Ladies of Leisure (1930)

Ladies of Leisure (1930)

“What am I — a statue or a hunk of furniture?”

A self-professed “party girl” is hired to pose for a wealthy aspiring painter (Ralph Graves), and slowly finds herself falling in love — but are the feelings mutual, and if so, will his socially-conscious parents approve of their romance?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbara Stanwyck Films
  • Cross-Class Romance
  • Frank Capra Films
  • Models
  • Play Adaptation

Ladies of Leisure was the first film Barbara Stanwyck made with Frank Capra, and she nearly didn’t get the part — until he was bowled over while watching her studio screen test; the rest is synchronistic history. Stanwyck’s performance (as always) is stellar, and she and her co-stars — most notably sassy sidekick Marie Prevost as “Dot” — are given plenty of spunky Pre-Code dialogue (“Sweet spirits a’ saccharine!”); meanwhile, Capra is more-than-ably assisted by DP Joseph Walker, whose cinematography is often stunning (see stills below).

Unfortunately, however, the film’s pacing is glacially slow, and the would-be romance between Stanwyck and dense-as-concrete Graves is pretty much painful. It gets to the point where we wonder if Graves might be gay — that’s how utterly uninterested he seems to be in her, for far too long. Watching her immense gratitude upon NOT being taken advantage of when he invites her to spend the night (he cozily tucks in her blankets, then leaves) simply makes one cringe at her delusions. Naturally,


romance of a (cinematically contrived) kind does eventually emerge, leading to a conveniently melodramatic showdown between Stanwyck and Graves’ prissy parents. This is nothing we haven’t seen before, and it’s a disappointing use of Stanwyck and Capra’s talents. But the film remains worth a cursory look simply for its historical relevance as Stanwyck’s breakthrough role — and for Walker’s lovely imagery.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Barbara Stanwyck as Kay Arnold
  • Fine cinematography by Joseph Walker

  • Fun, sassy dialogue

    “If I didn’t know you real well, I’d say you’re going sour!”
    “Most men never get to be 18 — and most women are over 18 the minute they’re born!”

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for Stanwyck’s performance. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Ladies of Leisure (1930)

  1. Not must-see. First and last viewing. Ugh.

    Jo Swerling’s tepid script never gives this film a fighting chance. Seems no one involved here (not even Stanwyck) could do a single thing to bring any life to this sleeping dog.

    Flat. Embarrassing. Skip it.

    Note: It never occurred to me that Graves’ character might be gay. He just comes off as somewhat self-involved and a bored guy with money but some morals about sleeping around.

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