When we first see Molly Louvain, she’s with a man. And she’s crying.
It’s a sign of things to come.
The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, released in 1932, stars Ann Dvorak in the title role – and, boy, is “strange” a good word to describe her love life. Another word might be “ill-fated” or better still, “lousy.” In fact, her experience with almost every man in her life is the very pits.
Let’s start with the fella we meet at the beginning of the film. His name is Ralph (Don Dillaway) and he’s rich (and kinda on the goofy side, if you ask me, but to each her own). And Molly’s nuts about him. To his credit, Rich Ralph seems to be quite taken with Molly as well. In fact, we learn, he’s taking her home with him for the first time the following night, to a birthday party his mother is giving for him. “I’ve kept you a secret from my mother long enough,” Rich Ralph proclaims. “You’re going to be at that dinner table, right between mother and me.”
Wanna take a guess whether Molly ever makes it to that dinner? If you guessed in the negative, you win! You see, Molly is from what some call “the other side of the tracks.” As she shares with Rich Ralph, her mother abandoned her when she was seven years old, leaving a note for Molly to be sure that her caretakers didn’t put starch in her underwear. (Seriously.) “I want to be different [from my mother],” Molly says. “Decent. Everything people think I can’t be.”
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I’ll back up just a bit, to the day before the big birthday bash. After Molly’s aforementioned date with Rich Ralph, she returns to her job behind a cigar counter, where we’re introduced to two more men in her life: Nick Grant (Leslie Fenton), a traveling salesman with a line so slick you could ice skate on it, and Jimmy Cook (Richard Cromwell), a young bellhop in the hotel where Molly works (and lives), who thinks she’s the best thing since motorized cars. Molly, of course, doesn’t have time for either of these gents, what with all the stars in her eyes over Rich Ralph, but she does rely on Jimmy’s help in getting ready for the birthday extravaganza, and she uses her feminine wiles to get Nick to give her a pair of silk stockings for the event.
As it turns out, Rich Ralph fails to pick Molly up at the prearranged time, but this doesn’t seem to faze Molly – she merely uses her last 95 cents to take a cab to Rich Ralph’s mansion: “This is my big night, and nothing’s going to stop me,” she told Jimmy earlier. “My whole life, everything, depends on tonight!” But before dropping her off, even the cab driver seems to be offering Molly a sage warning: “Watch your step – it’s a tough climb,” he tells her before she ascends the stairs to the entrance. “Don’t fall.”
But the cabbie can’t stop Molly from receiving the news that’s delivered by the family butler: that Rich Ralph and his mother left “quite suddenly” for New York. No Rich Ralph. No introduction to Mumsie. The party was over before it started. The end.
When we next see Molly, she’s back at the hotel, guzzling champagne and banging out tunes on the piano. Oh, and did I mention that she’s doing all this in Nick Grant’s room? Yup, she’s drowning her sorrows and trying to put on a happy face – or, in other words, she’s testing the validity of that old adage, “The best way to get over one man is to get under another one.” And although Jimmy shows up with a liquor delivery and is mortified to find Molly there, his efforts to get her to leave are woefully unsuccessful. Instead, she winds up leaving town with Nick the next day.
At this point, the film fast-forwards three years and we find that Molly’s life still is nothing to write home about. Let me get you up to speed. First off, she now lives in Chicago and has a three-year-old daughter, Ann Marie (Jackie Lyn Dufton), whose father is – though he doesn’t know it – Rich Ralph. She’s still with Nick, but she’s fed up with their lifestyle, which is financed by Nick’s crooked schemes and petty crimes. And she’s made up her mind to ditch Nick, get a job, and leave her daughter in the care of her landlady while she gets her life together. “I want to see that my baby gets a break,” she tells Nick. “I’ve been weak and cheap drifting along like this, but I’m not going to drift any longer.”
The job Molly gets is as a dime-a-dance girl in a local dance hall. But in keeping with the “strange love” of the film’s title, and through a series of coincidences, Molly’s past catches up to her when both Nick and Jimmy (remember him?) wind up at the dance hall one night. Nick’s drunk and belligerent, yet for some reason, Molly and Jimmy climb into his new car with him – which turns out to be an even worse idea when it turns out that the car is stolen. Long story short, Nick is wounded in a gun battle with the cops, Molly escapes in the hot car with Jimmy, and the two of them take temporary refuge in an apartment hour in the heart of the city. And that’s where Molly (who has dyed her hair blonde to shield her identity) meets yet another man – enter Scotty Cornell (Lee Tracy), an audacious and animated newspaper reporter who lives across the hall.
Molly and Scotty have an instant mutual attraction – Scotty appreciates Molly’s biting wit and penchant for a stiff drink (or two), but he has no idea that she’s the woman being sought by the cops as Nick’s accomplice. (Also, despite his interest, Scotty nonetheless pegs Molly as a “tinsel” girl: “Looks swell on a Christmas tree,” he explains, “but you can’t stand up in the rain.” Actually, I’m not sure what this even means, but it’s no compliment, I’m certain of that.) In the midst of Molly and Scotty’s increasing sexual tension, the ever-reliable (and incredibly oblivious) Jimmy proposes marriage and, lured by the possibility of a fresh start, Molly accepts: “This is my chance to be respectable. And I’m going to take it,” she tells Scotty.
But Molly’s matrimonial plans don’t sit too well with Scotty: “It looks great now, but in a month, you’ll go daffy,” he snipes. Their resulting argument winds up in a passionate kiss, and of course, Jimmy chooses just that moment to make an entrance. Unable to fight her feelings, Molly changes her mind and decides to run off to Paris with Scotty – this despite the fact that Scotty actually tells her: “Remember this. He’s willing to marry you. I’m not. He’ll give you a home. I won’t. But we’ll go places, hear the band play. For a while. And then maybe I’ll give you a dirty deal. I always do. He’s more of a man than I am . . . He’s your chance.” (Now, as Eddie Murphy once said in one of his routines, that’s a hint and a half for your ass.)
I’m going to stop here – I don’t want to spoil the rest of the film for you. You’ve simply got to see for yourself how strange Molly’s love actually gets. But trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
To tide you over until you get a chance to check it out, here’s some miscellaneous stuff about the film that I found to be interesting. I hope you will, too!
Richard Cromwell, who played Jimmy, was briefly married to Angela Lansbury, from 1945 to 1946. When they married, Cromwell was 35 and Lansbury was 19. Lansbury later discovered that Cromwell was gay; the two remained friends for the remainder of Cromwell’s life, which ended in 1960 with his death from liver cancer.
The film was directed by Michael Curtiz, whose pre-Code output included Female (1933) and Mandalay (1934). He also helmed such disparate classics as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), and Life With Father (1947).
According to the math, Molly would’ve been 16 years old at the time of her ill-fated romance with Rich Ralph. She told him that her mother ran away when she was 7. And three years later, when she tells this story again, she says her mother ran away 12 years ago. Which would mean her mother had been gone for nine years when she was with Ralph – and 9 plus 7 is 16! The hell?! EW.
Keep an eye open for this goof: in a front page headline, Molly’s last name is misspelled – Louvaine.
While in police custody, after being grilled for hours by police, Molly sarcastically confesses to a slew of unsolved crimes: the kidnapping of Dorothy Arnold and Charley Ross and the murders of William Desmond Taylor and Arnold Rothstein. (Before seeing this film, I knew about Taylor and Rothstein, but I’d never heard about the kidnapping cases. Interesting stuff.
Ann Dvorak and Lee Tracy starred in another film this same year, Love Is a Racket, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. , and Frances Dee. It’s directed by William Wellman.
Leslie Fenton, who played the oily Nick Grant, was married to Ann Dvorak in real life from 1932 to 1945. The two met shortly before filming began on Molly Louvain.
Actress Mary Doran is in the credits, and she’s seen for about seven seconds in one scene, but her part obviously ended up on the cutting room floor; you only get a glimpse of her as a group of Jimmy’s college buddies walks past her at the dance hall. If you’ve seen The Divorcee, you’ll remember Doran as Janice, the woman who had the affair with Norma Shearer’s husband. Louise Beavers, who would star two years later opposite Claudette Colbert in Imitation of Life, also has a brief role. She has two lines: “Oh, that’s all right,” and “Oh, thank you, ma’am.”
Check out The Strange Love of Molly Louvain when you get a chance, y’all.
You only owe it to yourself.
This post is part of the Hot and Bothered Blogathon: The Films of 1932, hosted by Aurora, over at Once Upon a Screen, and Theresa, of CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch. Don’t miss the other posts that are part of this great event!