Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Bed of Roses

Film in Focus

By Ed Garea

Bed of Roses (RKO, 1933) – Director: Gregory La Cava. Writers: Wanda Turlock (s/p & story), Gregory La Cava, Eugene Thackrey (dialogue). Stars: Constance Bennett, Joel McCrea, Pert Kelton, John Halliday, Samuel S. Hinds, Franklin Pangborn & Tom Herbert. B&W, 67 minutes.

For a film that starts so well and with such a great cast armed with snappy lines, Bed of Roses turns out to be a rather routine programmer.

Lorry Evans (Bennett) and Minnie Brown (Kelton) are two hookers being released from prison. After having their possessions returned and given their prison earnings, the matron (an uncredited Jane Darwell) gives each a short farewell sermon, but Lorry cuts her short, telling her “Save your wind, save your wind, you might want to go sailing sometime.”

Once outside the gates Lorry is met by Father Doran (Hinds), who has an idea to reform her that she quickly rejects, telling him that she’s been doing a lot of thinking while in stir and decided it would be easier to be a kept woman rather than working for a living.

Minnie, on the other hand, has arranged for a ride with a trucker to the docks, where they plan to catch a river boat to New Orleans. She asks Lorry if she can play chauffeur while she helps the driver “check up on his groceries.” Given the highly suggestive manner with which she says it, it’s obvious how she’s paying for the ride.

Once the girls are aboard the ship they find they have only enough money to take them about halfway. Minnie ventures out into the fog to whisper a salacious suggestion to the porter, who shocked, rejects it. “Nothing personal,” he says as she walks away.

While Lorry is sulking in their room, Minnie returns with couple of boll-weevil exterminators and a bottle of gin. They proceed to get the men drunk and Lorry relives one of his cash. When they sober up the next day and discover one’s been robbed they go to the Captain (an uncredited Robert Emmett O’Connor) and report the theft. When Lorry is cornered she decides to jump into the river rather than face arrest.

A few minutes later she finds herself rescued by Dan (McCrea), who captains a cotton barge. Losing her money in the rescue she repays Dan’s kindness by robbing him and skipping out when the barge docks at New Orleans. She then tracks down Stephen Paige, a wealthy publisher she had noticed on the river boat. Disguising herself as a feature reporter she goes to his office to interview him, in the course of which she gets him roaring drunk. When she practically carries him back to her apartment, she dumps him on the couch and rigs the scene to imply that they slept together.

When Paige awakens the next day, Lorry gives him her cock-and-bull story and blackmails him into supporting her in a luxury apartment, lest word of this get out and ruin his social and business standing in town, even though he’s a bachelor. 

Now ensconced in the lap of luxury, Lorry soon grows bored and visits Dan on the docks. She repays him the money she stole and the two fall in love. He ends up proposing to her, and though she at first accepts, Lorry, who has kept her past a secret, changes her mind when a lovesick Stephen convinces her that her past life will one day lead to Dan's ruin. She leaves Dan, but rather than go back with Stephen, decides to strike out on her own and lands a job as a sales clerk in a department store.

Stephen, meanwhile, wants Lorry back. He convinces Minnie (who is now married to one of the men they cheated on the river boat) for a little expense money, if she can arrange a reunion by inviting Lorry to a Mardi Gras party, telling her he’ll take care of the rest.

Stephen locates Lorry at the Mardi Gras party and makes a bid for her return, giving her an expensive bracelet as a sweetener. But Lorry turns him and the bracelet down. Meanwhile, Minnie locates Dan, gives him Lorry’s address, and after revealing her best friend’s past, reunites the two lovers.


Bed of Roses was the last of four pictures made by RKO teaming McCrea and Bennett. It was also the last film at the studio for director La Cava, who left an acrimonious relationship with the studio to pursue a freelance career.

Although La Cava co-wrote some rather risqué dialogue, his direction was uninspiring and flat. The film plays like a programmer, with the plot dictating matters and little room left for character development. Bed of Roses follows the usual Pre-Code path by taking liberties with sexual mores, but at the end stressing that honesty is the best policy and one’s inner virtue tells more about that person than any sexual liberties on his or her part. 

Lorry’s reform is quite sudden and rather unexplained. There is a noticeable lack of chemistry between Bennett and McCrea because the film’s running time will simply not allow it. When on her own, she shines, but whenever she’s with McCrea it’s as if the air was let out of her performance. For this I blame the director. It’s as if La Cava knew this was the last picture he’d do for RKO and he was hurrying his way through it, come what may, to the detriment of the film. 

As for the rest of the cast, Kelton is fine despite being saddled with a poor Mae West imitation in the way she speaks. Halliday comes off bland, for all he has to do is basically react to Bennett’s character. As for the rest of the credited cast, no one is on screen long enough to make an impression.

Kelton is an interesting case. in the Pre-Code days she was pushed as a supporting actress due to her wise-cracking persona. But as the Code became enforced she was forced lower and lower down the ladder, eventually working for Poverty Row studios. She quit Hollywood and returned to Broadway. With the coming of television in the early 1950s she played the first Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners, opposite Jackie Gleason. Shortly thereafter, however, Kelton found herself on the blacklist. She was replaced on The Honeymooners by Audrey Meadows, and returned to Broadway, where she make her mark in the stage musical of The Music Man as Mrs. Paroo, Marian the Librarian's mother. She reprised the role in the 1962 film. And she received a vindication of sorts on television when she was cast in the ‘60s as Alice Kramden’s mother on The Honeymooners. Jackie Gleason had never forgotten her.

Bed of Roses will be of interest to Pre-Code enthusiasts and those who chase obscure films. One thing I’ve noticed is the change in the character of the prostitute from Pre-Code to Code enforcement. In the Pre-Code days, the hooker was a wisecracking, vivacious woman who lived large and thought equally large. After the Code was enforced she went to being a victim of her circumstances, downtrodden, careworn and thoroughly disreputable.

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