Sunday, February 18, 2024

Bachelor Apartment (1931)

Bachelor Apartment is a 1931 RKO pre-code comedy that deserves more attention than it gets. In fact it doesn’t get any attention and that’s a pity.

Lowell Sherman stars and he directed the movie as well. He shares top billing with Irene Dunne.

Sherman plays rich New York playboy stockbroker Wayne Carter who has a problem. There are just too many women in his life. It’s not that he doesn’t like women. He likes them a lot. But he can only deal with so many at once. He certainly can’t deal with four women all at the same time.

He’s having a particular problem with Mrs Agatha Carraway (Mae Murray). They had had a steamy affair before her marriage to Wayne’s buddy Herb. Now Agatha wants to resume the affair but Wayne really isn’t interested at all. Unfortunately it is almost impossible for a man to convince Agatha that he isn’t interested in her.

There’s also Janet (Noel Francis). Wayne picked her up in a traffic accident. Janet is a lot of fun. Janet likes men a great deal. She’s a sweet girl but she will end up being something of an inconvenience. As far as Wayne is concerned they were ships that passed in the night but this ship keeps steaming back into port at the most inopportune moments.

Helene Andrews (Irene Dunne) and her sister Lita (Claudia Dell) are out of work and living in a seedy apartment. Lita is considering becoming a bad girl because bad girls get lots of nice things and she likes nice things. Helene would never consider doing such a thing. Helene has never had any trouble defending her own virtue. Her virtue is as well defended as Fort Knox. But now she has to defend Lita’s virtue as well.

As soon as Helene meets Wayne she disapproves of him. Wayne is however fascinated. A good girl is something totally out of his previous experience. He persuades her to accept a job as his executive secretary.

Wayne is now considering a major lifestyle change. He intends to give up his wicked ways and settle down with a nice girl and the nice girl he has in mind is Helene.

As you would expect lots of complications follow, with gun-wielding irate husbands and romantic misunderstandings and women suddenly popping up in bedrooms where they’re not supposed to be.

Irene Dunne gets the thankless good girl role but handles it reasonably well. Helene is supposed to be a bit prissy.

Not everybody likes Lowell Sherman in this movie but I thought his low-key performance was spot on. Wayne Carter is supposed to be a man who is cynical and a dissolute and at the same time bored and weary of his cynical dissolute lifestyle and I think Sherman nails the character perfectly.

Mae Murray had been a big star in the silent era but talkies killed her career stone dead. It’s not hard to see why. Her performance here is histrionic and affected and she is either putting on a ridiculously shrill voice or she simply has an unfortunate voice. Having said that I don’t mind her in this film - this is essentially a bedroom farce and so being outrageously over-the-top isn’t too much of a problem.

Claudia Dell has a more rewarding part as Helene’s sister Lita. Noel Francis is fun as Janet.

There’s plenty of mild pre-code naughtiness here. What would have landed this film in trouble with the Production Code after 1934 is its rather frivolous attitude towards illicit sex and its assumption that having illicit sex doesn’t make either a man or a woman a dangerous menace to society.

This is a breezy bedroom farce and it’s genuinely amusing and charming. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I especially enjoyed Lowell Sherman’s performance. Highly recommended.

This film is part of the five-movie Spanish Verdice Irene Dunne Pre-Code DVD boxed set, in English as well as Spanish. The transfer is not great but it’s acceptable.

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