Fools for Scandal
Cast & Crew
Mervyn Le Roy
In Paris, incognito American movie star Kay Winters meets Rene, an apparently impoverished local, who is wearing evening clothes and offers to show her the real Paris. Although she is supposed to attend a dinner given by Lady Paula Malverton, she is so charmed by Rene that she agrees. After sightseeing, they have dinner at the same restaurant where Lady Malverton has brought her guests. Recognizing Rene, who had also been invited to her party, Lady Malverton calls him over to say hello.
When he returns to his table, Kay has gone, but has left a sketch and a note asking him to meet her for lunch the next day at the fountain in Montmartre. After removing her dark wig, Kay returns to her hotel, where insurance salesman Phillip Chester, who is in love with her, is waiting. The next day, Rene oversleeps and his friend, Dewey Gilson, takes too long retrieving Rene's only daytime suit from Mme. Brioche's pawn shop. When Rene finally arrives at the fountain, he is wearing two oriental carpets and a turban appropriated from a passing salesman. As Rene talks with Kay, two elderly female tourists approach, thinking that Rene is selling the carpets, and argue with him and Kay over who can buy them. In a scuffle, Kay and one of the women each grab a carpet, forcing Rene to run away in his underwear.
He learns later that she is a movie star from his cab driver and immediately phones her hotel, but discovers that she has left for London. He follows her there, arriving at her house during a masquerade party. She invites Rene to stay for dinner, and Lady Malverton insists that he make his specialty, crepes suzette. The crepes are so good that Kay jokingly offers him a job as her cook. After the party, Phillip begs Kay to stop work and marry him, but she postpones a decision. Not having seen Rene leave, Lady Malverton sneaks into Kay's house to see if she can find him. He tells her that he has taken a job as a cook, and delighted, Lady Malverton spreads the gossip.
The next morning, after Kay learns his plan, she begs Rene to leave before he ruins her reputation. It is too late, however, as Lady Malverton's gossip has already attracted news reporters. As Rene will not leave, Kay agrees to keep him on as a servant. At the same time, she decides to marry Phillip and instructs her maid, Myrtle, to serve them an engagement dinner, which Rene does his best to spoil. Phillip and Kay quarrel and he walks out. Rene forces Kay to admit that she loves him, but she protests that she cannot marry him because of the difference in their status. Coldly, he tells her that he is a marquis and leaves. Kay runs after him into the rain. For shelter they duck into a doorway and find themselves on stage at the opera house. Laughing at their plight, they kiss for the audience.
Mervyn Le Roy
Les Hite And His Orchestra
E. A. Brown
Philip G. Epstein
Leo F. Forbstein
Jack L. Warner
Fools For Scandal
At the time, critics suggested that she had gone to the screwball well once too often. Nor was their mood helped by the film's obvious similarities to her hit from two years earlier, My Man Godfrey (1936). Where in the previous film she had played an heiress whose life is changed when she hires a hobo (William Powell) to be her butler, in the current picture she plays a movie star whose life is changed when she hires a penniless French nobleman (Ferdinand Gravet) to be her cook. Viewed years later in an environment not saturated with screwball comedies, however, the film has its own charms to recommend it, including a sprightly performance by Gravet, reliable turns in familiar roles by Lombard and Ralph Bellamy (as her conventional fiancé) and some surprising uses of songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The scenes in which society gossips headed by British noblewoman Isabel Jeans turn the Lombard-Gravet relationship into an international scandal also provide an effective echo of the classic play The School for Scandal, which inspired the film's title.
The problem lay in the script. Instead of pairing Lombard from the start with a star of Cagney's stature, Warner's put her into an unproduced play they had picked up called Return Engagement. While they kept her diverted with star treatment and fittings for her dazzling Milo Anderson gowns, the writing process was proceeding by fits and starts. Julius J. Epstein was the first writer assigned, but he complained that he couldn't make much out of studio head Jack Warner's request that he prepare a film with opportunities for glamorous clothes and low comedy antics. When Warner and the film's producer-director, Mervyn LeRoy, didn't like his first draft, Epstein asked to be assigned a more congenial project. The script then went through several hands, including Epstein's brother, Philip, and future director Robert Rossen. The final credit went to another pair of brothers, Herbert and Joseph Fields. The former at least had written for Lombard in the past, providing scripts for Hands Across the Table (1935) and Love Before Breakfast (1936), but neither had worked in the screwball genre.
Leading man Gravet had been brought to Warner's after his success in French films, where he had become a star as Ferdinand Gravey, a name with unfortunate culinary associations for American audiences. LeRoy had championed him and had used him as leading man a year earlier in The King and the Chorus Girl (1937). Convinced he could score with American audiences, LeRoy cast him again for Lombard's first Warner's film. Years later, he would blame the actor's wife for the man's failure to catch on with audiences. Sixteen-years older than her husband, Mrs. Gravet was rather possessive and, according to LeRoy, "wanted to keep him for herself" (from Mervyn LeRoy: Take One).
To play the other man in the triangle, Warner's cast Ralph Bellamy, who had played similar roles in the comedy classic The Awful Truth (1937) and Lombard's Hands Across the Table. Bellamy was under contract to Columbia Pictures and was one of the few actors there to have a good relationship with the studio's tyrannical head, Harry Cohn. During production, however, the two had a run in when Bellamy told LeRoy the studio head had a sentimental streak under his rough exterior. Cohn called Bellamy on the set and demanded he never say anything like that again. "You'll ruin my image around town" (from When the Smoke Hits the Fan by Ralph Bellamy).
One distinctive element of Fools for Scandal was the use of songs by Broadway tunesmiths Rodgers and Hart. Although the film produced no hits for them, the picture's title song was showcased in a dialogue scene, with Lombard and Gravet reciting and singing the lyrics as part of their repartee. The technique recalled Rouben Mamoulian's witty use of the team's songs in his pioneering musical Love Me Tonight (1932).
That innovative approach was small compensation for critics and audiences tiring of the screwball genre. Warner's had invested a large-for-the-time budget of $1.3 million in the film and lost their money to indifferent box office. The film pretty much dashed Gravet's hopes of becoming a U.S. star. After another failure that year, MGM's lavish musical biopic The Great Waltz, he returned to the comforts of stardom in France. LeRoy left Warner's, too, accepting a lucrative offer to produce and direct at MGM, where he would remain through the '40s.
Even Lombard was scarred by the film's failure. She would later joke that "I knew it wasn't a sensation when my friends confined their comments to how beautifully I had been photographed" (from The Paramount Pretties by James Robert Parrish). It would mark the last time she was photographed in that particular manner, as her decision to leave Paramount Pictures to freelance meant she would never again work with her favorite cameraman, Ted Tetzlaff, who had been borrowed from the studio for Fools for Scandal. The film was such a disappointment that Lombard swore never to make another comedy, a resolve she stuck to for three years. And she would never work at Warner's again.
Producer-Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: Herbert Fields, Joseph Fields, Irving Brecher
Based on the play Return Engagement by Nancy Hamilton, James Shute, Rosemary Casey
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Music: Leo F. Forbestein
Principal Cast: Carole Lombard (Kay Winters), Fernand Gravet (Rene), Ralph Bellamy (Phillip Chester), Allen Jenkins (Dewey Gibson), Isabel Jeans (Lady Paula Malverton), Marie Wilson (Myrtle), Ottola Nesmith (Agnes), Tempe Pigott (Bessie), Norma Varden (Cicely), Elspeth Dudgeon (Cynthia), Michael Romanoff (Party Guest), Jane Wyman (Bit Part).
BW-80m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
Fools For Scandal
The film's pre-release title was Food for Scandal. According to unidentified, but contemporary, news items in the AMPAS files, the film's total budget was $1,300,000, and it was to be filmed in Technicolor. The masks worn at the costume party cost approximately $100 each according to the same files. This was Mervyn Le Roy's last film for Warner Bros. before he went to M-G-M.