Beauty for the Asking (1939)

(Image via Olga Olga)
(Image via Olga Olga)

Jean Russell (Lucille Ball) is a beautician, in love with cosmetic salesman Denny Williams (Patric Knowles). But Denny ditches Jean when he manages to win the affection of the very wealthy Flora Barton (Frieda Inescourt).

Denny marries for money, leaving Jean lonely. Luckily for Jean, her lack of beau just gives her more time to put into her work. She perfects a new face cream that works as a cold cream, foundation, and face mask all in one, catching the interest of ad man Jeffrey Martin (Donald Woods).

Jean’s new product becomes a hit, while Denny is trapped in an unhappy marriage, and comes crawling back.

Glenn Tryon directs 1939’s Beauty for the Asking.

TCM aired Beauty for the Asking during Lucille Ball’s Summer Under the Stars day, August 2. I tuned in on WatchTCM later that day due to the relatively short run-time (68 minutes), not expecting much from the film. But it’s much more interesting than the synopsis would lead you to believe!

It seems a simple rags-to-riches tale of a woman jilted by a money-hungry man, only to become very wealthy herself and “win” him back. But Beauty for the Asking could easily be pegged as one of the earlier examples of a feminist (or at least feminist-leaning) film.

The kicker is this: Jean realizes that she can become a success on her own, without him, and does just that. While a part of her still loves Denny, she has no interest in ruining his marriage, and rejects him rather than reuniting. When he returns asking for forgiveness, clearly influenced by her new-found wealth, she actually tries as best she can to help Flora make the marriage work, eventually ‘fessing up to Flora about her own past with Denny.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Beyond the interesting angle of the story, Beauty for the Asking is a bit thinly-plotted, and not big on either laughs or high drama. It’s a B-movie through and through, with a few silly slapstick scenes and mild conflicts.

Still, it’s worth a watch to see Lucille Ball prior to the cementing of her status as a Hollywood legend. Her performance here is quite low-key, appropriate for the character’s principled, hard-working nature. Ball is remembered as a comedienne but deserves so much more credit for roles like this, which show the variety of her talent (and her growth as a young actress).

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