really fit into the role of Raymond. He’s incredibly handsome, and he has a certain sex appeal to him, but not really the kind that the character needs. Try as he might, Taylor never seems like he can really be a bad boy criminal, at least not in this point in his career. In the 1940s, he created a fantastic gangster in Johnny Eager, but obviously in 1937 his talent hadn’t really evolved past the handsome good guy leading man roles. He never pulls off the mischievousness that is the main characteristic of Raymond. Nor does he really pull of that raw sexuality that initially draws Crystal to him in the first place.

I adore Jean Harlow, but she isn’t right for the role of Crystal either. Harlow was a wonderful actress with a huge range, and it seems like she should be able to play Crystal, perhaps as a lighter version of her Dinner at Eight character. But somehow in this film she doesn’t find the proper balance that the character needs between crass gold digger and romantic heroine. Most of the time she simply comes off as too unlikable and completely without class. It’s such an odd performance, because Harlow was one of the sexiest, most charismatic actresses of her time, but here she is neither charismatic nor sexy.

Of course, the biggest flaw of Personal Property is that it’s not a pre-code film. It’s kind of baffling that anyone would think it was a good idea to make this story into a movie during enforcement, and it’s a little baffling that the Hays Office would even allow the story to be made. What results is one of the most ridiculously tame films that’s just huge film of untapped potential, and the whole thing just feels completely off.

Perhaps some of the film could have been saved had Taylor and Harlow had the chemistry to at least make this a decent love story. You’d think that two such beautiful people would have better chemistry, but there’s absolutely none there. It’s impossible to believe these two are even attracted to each other, much less falling in love with each other. It seems possible that they don’t even like each other. Personal Property doesn’t work as a sex romp, it doesn’t work as a romantic comedy. It doesn’t work at all.

By Katie Richardson