Strangers in Love (1932)


Fredric March … Buddy Drake / Arthur Drake
Kay Francis … Diana Merrow

Stuart Erwin … Stan Kenney
Juliette Compton … Muriel Preston
George Barbier … Mr. Merrow
Sidney Toler … McPhail
Earle Foxe … J.C. Clark
Lucien Littlefield … Professor Clark
Leslie Palmer … Bronson
Gertrude Howard … Snowball, Servant
Ben Taggart … Crenshaw
John M. Sullivan … Dr. Selous

Directed by Lothar Mendes.
Based on the story by William J. Locke.
Screenplay by Grover Jones & William Slavens McNutt.
Cinematography by Henry Sharp.
Original Music by Rudolph G. Kopp, John Leipold, & Stephan Pasternacki.
Still Photography by Earl Crowley.

A Paramount Picture.
Released March 5, 1932.


“In a way I am a little frightened at the thought of going to a new studio,” Kay Francis told reporter Elizabeth Yeaman in November 1931. “I know Paramount and like the entire organization. And I was so pleased and happy when they asked me to make one more picture than my contract called for. And they offered to pay me the salary I will receive at Warners.”

No matter how Paramount had treated Kay Francis by the time Strangers in Love was in production, one thing was positively clear: it was time for her to move on. She had reached the peak of her success at the studio with Girls About Town (1931), which probably was as far as she was going to become as a player there. Their organization, which made stars out of Ruth Chatterton, Sylvia Sidney, and Marlene Dietrich, did not know what to do with Kay Francis. Had she stayed, her farthest accomplishments would have probably been a generous equal billing to that of Gary Cooper or Fredric March. Other than that, there was little else for her there.

Warner Brothers, however, knew exactly what they wanted Kay to become, which was an image she herself could identify with. Paramount had given her a lot of vampy roles, but Kay was wise enough to know that, like the flapper, such parts were only going to be popular for so long before they too became old-fashioned. With all of this in mind, she wisely decided to move on after completion of one more film for the studio, Strangers in Love.

Strangers was based on William J. Locke’s The Shorn Lamb, which had been published in the May and August editions of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Locke’s story could be seen from two points of view. The first would be the tragic relationship between two twin brothers, and one’s selfish desire for their father’s fortune. The other can be one girl’s determination to get revenge on the snob who screwed her father in a corrupt business deal.

While both viewpoints seem morbid and dramatic, the resulting film was anything but. Strangers in Love is a strict-formula picture with no surprises within its plot. As the movie unfolds, so does the end before the final reel even begins. But unlike other predictable old movies, Strangers in Love is a title which never fails to entertain.

Seriously, show it to anyone who has not viewed a classic film before, and they will still say that—for such an unimportant film—it’s certainly great.

If The Royal Family of Broadway (1930) made Fredric March a consideration for the “most popular actor on the Paramount lot” title, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) confirmed it. Of its most notable names—March, William Powell, Gary Cooper, Clive Brook, Jack Oakie—March was the most gifted. He was strikingly attractive (one of the few male stars of the past to still be considered “sexy” today) on top of majorly talented. Of the actors on the lot, March was the best. A lengthy career on the stage had upped his talent considerably, and the fact that he had no definitive “personality,” or no one role to typecast him, he became a contender for nearly any story Paramount acquired. He could play the villain or the hero, but in Strangers in Love, he proved he could also play both at the same time.

Kay Francis, on the other hand, was done with her “heavy” parts, and now she was moving into more sympathetic leads. In Strangers in Love she is delightfully charming, but the film really ends up becoming March’s. Francis is just an added bonus.

Today Strangers in Love can only be seen in third or fourth generation transfers of old television tapings. The quality of my print was horrible, though I still really liked the film. This may be the only flaw with the picture, which stems from a neglectful owner rather than a tacky creator.

Webmaster’s Review:

Diane Merrow is working as a secretary for Arthur Drake. She assumes that Drake is responsible for her father’s economic failure, and plans to gather up enough dirt on him to get revenge for what he has taken from her father. They have known each other since childhood, which makes the hurt and anger she feels towards him even more spiteful.

Buddy Drake, Arthur’s twin brother, has become victim to the Great Depression. Looking outside of a restaurant window, he and buddy Stan gaze at the bread and butter they can’t even afford, and Stan suggests that Buddy go to see his brother for some money. He takes Stan’s advice, and Arthur coldly receives his twin when he comes to visit. After making Buddy feel like a completely irresponsible mooch, Arthur hands Buddy a check for $1,000 to never see him again.

The two get into a major altercation, with Arthur telling Buddy that he has waited for this moment all his life, to watch him crawl back for money. “I’ve always hated you,” Arthur tells him. He’s always hated his brother because while he was out playing football and enjoying a normal boyhood, Arthur was stuck inside with a weak heart. Older now, it is Arthur’s turn to shine as a successful Egyptologist, while Buddy wanders the streets for scraps of food.

The confrontation gets his heart overstressed, and he dies of a heart attack that very moment. Before Buddy calls for help, he decides to announce his own death, and fake being Arthur.

Learning that his brother cheated him out of his fair share of their late father’s estate, Buddy is even more shocked to learn that his brother has been involved in some shaky scandals. Muriel, Arthur’s girlfriend, is involved in the scandal, and blackmails Buddy into giving her a pretty paycheck to keep her mouth shut, then Buddy sends Stan on his way to get it back.

Police hear of the financial fraud, and go to arrest Muriel and her cohort, Clark. When they arrive there, they announce that they have enough dirt on Arthur Drake to lock him up for life.

In the mean time, Diane has come to fall in love with this changed Arthur, and he with her. When she learns that the police are after him, she helps him get away before they can catch him. They embrace each other and kiss, and Arthur tells her that he is really Buddy. When the police come looking for Arthur, he, Diane, and Stan head out on a boat, and return to the estate where Buddy is informed that half of everything Arthur owned now belongs to him, and probably since Arthur has been dead, it is Arthur’s to share with Diane.

This is a good one. Not too important, but it’s fun to watch. The early films of the 1930s were pretty racy, and that’s what makes them so enjoyable. But it’s a nice relief to watch this one, and it is clear that the producers knew that there was more to a picture than just loads of sex (though that’s some good stuff, too).

Obviously this is Fredric March’s film. He has the dual roles. He is photographed to advantage, and this is one of the films which one can use to protect his image as a matinee idol of his time. Most only remember him as the older character actor from Death of a Salesman (1951) and Inherit the Wind (1961), so its pretty interesting to see that in his prime he was a Johnny Depp- kind of actor. You know, one with talent and good looks, but not a pretty boy whose more delicate than his leading ladies.

Kay doesn’t have a big part, but she’s equally billed to Fredric March, who had just won his Oscar, so it makes it pretty clear her level of stardom the time this movie was made. She doesn’t appear to be as attractive in this as she is in her following films. Actually, by the time she was finished with Paramount after this one, it looks like her style from 1929 had been stretched as far as possible because they didn’t know what to make her look like. Warner Brothers was the studio which finally gave her a personality and a makeover.

Fredric March and Kay Francis have good chemistry, though this is nothing like her work with William Powell. Juliette Compton is a scene stealer was Muriel, a vampish kind of part Kay probably would have played had this movie been produced two years earlier.

This was Kay’s last work with Lothar Mendes, who did a great job directing this pleasing story. As I had written before, it’s not a big film, but one that anyone would find enjoyable, if one could have a visually pleasing copy of this forgotten film.

Screenland, July 1932


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