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Synopsis: Willie Hale, the cheerful, prodigal son of Lord Leland, returns to England after having to auction his property in Kenya due to gambling debts. His father threatens to kick him out of the house, but vicariously enjoys his escapades. Although Willie is already having an affair with the actress Mary Crayle, he falls in love with the free-spirited Dorothy Hope, who is engaged to a Russian count.
1930, the year Loretta Young starred in the lighthearted comedy The Devil to Pay, was especially dramatic in terms of her personal life. In January, she eloped with Grant Withers by airplane to Yuma, Arizona. She was only 17 at the time. Her mother dragged her home and filed an annulment suit, but the following month Young made a defiant press statement, declaring: "Grant and I are married, and we are going to stay married." The couple's respective careers continued to flourish, and they even appeared together in films.
Nonetheless, problems mounted. Only days after they returned from their elopement, Withers was involved in an auto accident, resulting in a lawsuit for $55,000 due to alleged injuries suffered by children riding in the other car. In September of the same year the case was finally decided: the judge ruled in Withers' favor, ordering the plaintiff to pay for damage to Withers' automobile. At the same time, Withers' financial troubles were exacerbated when his first wife, Inez, successfully sued for an increase in alimony payments and caused additional embarrassment for the newly-wedded Young by submitting a subpoena for her to testify in court. (Withers' first marriage had been annulled in December of 1925.) Nonetheless, Withers' career continued to flourish; he appeared in several films that year, in some cases with Young playing opposite him in the lead.
That autumn, Withers was also hospitalized for appendicitis, and by February of 1931 the Los Angeles Times declared: "WITHERS MARRIAGE REPORTED ON ROCKS." In June the same year, Young, only eighteen years old, sued for annulment on the grounds of "nonsupport."
The Devil to Pay was written as an original script by the popular British playwright Frederick Lonsdale (1881-1954), who had experienced considerable Transatlantic crossover success with plays such as The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1925) and On Approval (1927), both of which were adapted more than once for the screen. Variety reported that Lonsdale derived the script for The Devil to Pay (initially entitled "The Prodigal") from his short story "Monarch of the Field."
According to a December 1930 article in the New York Times, Samuel Goldwyn offered the popular British playwright an opportunity to write an original screenplay. Lonsdale at first insisted that the play be produced on the stage first so he could earn royalties from that in addition to his fees as a playwright. Most unusually, Goldwyn then offered him payment on a royalty basis just for the screen version.
Ronald Colman was envisioned from the start in the comic lead role; Colman was eager to break away from his usual dramatic fare. However, the initial cast hired to play opposite Colman was considered unsatisfactory after shooting had already begun. The footage was reshot with a new cast that included Loretta Young and Myrna Loy. The efforts paid off; the reviewer for Variety praised Coleman's performance, the witty dialogue, and George Fitzmaurice's "natural" sense of pacing. It is worth noting that the New York Times review also remarked on the quality of the sound recording. In fact, The Devil to Pay remains one of the more appealing comedies of the early sound era, thanks to its relaxed performance style and fluid direction.
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Story and Dialogue: Frederick Lonsdale
Adaptation: Benjamin Glazer
Photography: George S. Barnes and Gregg Toland
Art Direction: Richard Day
Film Editor: Grant Whytock
Cast: Ronald Colman (Willie Hale), Frederick Kerr (Lord Leland), Loretta Young (Dorothy Hope), David Torrence (Mr. Hope), Myrna Loy (Mary Crayle), Crauford Kent (Arthur Leland).BW-73m.
by James Steffen