Animal Kingdom (RKO, 1932) – Director:
Edward H. Griffith, George Cukor (uncredited). Writers: Horace
Jackson (s/p), Adela Rogers St. John (uncredited), Philip Barry
(play). Stars: Ann Harding, Leslie Howard, Myrna Loy, William Gargan,
Neil Hamilton, Ilka Chase, Henry Stephenson, Leni Stengel & Don
Dillaway. B&W, 85 minutes.
the early days of sound, when Hollywood was looking for suitable
material to place before its cameras, the plays of Philip Barry
proved a good source. Barry, known for his comedies of
manners, had a scored a number of hits on Broadway and some of his
plays were converted into movies,
such as Holiday (filmed
in 1930 and 1938), You
and I (filmed in
1931 as The
and Tomorrow (1931), Who
Killed Cock Robin? (1938), Spring
Dance (filmed in
1938 as Spring
Philadelphia Story (1940),
of Barry’s plays that was ripe for the camera was The
Animal Kingdom. A hit on Broadway (it ran for 183 performances
from January 12, 1932 to June 1932, exact closing date unknown), it was
co-produced by its star, Leslie Howard, who was brought over to star
in the film adaptation by David O. Selznick for RKO. Ann Harding, who
was one of the studio’s most popular leading ladies, was given the
role of Daisy Sage. The only major role left to be filled was that of
Cecelia Henry. Director Edward Griffith, who had worked with Myrna
Loy on the 1931 RKO drama, Rebound, pitched Selznick to
borrow her from MGM to play Cecelia, but Selznick wasn’t so sure.
He knew she had the requisite beauty to play the part, but he had
doubts about her acting chops. Griffith, however, persisted, and
Selznick gave in and borrowed her for the role. It turned out to be a
good decision as Loy gave a terrific performance as the materialistic
Collier (Howard) owns Bantam Press, a small publishing house in
Connecticut. He prides himself on publishing only books of superior
quality, regardless of how they sell.
has been living with Daisy Sage (Harding) for the last few years.
When Daisy, a commercial artist, goes off to Paris for a few weeks
for an assignment, Tom suddenly falls head over heels for Cecelia
Henry (Loy) and becomes engaged to her, much to the disappointment of
her other beau, Owen (Hamilton), who also serves as Tom’s lawyer.
Owen would love to marry Cecelia, but lacks the necessary financial
resources to sustain her interest. On the night of his engagement he
receives a telegram from Daisy announcing her immanent return.
reassures Cecilia that he and Daisy are only friends and leaves to
break the news to Daisy. Before he can tell her the news, Daisy
confesses that, since learning how to paint in Paris, that she wants
to be a serious artist. She wants him to come to Mexico with her, get
married and start a family. When he tells Daisy he’s become engaged
she is shattered and tells him she doesn’t even want to know the
other woman’s name. Tom wants Daisy to continue their friendship,
but she’s too devastated to take him up on it, preferring that they
simply part. Tom returns to Connecticut to marry Cecilia.
later Tom happens to see a poster announcing Daisy’s first gallery
show. He persuades Cecelia into going with him, but on the night they
are to leave she feigns a headache and announces she’s going to
bed. Shortly after, she appears to Tom in a sexy nightgown and subtly
seduces him into staying home that night.
is also bothered by Tom’s butler, “Red” Regan (Gargan). Red is
a washed-up fighter who Tom hired to work for him. Cecelia thinks
he’s too uncouth for the job and wants Tom to fire him. To Tom’s
relief, Red, who knows of Cecilia’s disapproval, tells him he is
quitting to go into the gym business with an old friend.
later, feeling lonely and bored, Tom visits Daisy at her place and
broaches the subject of rekindling their friendship. But after he
leaves, Daisy, who is still in love with him, panics at the thought
of getting back together and leaves for Nova Scotia on that night’s
Tom’s wealthy father, Rufus (Stephenson), comes to visit, he notes
to both his and Cecilia’s disapproval that Red has returned as
butler. It’s explained that his prospective business went bust and
Tom, being soft-hearted, hired him back. Rufus wants Tom to give up
the Connecticut life and come back to live with him in New York.
Cecelia is in agreement with this. Cecelia, for her part, has also
convinced Tom to accept books that are sure to be best sellers,
regardless of quality.
after Daisy’s return, she receives a phone call from Cecelia
inviting her and two of Tom’s former New York friends, cellist
Franc Schmidt (Stengel) and novelist Joe Fiske (Dillaway), one of
Tom’s authors, up to Connecticut for Tom’s surprise birthday
party, At first Daisy turns her down, but after thinking it over, her
curiosity is such that she phones back and accepts, much to Cecelia’s
the party, Tom shows Daisy his latest book and asks for her
criticism. She tells him the novel is trash and chides him for
turning his distinguished publishing house into a factory for pulp
fiction. Later in the evening, Daisy enters a room just as Cecelia
and Owen are about to go into a embrace. Cecelia was in the midst of
convincing Owen to handle a merger of Tom’s publishing house with
the powerhouse publishing firm of Williams and Warren.
is appalled by what she sees and convinces Franc and Joe to
immediately return with her to New York. Before she goes, she stops
to tell Tom she pities him. He is really changed from the Tom she
knew and this time it’s farewell for good.
the guests retire for the night, Cecelia and Tom argue over his not
wanting to go to New York City for the winter and his reluctance to
sell his business. As punishment for not acceding to her wishes
Cecelia locks Tom out of their bedroom.
next evening, Tom has changed his tune. He’ll sell the business and
move to New York to live with his father and become a “proper”
gentlemen, which is what Cecelia wants. Tom says it’s for the best
in that he can settle down and start a family, but when Cecelia hears
that, she demurs, saying the time isn’t yet right for a family.
dinner, Tom tells Cecelia that her bedroom reminds him of his days in
England and a brothel he used to frequent in London. Payment for
services was simple – one just left the money on the mantelpiece.
Cecelia cuts him short. Tom then shows her the birthday check he
received from his father. She takes one look and gasps that there
can’t be that much money in the world. (A close look at the check
reveals it’s for $100,000, worth over $1.8 million today. When the
film was released, the average salary was $20 a week.) They have more
champagne and she tells him she’ll be waiting in the bedroom.
she leaves, Red comes in to tell Tom that he’s leaving – this
time for good. Tom tells Red to fetch his hat and coat. He then takes
the check and endorses it over to Cecelia. When Red returns with
Tom’s hat and coat, Tom places the check on the mantelpiece and
tells Red he’s going back home to his “wife.”
Howard was not the only one in the cast to reprise his Broadway role
in the film. William Gargan, who played butler Red Regan, and Ilka
Chase, who played Cecelia’s friend Grace, were also in the film.
originally bought the film rights as a vehicle for Ann Harding, but
when scheduling conflicts arose, the studio substituted Irene Dunne.
However, in a twist of fate, the filming of Smilin’
Through at MGM was delayed and the studio refused to release
Leslie Howard to RKO to begin filming on the scheduled date.
Readjusting the starting date, RKO realized that Harding would now be
available and reassigned her the role.
there was another actress on the RKO lot who coveted a role in the
film – Katharine Hepburn. She was originally fired from the
Broadway cast during rehearsals by Howard in the role as co-producer.
He cited as his reasons the fact that she towered over him, her
mannerisms and what he called her “insufferable bossiness.”
Learning that Harding was a lock for the role of Daisy she set her
sights on the role of Cecelia. When Loy got the role, Hepburn was
miffed. Loy noted in her autobiography that Hepburn said the reason
Loy got the Cecelia role was because “she was beautiful” – as
if, Loy noted, that was all she had going for her.
Loy had to fight for the role of Cecelia. Selznick was on the fence,
preferring MGM star Karen Morely as Cecelia. Director Griffith talked
Howard into acting opposite Myrna in a screen test. Again, in her
autobiography Loy mentioned that before she left for the studio, her
“wonderful Mexican maid, Carolla, who always pampered me,” fixed
her scrambled eggs with garlic sausage. The test went well, although
Loy noticed that Howard seemed a bit distant. When she asked Griffith
what Howard thought of her, the director replied that Howard thought
she was very good, but wondered if she always ate so much garlic.
Selznick was so impressed by the test that he immediately cast Myrna
in the role.
standoffishness towards Myrna melted away as soon as they began work
on the film. A compulsive womanizer, Howard was taken by Myrna’s
beauty and her sensitive, responsive manner. She, in turn, was
mesmerized by his combination of passion with fine British manners.
He pursued her hard, at one point even going to her rented house when
boyfriend Arthur Hornblow was away in New York and pressing her to
run away with him. Notwithstanding the fact he had a compliant wife
and two children back in London, she declined the offer, wanting to
stay loyal to Hornblow. She later remembered that “it could have
been a real scrambola – if I had allowed it to be.”
work in the film impressed the critics and her bosses at MGM alike
and enabled her to stop being typecast the Exotic. The Mask
of Fu Manchu would be her last venture into that territory.
Her Cecelia is multifaceted and very natural; overlaying the stark
materialistic outlook of the character with a veneer of seductive
charm. She would move on to other roles in comedies of social manners
such as Topaze and When Ladies Meet.
Later she performed admirably in Penthouse, The
Lady and the Prizefighter and Manhattan Melodrama,
which in turn led to her breakout role as Nora Charles in The
Thin Man. From then on, she never had to look back.
is also excellent in the film, using his passion of manners to good
use with both the characters of Cecelia and Daisy. To watch him with
both one would suppose they performed in the play over a long period
of time. He also worked well with old friend Gargan, allowing him to
steal a few scenes in the film.
on the other hand, while good as Daisy, seems too placid at times,
considering all Tom has put her through. It also seems at times as if
she is channeling Linda Seton from her critically acclaimed
performance in Holiday. (Note: for all those who like the
1938 version of that film, I beg you to see the 1930 version, which
can be accessed via the internet. Harding’s interpretation of Linda
Seton leaves Hepburn’s stilted performance in the dust.) William
Gargan is also excellent as the rough-hewn butler, and Ilka Chase
manages to impress in her all-too-short role as Grace. I would have
liked to have seen more of her. And I know there was more because
William B. Davidson, another excellent supporting actor, played her
husband and was listed in the credits supplied by Mordunt Hall of
TheNew York Times in his review. Apparently,
at some time while the film was in storage, his scenes disappeared.
aided by fine work from cinematographer George L. Fosley, keeps the
action flowing and the film from becoming much too stagy. To speed up
filming he built six small sets adjoining one another on a large set.
However, all went for naught when star Harding became ill and delayed
production by about a week. After Griffith left the film, Selznick
decided some additional scenes were necessary and brought in George
Cukor to film them.
example of the type of adult entertainment Selznick wanted RKO to
pursue, it was treated as a prestige production and opened RKO’s
theater in New York, the Roxy. However, the film proved more popular
in the big cities than the rest of the country and wound up $100,000
in the red.
film’s clear Pre-Code themes – cohabitation and Tom’s
discussion of his brothel days with Cecelia – prevented RKO from
reissuing the film in 1935 and 1937. On both occasions, the
Production Code Administration told them they would not approve the
film. Finally, RKO ended up selling the film and its rights to Warner
Bros. sometime in the mid-1940s. In 1946, Warners’ came out with
its remake, One More Tomorrow, a completely bowdlerized
version, with Ann Sheridan in the Harding role as Christie Sage,
Dennis Morgan as Tom Collier, Jack Carson as Regan, and Alexis Smith
the meantime, the original film was considered lost for many years.
In 1960, it officially entered the public domain in this country as
its copyright registration failed to be renewed. It wasn’t until
the early ‘80s, when film historian Ronald Haver was searching the
Warner vaults for missing material to complete a restoration of that
studio’s version of A Star is Born (1954), that he
came across a forgotten print and original negative that the studio
had misplaced due to faulty bookkeeping.
the bridegroom cometh. And no oil for my lamp, as usual. A foolish
virgin me. Oh, foolish anyway.”