This July we will examine films that give insight into the media, the way they can shape society and the people involved. Today Rodney and Samantha assess Advice to the Lovelorn from 1933.
SAMANTHA: The film opens at a radio station. Familiar character actor Jimmy Conlin describes why California is the perfect place to live, and how only people who reside there can truly know the pleasures of the perfect weather. His diatribe is interrupted by an earthquake.
Advice to the Lovelorn is very (very) loosely based on a novella by Nathanael West titled Miss Lonelyhearts. It stars Lee Tracy as a slacker reporter whose boss gets back at him for fudging the news of the earthquake by assigning him the Lonely Hearts column. (Tracy does a great bit of silent comedy as he wakes during the earthquake disoriented and believing he is still drunk from the night before.) No pushover, he retaliates by encouraging the female subscribers to sleep with their bosses. Sex sells; he becomes a sensation.
RODNEY: This sounds like the premise for a comedy, and it is--sort of. It’s always amusing to me how these types of early sound films are rarely JUST one thing. Audiences demanded variety in those days, and it’s amazing how much they were able to get in just an hour or so.
SG: Tracy gets an opportunity to play a crying scene in this film. It definitely isn't pure comedy. But it all works together, and doesn't feel disjointed or inappropriate. When we decided to profile journalism in the movies, my first thoughts were of Tracy who made a career of playing wisecracking reporters with selfish agendas. The reviewer for The New Movie Magazine wrote, "Seeing a Lee Tracy picture is a little like riding a particularly violent roller coaster... No one else in Hollywood can do one character over and over and still keep it alive and impudent." The gossip mill says Lee's career was severely damaged when he broke his contract's moral clause while shooting in Mexico about a year after making this movie, but his style was perfectly suited to the pre-code era, and it was after the Production Code was instated that his career slump began.
RB: The circumstances that surround Tracy’s demise in Hollywood are up for a lot of debate. The basic story is that he did something to upset a Mexican dignitary. Even what that act was isn’t certain--
SG: AHEM golden showers--
RB: --but we do know that things began to fall off around that time. Tracy bounced around poverty row for awhile, adding life to a lot of films that had no business being as much fun as they were and eventually landed on radio, where he sporadically did a lot of series that never really caught on. So Proudly, We Hail is probably the most noteworthy of these in that it’s a different kind of show starring Tracy as a pilot. He also starred briefly on Martin Kane, Private Eye, which for better or worse, is exactly what you’d think it was.
SG: Tracy isn't the only standout; Sterling Holloway has excellent comic timing. He is a worthy sidekick for Tracy, and his role in the final clinch is hilarious. Hollywood Filmograph wrote, "He ran Lee Tracy a hard race for first honors." Sally Blane provides the eye candy; she and her more famous sister Loretta Young look remarkably similar and they were never more gorgeous than in the early 30s.
RB: I’m pretty fond of Sterling Holloway, and he’s pretty much everywhere during the early 30’s, even starring in his own series of comedy shorts for a bit. So naturally, I was pretty pleased to see his name in the credits. Sally Blane was a new face for me, but she handled herself very well and added to the proceedings quite nicely.
SG: This Twentieth Century production looks and feels like a Warner Brothers comedy. It features fast-paced witty dialogue, a short runtime (about an hour), and those opening credits that feature a clip of the actor in action above his name. They remind me of the sitcom introductions from the 80s and 90s, but there is something more polished about these versus those.
"You can't get mixed up with a guy by the name of Adolph; it's dangerous. There never was an Adolph in history that was anything but a menace."
There is nothing groundbreaking about this film, but it is well-crafted and fun, a pleasant way to spend an hour. 3 stars.
RB: I hadn’t thought of the similarities between this and a Warners film, but you’re absolutely right. I too found this to be a pleasant 3 star way to spend an hour. The kind of film I wouldn’t say that I LOVE, but I definitely am almost always up for. When we were discussing films about journalism, we knew we had to do a Lee Tracy film and this one fit the bill very nicely.