‘God’s Gift to Women’ (1931)

Now forgotten, Frank Fay was a movie star for five minutes–well, a year or so–when the talkies came in. A vaudeville comic, he was recruited by Warner Brothers for splashy musical hits. Then came a couple of Paris-set bedroom farces, based on plays, directed by Michael Curtiz. The Matrimonial Bed is the stiffer and stagier of these, while Curtiz presents the doings in God’s Gift to Women much more fluidly, with more attention to camera movements and close-ups in order make expository scenes more engaging. Yet, the story is still a dud.

We’re asked to believe that a certain aging Toto (Fay), who seems today like a cross of Ray Bolger and Liberace, is the modern Don Juan of Paris, attended everywhere by a flock of lovelies including Joan Blondell and Louise Brooks. We’re also asked to believe that he’s willing to throw all that over at first sight of American tourist Laura LaPlante. Actually, considering her delightful smile, that’s not such a stretch, but she’s stuck in a nothing role and disappears for most of the movie. The flimsy hook is that Toto believes he’ll drop dead if he has too much excitement, and this leads to allegedly hilarious strains on his equilibrium, including a three-way tussle of “nurses” scrambling across his bed; it’s your chance to see Blondell and Brooks in a catfight, a clash of styles indeed. In the new Hollywood, the brassy Blondell easily trumped silent sirens Brooks and LaPlante.

According to Wikipedia, the opening nightclub sequence included a couple of numbers that got cut for the U.S. release because the audience was getting tired of musicals, though evidently the film was never really a proper musical. The uncut version was released outside the U.S. but those prints don’t survive. They could only have improved it. Fay, at this time married to rising star Barbara Stanwyck, saw his film career effectively evaporate. Years later, he briefly had a Broadway hit when he created the role of Elwood P. Dowd in the original run of Harvey; by then, he must felt like the big invisible rabbit.

RATING 3 / 10