A note from Lindsey: This film was viewed as a part of TMP’s Barbara Stanwyck Filmography Project. It was also viewed in celebration of the fact that I finally have TCM’s Frank Capra: The Early Collection DVD set in my possession. Woohoo!
Artist Jerry Strong made the mistake of letting his buddy Bill hold a big party in his New York penthouse. Desperate to get away from the crazy 20th century party people filling his home, Jerry sneaks out of the party and takes a drive in the country.
On a secluded road during his little drive, Jerry meets “party girl” Kay Arnold, who is also escaping from a party, which was aboard a yacht. She needs a ride back to the city, and Jerry decides to let her ride back with him.
Intrigued by Kay and seeing something special in her, Jerry decides to hire Kay as the model for his next painting. Drama ensues as the two fall for each other because Jerry is engaged and his father wants him to stay away from Kay.
Frank Capra directs 1930’s Ladies of Leisure, which stars Barbara Stanwyck and Ralph Graves. Jo Swerling wrote the screenplay, which is based on a play by Milton Herbert Gropper. Though this was Capra’s fifth sound film, a silent version was also produced for theaters that did not yet have the proper sound technology.
The cast of this film is pretty wonderful. Marie Prevost is a complete scene-stealer as Stanwyck’s witty roommate and friend, and of course Stanwyck herself gives a fantastic performance. She is able to portray a wide range of emotion in this character and succeeds in making Kay seem like more than just a simple “party girl.”
The level of chemistry between Stanwyck and Graves is successful, building as the film progresses and as tension between the two characters also grows.
Capra had a talent for bringing natural, convincing performances out of his casts and this film is no exception. His work stands out from other early sound films for this reason, and it’s what makes him one of my favorite directors. With the exception of Graves in a few scenes, these actors have none of the rigidity that is seen in many actors during the transitional period between silent and sound.
The snappy writing that is typical of Jo Swerling also works well for this film. The dialogue isn’t quite as striking as my favorite Capra/Swerling collaboration, Forbidden, but it does make for a great watch and gives the personality of Stanwyck’s character a rough-edged sass.
In typical Capra fashion, this film has a plot largely based in “upper versus lower class” struggle, centering around a romantic relationship between two people from different social classes.
There are both dramatic and amusing moments here, making for a thoroughly entertaining mix of moods. By the end, the story goes full drama and even becomes a bit of a tearjerker in the final quarter.
This film marks the first collaboration between Stanwyck and Capra, who also made The Miracle Woman (1931), Forbidden (1932), The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) and Meet John Doe (1941) together. Some of my favorite films in Stanwyck’s filmography are those directed by Capra, so I went into this one with high expectations. I can’t say that Ladies of Leisure is the best of their collaborations, but it is a very good drama. The score: 4/5