Pre Code Hollywood Season: FD Cinematheque
Lonely Wives (1931)
Director: Russell Mack
Cast: Edward Everett Horton, Esther Ralston, Laura La Plante, Patsy Ruth Miller, Spencer Charters, Maude Eburne, Maurice Black
Lonely Wives is a 1931 American comedy film directed by Russell Mack and produced by E.B. Derr for Pathé Exchange, and was distributed by RKO Pictures after the merger of the two studios; it starred Edward Everett Horton, Esther Ralston, Laura La Plante, and Patsy Ruth Miller.
The screenplay was written by Walter DeLeon, based upon a successful German Vaudeville act entitled Tanzanwaltz, penned by Pordes Milo, Walter Schütt, and Dr. Eric Urban. The German production had been translated for the American stage by DeLeon and Mark Swan and, under the same title as the film.
His wife, Madeline (Esther Ralston), has been away for several months, and is not expected back anytime soon. However, Madeline’s mother, Mrs. Mantel (Maude Eburne) is staying with the Smiths, in an effort to curtail the possibility of any straying by Richard.
Unbeknownst to her, he has made plans to go out on the town that night with his new, sultry secretary Kitty Minter (Patsy Ruth Miller), and his new sexy client, Diane O’Dare (Laura La Plante), who, a lonely wife herself, wishes to divorce her husband for neglect.
The issue is how can he go out on the town without alerting his mother-in-law. An issue which is seemingly resolved by the arrival at his home of a vaudeville impersonator: Felix, the Great Zero (also played by Edward Everett Horton). Felix is seeking permission to impersonate the famous lawyer on-stage. At first reluctant, Richard, noticing the striking resemblance between himself and the actor, realizes he might have a way to deceive Mrs. Mantel. In order to obtain his approval, Felix must agree to impersonate him at his house that evening, while he goes out.
While Richard goes out on the town, he discovers that Diane’s husband is none other than Felix. Meanwhile, Madeline arrives home unannounced and early.Thinking that he is about to be exposed, Felix phones the nightclub where Richard has taken the two women for dinner and drinks. As he waits for the return phone call, much to his surprise, rather than exposing him as an imposter, Madeline begins to come on to him. He attempts to resist, trying to hold out until he can speak to Richard, but he succumbs to her charms just as the phone begins ringing.
When Richard returns home the next morning, Felix is still there. He is followed closely by a very inebriated Diane, with whom it seems he has spent his time away from home. When Felix recognizes Diane, and Richard understands that Felix has spent the night at his house, both men believe that his look-a-like has slept with the others’ wife. After a series of events, Smith ends up chasing Zero with a loaded gun. Meanwhile, Andrews, the Butler, (Spencer Charters), thinks he must have the DT’s, seeing double of his employer.
The truth comes out when Madeline admits that she knew it wasn’t Richard all along, and other than the kissing, nothing happened between the two of them. Diane admits that she spent the night in the cab, riding around, and not with Richard. Reconciled, Richard is cured of his wandering ways and Felix and Diane are reunited.
- Edward Everett Horton as Richard “Dickie” Smith, and Felix, The Great Zero
- Esther Ralston as Madeline Smith
- Laura La Plante as Diane O’Dare
- Patsy Ruth Miller as Kitty “Minty” Minter
- Spencer Charters as Andrews, the Butler
- Maude Eburne as Mrs. Mantel
- Maurice Black as Taxi Driver
(Cast as per AFI database)
Pathé announced that the film was going into production in mid-November 1930, with Russell Mack at the helm. Shortly after, it was reported that La Plante had been attached to the cast; La Plante was returning to films after a brief seven-month hiatus, during which time speculation arose that her career might be over.
Her appearance in this film, and its success, would re-ignite her career. On December 7, it was learned that DeLeon would be adapting the story into a screenplay, and on the 10th the announcement came that Esther Ralston and Patsy Ruth Miller would be added to the list of cast members, along with Edward Everett Horton.
Horton and Miller had co-starred the prior year in four films together for Warner Brothers. The following day, December 11, The Film Daily announced that the film had begun production.Included in the cast was Spencer Charters, who had acted with Mack in several Broadway plays.
Pathe announced that the film would be part of its 1931 schedule, and it began to appear on its list of upcoming releases in the trades, but without a specific release date. The release was held up in late January due to the sale of Pathe to RKO Pictures. By the end of the month the go-ahead was given to release the film. Finally on February 16 RKO announced they would be releasing the film the following week.
Several days prior to its release, Pathe announced that the marketing campaign for the film would include “tie-ins” with a coterie of manufacturers and retail stores. The campaign would include drug stores and department stores, and have advertising material supplied by manufacturers such as Underwood (typewriters), John H. Woodbury (toiletries), and Jo-Cur Laboratories (beauty products). Lonely Wives was released by RKO on February 22, 1931.
- “Madeline”, unknown composer
- “Baby Feet”, unknown composer, sung by Maude Eburne
Mordaunt Hall, the film critic for the New York Times, gave the film a positive review, calling the direction “skillful”, and singles out the performance of several of the actors, including Esther Ralston, Maude Eburne, Patsy Ruth Miller, and Spencer Charters.
He was especially impressed with Horton, stating that he “delivers a wonderfully clever dual impersonation …”, and is “wonderfully amusing”. The Film Daily also gave the film a nod of approval, calling it “… one of the cleverest and most entertaining comedies of the season”.
They particularly highlighted the direction of Mack, Horton’s performance in his dual role, as well as complimenting the rest of the cast. The trade paper also gave the highest marks to the cinematography of Edward Snyder.
Photoplay listed it as one of the best films of the month in February 1931, singling out the acting talents of Horton, Ralston, La Plante, and Miller. Picture Play Magazine was a bit more reserved in their review of the film.
While they called it “… the most consistently broad comedy of any film since “The Cock-eyed World”,” they also stated that it was “supposedly hilarious”.
Other positive reviews came from: Billboard, “… destined to be one of the laugh highlights of the screen year”; Motion Picture Herald, “Highly sophisticated comedy, goes over with a great laugh”; Los Angeles Express, “Fast, furious, frothy farce. Lonely Wives is a laugh riot”; and Motion Picture Daily, “Laughs keep rolling out in a steady deluge of ultra-sophisticated wise cracks.”
It was released on DVD by Roan/Troma Entertainment in 2001.
The English translation of the 1912 German vaudeville act, Tanzanwaltz, entitled Lonely Wives, written by DeLeon and Mark Swan, was produced by A.H. Woods in Stamford, Connecticut on August 11, 1922. The play was scheduled to open in New York in August 1922, starring a well-known female impersonator of that time, Julian Eltinge as its star, but was never produced, apparently because while humorous, it had no value or integrity.
The film was acquired by RKO when they purchased Pathé Exchange in January 1931.
- “Lonely Wives: Technical Details”. theiapolis.com. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
- “Lonely Wives: Screenplay Info”. Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on August 20, 2014. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
- “Lonely Wives, Credits”. Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on August 19, 2014. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
- Jewell, Richard B.; Harbin, Vernon (1982). The RKO Story. New York: Arlington House. p. 34. ISBN 0-517-546566.
- “Lonely Wives: Detail View”. American Film Institute. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
- Wilk, Ralph (November 12, 1930). “Hollywood Flashes”. The Film Daily. p. 5.
- Wilk, Ralph (November 25, 1930). “Hollywood Flashes”. The Film Daily. p. 6.
- “News And Gossip”. Motion Picture Magazine. April 1931. p. 94.
- “6 Features And 6 Shorts In The Works At Pathe”. The Film Daily. December 7, 1930. p. 4.
- Wilk, Ralph (December 10, 1930). “Hollywood Flashes”. The Film Daily. p. 8.
- “A Little From “Lots””. The Film Daily. December 21, 1930. p. 4.
- Wilk, Ralph (December 11, 1930). “Hollywood Flashes”. The Film Daily. p. 6.
- “A Little From “Lots””. The Film Daily. December 26, 1930. p. 7.
- “Complete Release Chart:Pathe Coming Feature Attractions”. Motion Picture News. December 6, 1930. p. 125.
- “Pathe-RKO Deal Still Awaiting Signatures”. The Film Daily. January 30, 1931. p. 1.
- “”Lonely Wives” Release Feb. 22″. The Film Daily. February 16, 1931. p. 2.
- “Exploitettes:Three Big Tie-ups On “Lonely Wives””. The Film Daily. February 18, 1931. p. 3.
- Hall, Mordaunt (March 16, 1931). “Lonely Wives: The Lawyer and His Double”. New York Times. Archived from the original on August 15, 2014. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
- “Lonely Wives”. The Film Daily. February 15, 1931. p. 10.
- “The Shadow Stage: The Best Pictures of the Month”. Photoplay. May 1931. p. 49.
- “The Screen In Review: Lonely Wives”. Picture Play Magazine. June 1931. p. 98.
- “Sell Laughs and You’ll Sell Seats!”. Variety. February 25, 1931. pp. 14–15.
- Pierce, David (June 2007). “Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain”. Film History: An International Journal. 19 (2): 125–43. ISSN 0892-2160. JSTOR 25165419. OCLC 15122313. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. See Note #60, pg. 143
- “The Troma Shop”. Troma Entertainment. Archived from the original on October 20, 2014. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
- “Lonely Wives, Notes”. Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the originalon August 15, 2014. Retrieved August 15, 2014.