Ladies Should Listen (1934, Frank Tuttle)

There’s a funny moment in Ladies Should Listen. As in a singular one funny moment. I can’t remember the joke because it wasn’t very good and was too busy being shocked at something vaguely amusing in the film, especially coming from Rafael Corio, who has the distinguished honor of giving the worst performance in a film of bad performances.

Though it’s hard to blame the actors much for their performances. At its best, Tuttle’s direction is scant middling while the script manages to be charmless, laugh-less, bad, yet decently paced during the first half. Screenwriters Claude Binyon and Frank Butler are adapting a play and afterwards I got to look back on how naive I was during the opening titles when I thought the worst problem would it being stagy.

In fact, I don’t think I’d ever use stagy as an adjective for Ladies Should Listen. Something about the truly atrocious editing—by an uncredited, unknown cutter—makes it seem far less stagy than prescient about laugh-track heavy sitcoms. After every joke or gag, the shot lingers or, worse, and these ones are on Tuttle, goes to a close-up, then lingers. Every time it brings the film to a dead stop and it’s a race to see if there will be any significant momentum before the next stop.

The answer is always no.

It’s possible the film would be funny if it had a Marx Brother in the lead instead of Cary Grant. He doesn’t mug well and his character is a little thin. He’s a penniless blue blood who sleeps around a lot but never settles down because he’s of weak character. Or because his partners soon realize he’s a pretty boy without any substance. We only find out about his romantic history after Frances Drake shows up.

So, Grant’s this creep who tries to manipulate women into sleeping with him—including deceiving them about meteorological conditions—but then it turns out Drake is his apartment telephone switchboard operator who’s stalking him through the phone. And Grant apparently always calls someone and gives a full account of his day, because Drake knows things he says in person. Doesn’t matter.

When it turns out his latest conquest—Rosita Moreno—isn’t just married (to Corio) but they’re out to get Grant’s options on a Chilean mining concern, Drake has to save him even if he doesn’t want to be saved. Throw in Grant’s best friend, a similarly unfunny Edward Everett Horton, and Horton’s romantic pursuit, rich girl Nydia Westman (who the movie craps all over for wearing glasses and thinking Cary Grant is handsome), and you’ve got an hour of comic gold. Or so someone at Paramount incorrectly thought.

Grant’s not good, Horton’s not good, Drake’s not good but gets some sympathy because it’s obvious Tuttle is messing her up with his direction, Westman’s not bad but the movie’s literally against her so maybe she’s just overly sympathetic, and Moreno’s actually nearly okay. Moreno and Charles Arnt are the closest Ladies gets to okay acting. Arnt’s Grant’s valet and makes all sorts of date rape-y inventions for Grant to use around the apartment. Because what if Quagmire were great looking.

Look fast for Ann Sheridan.

But if you’re suffering through and wondering if it’s ever going to get better… no. The answer is no. It’s bad right up until the last scene, even if there’s a decent Paris cityscape backdrop.

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