It's Love I'm After
Bette Davis as Joyce Arden in It's Love I'm After
With Annette Bening's recent triumph as a stage diva fighting to keep career, husband and lover in Being Julia (2004), the time is ripe for a remake of this sparkling, stage-centered screwball comedy from 1937. It even doubles the comic impact of Bening's film with not one but two divas battling for center stage and romance.
It's Love I'm After was initiated by Leslie Howard, who after heavy dramatic roles in The Petrified Forest (1936), Romeo and Juliet (1936) and most of his other films, demanded a comic change of pace for his next picture at Warner Bros. Despite some misgivings at the executive level about Howard's ability to play comedy, producer Hal Wallis reluctantly accepted Howard's suggestion that he film the story "Gentleman After Midnight," all about a matinee idol who takes time from romantic sparring with his leading lady to try to cure a young female fan of her mindless devotion to him. Casey Robinson fashioned a witty screenplay that gave Howard the chance to drop comic zingers, swashbuckle through the grounds of a posh Pasadena mansion and spoof his Romeo and Juliet when he and his leading lady perform the play's final scene while whispering insults to each other.
Finding the right leading lady was a major problem, however. Howard wanted a skilled comic actress from the stage, pushing for either Gertrude Lawrence or Ina Claire. Neither had a particularly large film following but Wallis arranged for director Archie Mayo to meet with Lawrence to discuss the role. She was interested and Mayo thought she could do it, but Wallis refused to commit to her, testing several other actresses with Howard. Then he and Howard saw Lawrence in the British film Men Are Not Gods (1936), and both had to admit she didn't photograph well. With a start date already set, the picture went into production without a leading lady.
Finally, Wallis decided that Bette Davis could use a change of pace after intensely dramatic roles in Marked Woman, Kid Galahad and That Certain Woman (all 1937). She had her misgivings, though. Having churned out those films with little break, she was aching for a vacation. She also complained that the script favored Howard's role while the more interesting female role was the foolish society girl in love with him, being played by Olivia de Havilland. Moreover, she hated to cede sole above-the-title billing to Howard. Finally, Wallis convinced her the change of pace and the chance to make her third film with Howard (they had teamed for Of Human Bondage in 1934 and The Petrified Forest) would add to her prestige. One concession he would make later was agreeing to replace cinematographer James Van Trees with Tony Gaudio, one of the few cameramen Davis trusted to photograph her under her exacting standards.
Another of Davis's concerns was her rocky relationship with Howard off-screen. While filming Of Human Bondage, he had been cold and dismissive, resenting an American actress being cast in what he considered a very British story. Her dramatic triumph in the film had won his respect, but he had run hot and cold while filming The Petrified Forest, sometimes ignoring her, sometimes coming on to her rather crudely. The latter was hardly a problem on It's Love I'm After. Instead, he turned his attentions to de Havilland, driving her mad with his dogged persistence.
On-screen, however, the comic types meshed perfectly. Critics not only praised Howard and Davis for playing against type, but hailed the film's strong supporting cast, filled with eccentric comic actors -- including the ultimate gentleman's gentleman Eric Blore, blustering father George Barbier, and dizzy society matron Spring Byington. Any doubts about Howard's comic abilities were silenced by the film's impressive box office performance, bringing in over a million dollars during its initial release, and Howard's next hit, directing himself in George Bernard Shaw's classic comedy Pygmalion (1938).
Producer: Hal B. Wallis, Harry Joe Brown
Director: Archie Mayo
Screenplay: Casey Robinson, based on the story "Gentleman After Midnight" by Maurice Hanline
Cinematography: James Van Trees, Tony Gaudio (uncredited)
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Leslie Howard (Basil Underwood), Bette Davis (Joyce Arden), Olivia de Havilland (Marcia West), Eric Blore (Digges), Patric Knowles (Henry Grant), George Barbier (William West), Spring Byington (Aunt Ella Paisley), Bonita Granville (Gracie Kane), E. E. Clive (Butler), Veda Ann Borg (Elsie).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller