The two men were rising stars Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland. MacMurray jumped into the leading role in THE GILDED LILY shortly after beginning his film career; other than a couple bit roles years before, he'd only appeared in GRAND OLD GIRL (1935). After director Wesley Ruggles called MacMurray to Colbert's attention, he was cast in THE GILDED LILY at her insistence.
MacMurray's work in the film so impressed Katharine Hepburn that he was then cast in ALICE ADAMS (1935). MacMurray never looked back, promptly beginning a four-film association with Carole Lombard in HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE (1935), as well as appearing in his second film with Colbert, THE BRIDE COMES HOME (1935). All this in his first year as a leading man!
Milland had a longer road to stardom, with nearly two dozen film credits by 1935, but his career was also taking off at this juncture; it would continue to grow with films like THREE SMART GIRLS (1936) and THE JUNGLE PRINCESS (1936), leading to the comedy classic EASY LIVING (1937). From there his career continued on an upward trajectory, including an Oscar for THE LOST WEEKEND (1945).
Back to THE GILDED LILY...Pete (MacMurray) and Marilyn (Colbert) are friends who meet on a bench every Thursday to eat popcorn and chat while they watch the world go by. Pete is quietly crazy about Marilyn, but she's waiting for "true love" to come along...and indeed, she meets Mr. Right, Charles (Milland), on the subway.
Unbeknownst to Marilyn, Charles is a member of the nobility who's been traveling incognito. Charles intends to go back to England, break his engagement, and return to propose to Marilyn, but instead he makes a big mistake and tells her he's leaving for a job. When Marilyn finds out Charles' true identity, she believes he was insincere and has played her for a fool. She determines to get back at him, with news reporter Pete's help -- and in the process, she becomes a celebrity.
It's a fun movie, with the then-typical '30s romantic comedy formula featuring the idle rich, poor newspapermen, and lucky working girls against the backdrop of swank nightclubs and ocean liners.
Colbert is in top comedic form, while -- as usual -- wearing a succession of stunning gowns by Travis Banton. A scene where the unskilled Marilyn attempts to pull off a nightclub act is delightful, as Marilyn charms the audience with her frank assessment of her own abilities. Colbert is also particularly good in a scene where she must say goodbye to Pete and starts to recognize her feelings for him may go deeper than friendship.
The two men are both so appealing that screenwriter Claude Binyon nearly paints the script into a corner...how can Marilyn choose? He ends up having to write in some personality changes for Charles which might be believable, given what he's been through...but the viewer can't help recognizing that his actions are really just a plot device necessary to bring the 80-minute film to a conclusion.
In Charles Tranberg's biography of Fred MacMurray, the actor is quoted as saying of Colbert, "I'll never forget how kind Claudette was. I didn't have the slightest idea what I was doing, but she was so patient with me. She worked and worked with me and got me through it. She was so positive, so kind-hearted, and so unselfish with other players." Colbert and MacMurray would go on to star in a half dozen more films together over the next 14 years.
Colbert and Milland were also an excellent screen team who later costarred in the films ARISE, MY LOVE (1940) and SKYLARK (1941).
This Paramount film was shown last week in a beautiful print on Turner Classic Movies. It's part of the new three-film Colbert and MacMurray Romantic Comedy Collection which is now out exclusively from TCM.