Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Love is a Racket (1932) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

LOVE IS A RACKET (1932) is an entertaining pre-Code available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

I first saw this film a dozen years ago, half a decade or so before the film first became available from the Warner Archive. I enjoyed it pretty well then, but I liked it even more on this viewing; wider viewing and personal connections in the years since provided a new context for this rewatch.

The movie is a brisk 72-minute story about Broadway newspaper columnist Jimmy Russell (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), who's head over heels for lovely would-be Broadway star Mary Wodehouse (Frances Dee).

Mobster Eddie Shaw (Lyle Talbot) also lusts after Mary and obtains blackmail material in order to force her to meet him, obviously planning to have his way with her. Jimmy sneaks onto Eddie's penthouse balcony, intending to deal with him in some manner, but he hasn't counted on Mary's protective Aunt Hattie (Cecil Cunningham) getting there before him...or on his best pal Stanley (Lee Tracy) arriving in time to see Jimmy doing some "cleanup" work and misconstruing what happened.

The movie is quite entertaining thanks to the fast-paced direction of William Wellman, a cast of pre-Code favorites, and a somewhat racy story which is a good exemplar of that short-lived movie era. Most notably, a straight-out murder not only goes completely unpunished, it's even rewarded, in a manner of speaking.

I find Fairbanks Jr. a charming leading man, engaging and energetic, with a great smile. He's ably supported by Tracy and Ann Dvorak; Tracy is carrying a torch for Dvorak's character, Sally, who in turn wants to be more to Jimmy than just a pal. The roles are very much a change of pace for Tracy and Dvorak from their costarring parts in their previous film, THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN (1932).

Dvorak is underused, but she has a nice little scene trading subtle insults with Dee, and her knowing smile at the end of the movie is delightful. Tracy has more to do as the loyal friend who's completely jolted by what he thinks he's seen one dark and rainy night but who nonetheless does his best to help.

Dee is terrific as the calculating Mary, who waffles between pledging eternal love for Jimmy and simply using him to meet famous men and bail her out of jams. There were two definite sides to the actress in this era; on the one hand, she excelled at playing troubled, manipulative young ladies in films such as this and BLOOD MONEY (1933), which I saw at last year's TCM Classic Film Festival. These roles are quite a contrast from her more wholesome role as responsible, earnest Meg in LITTLE WOMEN (1933). Bridging the gap between these two types of roles is FINISHING SCHOOL (1934), in which Dee plays a sweet schoolgirl who finds herself in the family way.

In the years since first seeing LOVE IS A RACKET I've seen countless additional pre-Codes, and I've also had the pleasure of chatting at length with William Wellman Jr., son of the director, and Wyatt McCrea, grandson of Frances Dee. Those experiences and the understanding gained regarding the backgrounds of director and actress added an additional level of enjoyment to my viewing.

LOVE IS A RACKET was one of Lyle Talbot's earliest films, and as it happens, last year his daughter Margaret paid a visit to McCrea Ranch, Dee's longtime home. Not only did Lyle Talbot appear with Dee in LOVE IS A RACKET, but he had later costarred with Dee's husband Joel McCrea in OUR LITTLE GIRL (1935).

A short talk by Talbot was recorded on the occasion of her visit to the ranch, and it's available on YouTube. Among other things, she discusses director Wellman meeting her father and casting him in this film. The trailer for LOVE IS A RACKET, which is quite delightful, is shown at the very end of the video.

LOVE IS A RACKET was filmed by Sid Hickox. The script by Courtenay Terrett, which has some very good lines scattered throughout, was based on a novel by Rian James. The supporting cast also included Warren Hymer and Andre Luguet.

The print and sound of the Warner Archive DVD are quite good for a film of this vintage. The disc also includes the trailer.

As I write, the WB Shop has temporarily suspended operations due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The movie may still be ordered from other retailers, although in the case of Amazon shipping may be delayed in order to prioritize delivery of essential items. (April 10th Update: The WB shop has reopened for business.)

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Coincidentally, this movie popped into my head the other day. One viewing a while ago was obviously not enough!

7:35 AM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

Thanks, Laura, for the great review of my husband's favorite Frances Dee movie -- and the shoutout to the ranch! More than ever, we all need the wonderful entertainment that only this kind of classic film can provide. Take good care, Jane

5:19 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, I hope you have the chance to revisit this film soon, I found it very worthwhile taking a second look.

Jane, how neat this is your husband's favorite Dee film! Glad I could also mention the ranch. Films like this are definitely key to making the days more pleasant during this challenging time!

Best wishes,

10:47 AM  

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