Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) is a nationally respected stage actor who appears alongside Joyce Arden (Bette Davis) and acts as her partner both on stage and off.
There’s just one problem: Basil looks so great in tights that women in the audience often fall in love with him after seeing him perform in productions such as Romeo and Juliet – and sometimes, Basil will give these women a chance.
As a result of this ego-boosting infidelity, Basil and Joyce’s relationship is strained, though passionate. The two are stuck in an endless cycle of fighting and making up, with their bickering even continuing on stage, where they insult each other in hushed voices between the production’s dialogue.
After one performance of Romeo and Juliet, Basil is met by yet another admirer – Marcia West (Olivia de Havilland), who is already engaged to a man named Henry (Patric Knowles). Marcia confesses her love for Basil back stage after the show, and he seems a bit smitten with her as well, with all of her sweetness and beauty.
And of course, this causes yet another fight with Joyce, after which they make up and decide, for the twelfth time, that they will get married.
But before he marries, Basil wants to redeem himself for his previous infidelities and prove that he’s a good man. Basil makes a deal with Henry to make Marcia fall out of love with him, but it might not be as easy as he expects to get this lovestruck lady off of his back.
Archie Mayo directs It’s Love I’m After (1937), the third and final screen pairing of Bette Davis and Leslie Howard. The film is based on Maurice Hanline’s story and was written for the screen by Casey Robinson.
The banter between the battling couple of Basil and Joyce is absolutely hilarious, and delivered perfectly by Howard and Davis. The two actors have a very fun chemistry in their characters’ calmer moments, which makes it even funnier to see them at verbal war with each other.
The two toss insults left and right. Joyce quips at one point, “Anything you can use to cover your face would be a vast improvement” – a harsh jab to take at a man with such a large ego. They commonly refer to each other with less-than-cute pet names as well: “wretch,” “billy goat,” and the like.
And of course, Howard has great chemistry with Olivia de Havilland as well, as would also be seen a few years later in the legendary Gone with the Wind. The sugary sweetness of de Havilland’s delivery in her earliest scene with Howard provides a nice contrast to the harshness of the Basil/Joyce pairing.
Possibly my favorite aspect of this film is that none of its phenomenal leads are remembered for their comedic skills, but they shine in this film. Bette Davis, Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland are all known for their most dramatic roles. All three are absolutely hilarious here, showcasing their adaptability to any genre.
Great performances are given across the board, but the one that struck me the most was that of de Havilland. While this film belongs to Davis and Howard as a pair, de Havilland gives the best individual performance. The comedic value of Marcia is much less direct than the rest of the film’s characters since it stems solely from her blind infatuation with Basil, and Livvie pulls it off so perfectly.
The script itself is extremely witty, all acting talents aside. The dialogue is great, the pacing quick, and there isn’t a single character or scene that doesn’t serve some sort of purpose.
My favorite addition to the story would have to be the “sidekick” character of Digges, portrayed underrated character actor by Eric Blore. The film would still be hilarious without this character, but the companionship between Digges and Basil brings a lot of laughs, especially when they act out scenes from Basil’s previous plays together.
It’s Love I’m After is an all-around great screwball comedy and an unjustly forgotten gem of a film. The plot is somewhat simple but highly entertaining, the film as a whole full of energy and hilarity. And on top of all of that, great writing and even better performances work together to make this one well worth multiple viewings. The score: 5/5!