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Dorothea "Dot" Parker (Dorothy Mackaill) is a spoiled rich girl whose father invites a working stiff at his steel mill to dinner after the man saves several of his coworkers lives in an industrial accident. Dot's mother (Mary Carr) is a hopeless snob who wants to call off dinner with a worker she deems lower class, but Mr. Parker, who is a far better judge of character, persists.
Dot takes one look at her father's handsome employee Richard Brunton (Joel McCrea) and is hopelessly smitten. Dot wagers with her father that she will get a proposal from Richard and is soon collecting on her bet. The marriage initially threatens to emasculate Richard, who loses interest in his career and finds himself dominated by Dot's vapid, social whirl of bridge games, cocktail parties and passive acceptance of life as a "kept" man. He must ultimately put his foot down and assert to the spoiled heiress that he is the man of the house and that they must live honestly off of his income alone, much to the petulant Dot's initial distress.
Though made in the years before Hollywood's Production Code placed uncompromising rules on the sex, drinking and violence that could be shown in movies, the romantic comedy Kept Husbands (1931) is far from the racy content of other Pre-Code movies of the time.
In fact, the film is in many ways highly conventional for how it reaffirms the gender roles in the Brunton household, arguing that the man and woman should fulfill their proper duties. In the Depression years, rich heiresses were not especially appealing figures for impoverished audiences. Conventions of the time demanded that haughty women like Dot be put in their place by the film's end.
Mackaill was a former London show girl who went on to America's famous Ziegfeld Follies and then to a string of light Hollywood comedies.
Her costar, California born Joel McCrea had a better run in Hollywood, as a rugged, handsome, all-American star of copious films. McCrea spent years toiling in silent and then sound productions, and was even quite literally plucked from a crowd of extras to play a larger role in The Jazz Age (1929). Will Rogers helped McCrea get a leg up in his career, apparently having a predisposition to like a fellow fan of ranching and the cowboy life.
McCrea hit his professional stride in a succession of high profile Hollywood films like Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940) and Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels (1941) and The Palm Beach Story (1942).
In the late Forties, however, McCrea made a definitive career shift and became a staple of the Western, a genre for which he is still best remembered. McCrea also appeared in a number of television programs with Western themes including "Four Star Playhouse" (1952-53) and "Wichita Town" (1959-60). He came out of retirement in 1962 to star alongside Randolph Scott in the Sam Peckinpah Western Ride the High Country.
McCrea was married to actress Frances Dee whom he met on the set of the 1933 drama The Silver Cord where he played opposite Irene Dunne. Their union lasted an atypically long 57 years, a lifetime in Hollywood's standards of coupledom. McCrea seemed to enjoy an equal amount of success in his private life as he did in his professional life. He invested wisely in livestock and real estate and made enough money to live very well apart from Hollywood as a gentleman rancher before his death in 1990.
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Producer: William LeBaron, Louis Sarecky
Screenplay: Forrest Halsey, Alfred Jackson
Cinematography: Jack MacKenzie
Production Design: Max Ree
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Dorothy Mackaill (Dorothea "Dot" Parker Brunton), Joel McCrea (Richard "Dick" Brunton), Ned Sparks (Hughie Hanready), Mary Carr (Mrs. Brunton), Clara Kimball Young (Mrs. Henrietta Post), Robert McWade (Arthur Parker).
by Felicia Feaster