Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Lonely Wives (1931)

Lonely Wives, released by RKO in 1931, is a pre-code comedy that is pure bedroom farce.

Richard Smith (Edward Everett Horton) is a prominent lawyer. He’s a respectable member of the community. He’s a faithful husband and he doesn’t drink. At least he’s respectable until eight o’clock every night. Then he suddenly changes. He becomes a playboy. He chases skirt and he drinks and haunts speakeasies. His mother-in-law Mrs Mantel (Maude Eburne) keeps a very close watch on him.

Richard’s wife Madeleine (Esther Ralston) is out of town at the moment. That means that Mrs Mantel will have to watch him very closely indeed.

Richard has just employed a new secretary, Minty (Patsy Ruth Miller). He notices that she wiggles when she walks. He forbids her to wiggle. Of course once the clock reaches eight o’clock he decides he likes her wiggling very much indeed.

Minty’s friend Diane O’Dare (Laura La Plante) is an actress in need of a divorce. Minty assures her that Richard will arrange it.

Richard arranges dates with both Minty and Diane. Getting out of the house without Mrs Mantel’s knowledge will be a challenge.

Then he has a stroke of luck. He has a new client, a Mr Zero (also played by Edward Everett Horton). Mr Zero makes his living in vaudeville, doing impersonations of famous men. Richard will take Mr Zero’s case for nothing, if Mr Zero does him a little favour. All he has to do is pretend to be Richard for the evening. Then Richard can keep his dates while Mrs Mantel will think he’s been home all evening.

What he doesn’t know is that Mr Zero is Diane’s husband. And Mr Zero has no idea that while he’s masquerading as Richard, Richard will be on a date with Zero’s wife.

From this point you can pretty much predict everything that happens.

Lonely Wives has one huge problem - Maude Eburne. She’s excruciatingly awful and incredibly irritating.

On the other hand Esther Ralston, Patsy Ruth Miller and Laura La Plante give bright breezy sexy performances. Spencer Charters as Andrews, the drunken butler, overdoes things at times but he’s OK.

And the movie has Edward Everett Horton. He’s in sparkling form. He’s an absolute delight.

The script is genuinely funny. There’s nothing original about any of the situations, they’re stock-standard bedroom farce stuff, but the dialogue zings and with people like Edward Everett Horton to deliver that dialogue there are plenty of laughs. And there’s no shortage of sexual innuendo.

Russell Mack’s career as a director came to an abrupt halt in 1934. I have no idea why. He lived for another forty years. It’s impossible to make a fair judgment on his directing ability based on this film because the staginess is so deliberate. He does at least keep things moving along, and for this sort of material that’s enough.

Lonely Wives
is included in a five-movie RKO pre-code DVD boxed set from Manga Films. It’s a Spanish release but all five movies are in English. There are optional Spanish subtitles but they’re removable so there are no issues there. The transfer of Lonely Wives is perfectly acceptable. This boxed set is definitely worth checking out if you’re a pre-code fan.

Whether you like this movie or not will depend a great deal on how you respond to bedroom farces. This is a pretty good example of the genre, with a witty and reasonably naughty script by Walter DeLeon (based on a play by A.H. Woods. It’s a pre-code movie so there’s plenty of spicy dialogue. Bedroom farces tend to be very stagey. That’s almost unavoidable. Lonely Wives is definitely stagey but it still manages to be lively. If you do enjoy farce then it's highly recommended. A must-see for Edward Everett Horton fans.

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