The Strange Love Of Molly Louvain, 1932. 8/10

Crime drama with star Ann Dvorak as Molly, and a batch of her boyfriends: bellboy Jimmy Cook (Richard Cromwell), criminal Nicky Grant (Leslie Fenton), rich-kid Ralph (Dan Dillaway), and reporter Scotty Cornell (Lee Tracy). A huge hint to the era and tone of the film are the goofy names of some of the supporting characters: Skeets (Leslie Fenton) and Pop (Gus Kibbie), amongst assorted wisecracking cops and reporters.

But we start off with Molly and Ralph, Molly’s feeling low, is she pregnant? She’s completely in love with Ralph; she’s invited to the family mansion. Then, at the cigar store where she works, she’s getting flirted with by Nick, while Jimmy looks on, jealously. Incredibly, she’s juggling all three guys. Jimmy stirs the pot with her (regarding Nick) “I don’t like to see you taking presents from a guy like him.” So she’s getting two guys to help her get ready for a third guy. But the whole thing backfires, as Ralph is hustled away on a family trip, and it’s left to the butler to tell her so.

No problem, as she’s soon hanging out with Nick. Jimmy has to put up with Nick, who orders him to “clean up this mess and scram outa here!” (from her hotel room). Fast forward two years, and she has a little girl, whom she’s leaving in the care of an older woman. She’s in the know about Nick, who’s on the lam. Wisely, she plans to leave him. So she does. She goes to work at a dance hall; naturally, it’s a magnet for local college guys.

Jimmy’s kind of down-and-out, but finds her there. She’s really glad to see him; however, Nick sort of appears out of nowhere and takes both of them around in a stolen car. The cops are soon on the lookout for them; so that when they stop, Nick gets blasted in a shootout with the police.

Next thing we see, she’s with Jimmy again. She changes her hair, and they get a place as a married couple. Then, like a tornado, Scotty launches his way into their lives. It’s hard to say what he’s up to; since he has the scoop on her involvement with Nick, he could be a potential blackmailer.

It seems he uses that advantage to charm her, which works splendidly. The two of them trade some great quips, such as his admission that he knows that Jimmy and her aren’t actually married “I read between the sheets.” Pretty soon he’s at police headquarters, and they’re all going on about Molly’s past. Jimmy was supposed to check up on Molly’s kid, but he comes back to tell them cops were swarming all over the place. Scotty blusters his way past a bill collector, and then warns Molly and Jimmy about the cops.

He passes off another collection guy on Jimmy. When the guy comes back Scotty really gets into gear: “How would you like to share a waffle with me.” Jimmy does get her to semi-commit to a real marriage. Scotty sort of mocks the fact that Jimmy’s in love with her. Scotty, overplaying his hand, then blows it by basically insulting her by implying that she’s a low-life. Incredibly, she backs away from Jimmy again. Surprisingly, he admits that he’s just a creep, and that Jimmy is “more of a man.”

She gives up the ghost yet again. Jimmy leaves. Molly leaves with Scotty. Over the radio, she hears that her girl is sick, and needs her mother. It’s a clever police ruse, to flush her out. It works, as she calls headquarters. Funningly, when she shows up, the cops don’t believe her, and invite her to “tea.” One of them finally gets the idea to have her identify Nick. Scotty, as always, is chatting up someone as the news comes that Molly is actually Molly.

So they drill her on all of Nick’s hold-ups. She’s apparently innocent all the way around. Back to funsy stuff–the cops are entertaining the kid, playing ‘horsey’ with her. We find that Scotty was actually the brains behind the ‘your-kid’s-sick’ deal. She’s very mad at him, but absurdly, she buys his apologies. The end.

This was great entertainment. Dvorak is very alluring and appealing, but seems to have no willpower. Mostly because of Tracy’s performance, which absolutely dominates the second part of the film. She bounces between Jimmy and Scotty a dozen times, with all the discernment of a middle-school kid. Who would continue to buy Scott’s line over and over again? He wants to keep Molly in a perpetual state of excitement; whereas Jimmy has the strange notion that a creep conventional life might just be the way to go. It’s completely obvious that Jimmy is a much better guy than . Not only does she realize it, but even Scotty himself tells her so.

The movie changes course when Scotty pops back in. The premise is fairly nutty anyway, as Molly has a dizzy relationship pattern; a device that adds interest because it builds several subplots. Plus it establishes a comic undertone that’s nicely layered with the crime drama.

It’s probably good that she at least narrows the field to just Jimmy and Scotty. That sort of balances the effect of the zannier tone. It just might’ve been more coherent had we begun with Jimmy and Scotty; or, on the other hand, continued with Ralph, Nick, and Jimmy stories. Both parts are entertaining, but the segue is rather abrupt. Despite these flaws, The Strange Love of Molly Louvain manages to cover a lot of comic territory, most of which works very well.

Farmermouse thought that Ralph’s Marmon roadster was very jazz-age splendorous. Eight running boards. 8/10

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