Welcome back to After the Silents, where we examine the careers of silent movie personnel after the transition to sound. This time around, we’re going to be reviewing a post-WWII domestic comedy about a boarding house in New York. One of the tenants is played by Leatrice Joy, a huge favorite around these parts.
After the review, we’ll discuss Miss Joy’s career in silent and talkies and learn why she was much more than merely one of the Mrs. John Gilberts.
Love Nest (1951)
With the Second World War over, the boys were returning home from “over there” and this film focuses on Jim Scott (William Lundigan). His wife, Connie (June Haver), has purchased an old apartment complex and hopes that the rent from the tenants will allow Jim to fulfill his dream of becoming a full-time writer. Jim whines and complains and hurts Connie’s cat. Wash, rinse, repeat. (Seriously, the “hilarious” running gag of the film is constant injury to the cat. I’d like to try some comedy relief on the screenwriter.)
The second couple in the story is made up of Charley Patterson (Frank Fay, comedian, former Mr. Barbara Stanwyck, horrible human being) and Eadie Gaynor (Leatrice Joy). Charley makes his living by scamming wealthy widows with fake investments and he justifies this behavior by declaring that they are living off the toil of their dead husbands. His speech is copied almost verbatim from another Charles, serial killer Uncle Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt. I’m not exactly sure why anybody thought this would make the character sympathetic.
Anyway, Charley wants to go straight and marry the penniless Eadie, whom he truly loves. Connie’s Spider Sense is tingling but Jim dismisses her intuition and generally gaslights her. (May I harm him? Just a little?) He spends the film breaking things and declaring himself king of the castle while Connie tries desperately to placate him. He then becomes enraged when she suggests that he may be suffering from post-war stress. How DARE she? Yeah, that scene has not aged well.
Let’s face it, there’s a 95% chance that you watched this movie because Marilyn Monroe was on the cover. Well, her role is as skimpy as the outfits her character wears. She’s a WAC buddy of Jim and he does a fan dance around pronouns that would make Sally Rand gasp. “My old buddy, Bobby, a corporal…” Then he pulls the “You’re a typical jealous woman” routine when Connie rightly points out that he made almost no effort to share the fact that his pal is a former model. He later gives himself away by openly lusting after the ex-corporal. (Just one punch, that’s all I ask. Just one good sock in the jaw.)
I should point out, though, that the love triangle hinted at in the marketing materials never happens. I should also point out that Mr. “Stop being so jealous, you delusional woman!” spends his first scene barging into a stranger’s apartment because he thinks his wife has been unfaithful. Of course. Sigh.
Jack Paar is also in the film as the inevitable “Whoop-whoop, waaaaacky” best friend. I have no response to this.
So, now I must be nice. Despite his character’s serial killer motivations, Frank Fay does a good job as Charley and his romance with Eadie is very sweet. Leatrice Joy looks amazing and is just as charming as ever, though her role is rather thin and she is pretty much a living plot device used to give Charley a reason to leave his larcenous ways.
June Haver also does good work as the sincere but slightly impractical Connie. She’s sunny and optimistic without being annoying, which is nice. I’m not sure what she sees in Jim but we all make mistakes. Marilyn Monroe’s screen time totals to about five minutes altogether, four of them in a state of dishabille, but she does what she can with her dated part as the “cool girl” who doesn’t mind fellas ogling.
(By the way, the end of the film will have you scrambling to your computers to confirm the date of birth of a major character. No, I don’t buy Leatrice Joy giving birth to twins at fifty-nine either.)
In the end, the film is done in by not being true to its central premise. Boarding house films are a chance for an ensemble to shine but by focusing on only three-quarters of two couples, the picture limits itself needlessly. And it’s not helped by the fact that Jim is so darn unlikable that you wish he had fallen out of the plane on the way back to the States. Connie as a wartime widow trying to make ends meet as landlady of the boarding house? I’d watch that all day and there would be 100% less cat torture.
Worst of all, there’s not really enough story to fill out the running time. So, we’re denied characterization for Eadie so we can watch Jim pull his “Me man, you woman, you do what me say!” routine one more time? Oh, you shouldn’t have. No, really, you shouldn’t have.
Love Nest is insipid and short on plot. It’s worth it if you are dying to see Marilyn Monroe or Leatrice Joy or if you inexplicably adore films that include the mistreatment of small pets.
Availability: Released on DVD and via streaming.
Leatrice Joy was one of the most delightful personalities on the silent screen and I’m not ashamed to admit that I love her to bits. She had a chipper, can-do persona that worked perfectly with the bold and brash parts for women in 1910s and 1920s cinema.
Joy can be spotted in smaller parts in films like A Girl’s Folly and she played the object of Lon Chaney’s obsession in The Ace of Hearts but her big break came when Cecil B. DeMille cast her in Saturday Night. DeMille was looking for the next Gloria Swanson but he actually got the first Leatrice Joy and she walked away with the picture. Next, DeMille cast her as a spoiled, cop-killing heiress in Manslaughter and the leading lady in the modern portion of The Ten Commandments (1923).
When DeMille was pushed out at Paramount and decided to start his own studio, he took Joy with him. She begged him not to do it because she knew that a new independent studio would not give her the same publicity as the mammoth Paramount. As a result, she and DeMille had a falling out and he did not cast her in any of the films that he personally directed as an independent. Darn it, I hate it when two people I like have a disagreement!
Like Joseph Schildkraut, Leatrice Joy didn’t think much of the DeMille programmers she played in but I must once again respectfully disagree. True, they didn’t exactly burn up the box office but, in many cases, the films were a bit ahead of their time because they suit the tastes of modern viewers to a T. While Eve’s Leaves certainly has issues with stereotyping its Chinese characters, Joy’s character is a mad tomboy who saves her beloved dude-in-distress and if she herself gets into a jam, she gets herself right back out of it.
Some sources claim that Leatrice Joy’s New Orleans accent led to talkie woes but she denies this in Speaking of Silents and I believe her. She said that her career had been damaged by the smaller audience for DeMille’s independent productions and that she lost her taste for acting when she returned home from a shoot and found her daughter clinging to her nurse. That has the ring of truth and, anyway, Joy’s voice was certainly up to snuff in Love Nest.
After a few years in sound pictures, Joy retired. She was coaxed back into movies a few times over the years but Love Nest proved to be her last appearance on the big screen. (She appeared on television, though, and was famously interviewed for the popular Hollywood miniseries.)
Joy’s appeal is easy to explain. She has this tomboyish quality and comes off as someone who would be a ton of fun to hang out with. In short, she’s the kind of star viewers can visualize as their best friend. She also worked hard to make her performances realistic, she did her homework and rehearsed like crazy. Her efforts show up on the screen because she is able to improve any film in which she appears. Yes, even Love Nest.
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