Friday, August 31, 2012
The Naughty Flirt (1931)
The Naughty Flirt is a pre-code romantic comedy with very little of the content we expect from pre-code movies. It also contains very little in the way of actual comedy. Regarded as a breezy lightweight romance it’s innocuous enough but not terribly interesting.
It’s a movie that rather nicely sums up one of the great differences between pre-code comedies and the screwball comedies of the early Code era. After 1934 comedies had to be funny. They couldn’t rely on sex, suggestiveness and general outrageousness. If the laughs weren’t there the picture was destined for quick oblivion.
Sadly, The Naughty Flirt is not only short on laughs, it’s also short on sex, suggestiveness and general outrageousness.
It also pinpoints a major problem with failed comedies. It’s not enough to set up potentially funny situations. The script has to have actual gags, and the performers have to be looking for laughs all the time. This one certainly has the potentially funny situations, but there’s no pay-off.
Kay Elliott (Alice White) is a young heiress, and she’s a bit of a wild thing. At least we’re supposed to regard her as a wild thing. Her friends are a group of Bright Young Things who paint the town red. Well, sort of. The don’t hang out at speakeasies or do anything really wild. They just flirt with each other, and with anyone else who comes along.
Jack Gregory is trying his hardest to persuade Kay to marry him. We will soon discover that he is only after her money, that his wooing of Kay is just a scheme cooked up by Jack and his sister Linda (Myrna Loy) to get their hands on the Elliott money. Jack goes very close to success. As the picture opens these would-be hellraisers are on their way to Night Court to face such drastic charges as squirting ginger ale at passers-by. Jack decides they should take advantage of being in court in order to get married and he just happens to have the marriage licence all ready.
His scheme is wrecked when a rather straitlaced clerk in Kay’s father’s law firm, Alan Ward (Paul Page), rings her father at home to let him know what is transpiring, and is instructed to bring the errant daughter straight home. Being wild and reckless, Kay meekly obeys.
Kay immediately decides to pass the time on the trip home by flirting with Alan. He is unmoved by her performance, which only encourages her. Over the next few weeks she pursues him with an almost frantic energy. Of course they eventually fall in love, but can their love survive the plotting of the conniving Gregory siblings?
Paul Page is a dull leading man. It comes as no surprise that his Hollywood career was a brief one. Alice White has plenty of enthusiasm although her accent is ludicrously unconvincing. No girl who had attended such good schools (from all of which she’s been expelled) would speak with such a nasal twang. Her career had fizzled out by the late 30s as well. She’s passable and with a better script she might have been OK. Myrna Loy does nothing to indicate that she was already on the road to stardom. The remainder of the cast members are uniformly forgettable.
Neither scriptwriters Richard Weil and Earl Baldwin nor director Edward F. Cline are able to give this story any zest and the one thing for which we can be grateful is that this lifeless movie only runs for 56 minutes.
The Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD pairs this one with Loose Ankles, which is an infinitely better Loretta Young pre-code picture. Buy the disc for Loose Ankles and think of The Naughty Flirt as one of those extras you don’t really need to bother watching.