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When Bachelor Apartment opened on April 15, 1931, Irene Dunne had appeared in just two pictures - the musical comedy Leathernecking (1930), now a lost film, and the epic western Cimarron (1931), for which Dunne would soon receive her first Oscar® nomination. Bachelor Apartment was a sophisticated comedy-drama, enabling this most versatile of actresses to prove herself in yet another genre.
The film's screenwriter, John Howard Lawson, was a New York playwright who had recently written some movies for MGM. According to biographer Gary Carr, Lawson was much more interested in writing plays than movies, but he was in such dire financial straits that he couldn't pass up the money that only Hollywood was offering. He signed a one-picture deal at RKO, with an option for three more scripts over the next year. The first was Bachelor Apartment. There was no story yet, just the title and two attached stars - Lowell Sherman and Mae Murray. (Irene Dunne was not yet a star.) Lawson told RKO production chief William LeBaron that the movie would work only if it had "not an ounce of sentiment" and if it "[took] advantage of the comic skill of the two players. They could be charming as long as they played zany farce."
The resulting movie was a light, witty comedy with an unmistakably theatrical feel, about a playboy (Sherman) who gets involved with a married woman (Murray) as well as a young working girl (Dunne). But Lawson found little fulfillment in the project. He later recalled, "Every day's work on Bachelor Apartment reminded me of my 'almost blunted purpose': instead of bringing new life to the theater, I was perpetrating a stale cinematic joke. In spite of its up-to-date cynicism and zany style, everything about Bachelor Apartment, including its stars, belonged to the Roaring Twenties." As a final irritant, Lawson was shocked to see in the finished film that the screenplay had been credited to him (for the story) as well as to J. Walter Ruben (for the adaptation). He was certain that his script had in fact not been changed at all, but he was unable to do anything about it.
Lawson would go on to serve as president of the Screen Writers Guild and to write the influential book Theory and Technique of Playwriting and Screenwriting. He also wrote several more fine and diverse films including Algiers (1938), Sahara (1943) and Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) before being blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten.
Bachelor Apartment was Mae Murray's first talkie. A popular Ziegfeld Follies headliner who transitioned successfully to the silent screen, she starred most famously in The Merry Widow (1925) opposite John Gilbert - and in a wink to the audience makes her first appearance in Bachelor Apartment to a Merry Widow waltz. She would make only one more movie - High Stakes (1931). Though a wonderful silent star, Murray's voice and acting style didn't make the transition to talking pictures. She also developed serious marital and financial problems during this period, and in later years fell into poverty before dying in 1965 at the Motion Picture Country Home.
Actor Lowell Sherman was also the director of Bachelor Apartment, a highly unusual combination at the time. An actor since 1914, Sherman started directing in 1929, and Bachelor Apartment was his fifth feature. His directing career showed promise with movies like She Done Him Wrong (1933) and Morning Glory (1933) but was cut short when he died of pneumonia in 1934. At the time of his death, Sherman had just started directing Hollywood's first full-length three-strip Technicolor feature, Becky Sharp (1935). Rouben Mamoulian replaced him and started the film over from scratch.
Producer: Henry Hobart, William LeBaron
Director: Lowell Sherman
Screenplay: John Howard Lawson, J. Walter Ruben
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Film Editing: Marie Halvey
Art Direction: Max Re
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Lowell Sherman (Wayne Carter), Irene Dunne (Helene Andrews), Mae Murray (Agatha Carraway), Ivan Lebedeff (Pedro De Maneau), Norman Kerry (Lee Graham), Noel Francis (Janet).
by Jeremy Arnold