The Lady is Willing (1934)
The Lady is Willing, based on a comedy by French playwright Louis Verneuil, was the only film Columbia Pictures directly produced in England in the 1930s. It is also the only film directed by Gilbert Miller, the famous Broadway producer.
The film was unsuccessful, though it received some positive feedbacks; Mordaunt Hall wrote on the New York Times: “it is a farce of the Parisian variety which possesses something of the effervescent quality René Clair gives to his pictures. Although the action is stilted here and there, obviously occasionally because of censorial deletions, the film has the compensating virtues of excellent acting, scintillating lines and original, but decidedly mad, escapades”.
Anyway, Leslie Howard was very amused with the disguised role (“In the rôle of the detective, forever in disguise, Leslie Howard manages to pull this little made-in-England farce out of the depth”, said a Photoplay reviewer). He had a lot of fun in exchanging roles with his brother Arthur, so lookalike and both wearing long curly beards.
A group of ruined investors hire detective Albert Latour to take revenge on Gustave Dupont, the man who is responsible for their bankrupt. Latour learns that Dupont’s wife Helene is very rich. When Dupont decides to sell Helene’s château, Latour plans to kidnap her to hold a ransom. He visits the château disguised as doctor Germond, while his accomplices kidnap the woman. Latour (still disguised) persuades Dupont to hire detective Latour to investigate the kidnapping. Helene escapes her captors and returns home. She wants to leave her husband and asks for Latour’s help. The real Germond arrives and the situation gets complicated. In the end, Dupont is baffled and the three investors are repayed by Helene, who then leaves with Albert Latour.
Gilbert Miller, in spite of his friendship and long professional association with Mr. Howard, has not done any too well by his star. “The Lady Is Willing,” far from being an “Of Human Bondage” or “The Animal Kingdom,” even a “Reserved for Ladies,” is a slim, mad farce fairly swimming in whimsy.
Mr. Howard is called upon to play a comic detective. As Mr. Howard usually does what he’s called on to do just a shade better than most actors, he plays a very comic detective. He wears false whiskers, and even tries a curly beard. He peers in windows as a window-washer. He rides a bicycle as a flirtatious old doctor. He struts about as a conscientiously gallant soldier. He does it all with an air. Even so it was hardly worth doing.[…]
Mr. Miller has done a fairly smooth job of directing, forgetting too often perhaps that good photography is an important item in cinema producing. […] It’s not a bad little comedy; but it seems a sad waste of a fine cast.
(Eileen Creelman, The New York Sun, August 13, 1934)
Although the action is stilted here and there, obviously occasionally because of censorial deletions, the film has the compensating virtues of excellent acting, scintillating lines and original, but decidedly mad, escapades. In this somewhat exotic affair, which owes its origin partly to a French stage work, Leslie Howard appears as a French sleuth who frequently disguises himself as a physician bearing an uncanny resemblance to George Bernard Shaw.
[…] Mr. Howard gives a highly amusing performance.
(Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times, August 11, 1934)
“The Lady Is Willing,” which opened at Keith’s yesterday, is played with touch and go, with more accent on touch than on the go. It is a Frenchy farce, played by English in London, and directed by Gilbert Miller for Columbia. Gilbert, by the way, runs theaters in New York. It is a Leslie Howard picture, with Howard’s calm, collected and cogent methods distinctly in the ascendant.[…]
This is simply farce, played with such speed that only innocent laughter is the result. Comic disguises make the penchant of this detective. He is soldier, bucolic doctor, and what not. It is all amusement, not especially realistic, and deliciously funny. But don’t look for anything played in Hollywood fashion. Oh, my, no! Isn’t this Leslie Howard, Gilbert, Parker and an all-English cast. May be that’s the reason why so many people who didn’t get in on the first minute were kept so long wondering what it was all about. It takes an audience that is quick–just as it did in the days when we had real comedies…
(Franklin Chase, Syracuse Journal, August 20, 1934)
THE LADY IS WILLING
Director: Gilbert Miller
Writers: Guy Bolton, Louis Verneuil
Photography: Joseph Walker
Leslie Howard (Albert Latour)
Cedric Hardwicke (Gustav Dupont)
Binnie Barnes (Helene Dupont)
Nigel Playfair (Prof. Menard)
Nigel Bruce (Welton)
Claud Allister (Brevin)
W. Graham Brown (Pignolet)
Kendall Lee (Valerie)
Arthur Howard (Dr. Germont)
Virginia Field (Maid)
John Turnbull (Butler)
George Zucco (Man from Reclamation Agent)