Irene Dunne could do it all: comedy, musicals, and drama. In the '30s she starred in several musicals with Jerome Kern scores; JOY OF LIVING is the last in that series. It's more screwball comedy than musical, but Dunne still gets plenty of singing time. Early in the film, when she launches into "You Couldn't Be Cuter," it's true '30s movie magic.
In a nutshell, Dunne plays a Broadway star who works hard at her career while her unappreciative family mooches off of her earnings. Wealthy Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., has a crush on Dunne and is determined to "free" her from her work and show her what the "joy of living" is all about.
Plotwise, the movie is somewhat reminiscent of the same year's HOLIDAY, in which Cary Grant rebels against work, wanting to enjoy life -- perhaps the ultimate Depression era fantasy. (Jean Dixon, who played Grant's friend Susan in HOLIDAY, here plays Dunne's loyal assistant.) It's an entertaining 90 minutes.
The cast is screwball perfection: Alice Brady and Guy Kibbee as Dunne's parents, Lucille Ball as her sister, and Eric Blore as the family butler. There are a host of familiar character actors in the film, including Franklin Pangborn, Billy Gilbert, Grady Sutton, John Qualen, and Phyllis Kennedy.
The movie was directed by Tay Garnett.
The beautiful sets, filmed in black and white, are by the famed Van Nest Polglase -- particularly notable is the gorgeous streamline decor in the radio studio.
JOY OF LIVING is available on video. It can also be seen on cable on TCM.
Vote here for it to be released on DVD.
April 2009 Update: JOY OF LIVING is now available on DVD via the Warner Archive.