Joy of Living (1938)

Joy of Living (1938)
Joy of Living (1938)

Run time: 91 min
Rating: 6.6
Genres: Comedy | Musical | Romance
Director: Tay Garnett
Writers: Gene Towne, C. Graham Baker
Stars: Irene Dunne, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Alice Brady
Broadway star Maggie Garrett sings for her supper—and for everyone else’s.  She’s the meal ticket for relatives who sap her of money and time, and rob her of the joy of living.  Her world changes when she meets a carefree millionaire who thinks Maggie is a peach and her family is the pits.  Add a Jerome Kern score.  That’s living!
Release Date: 6 May 1938 (USA)

4 responses to “Joy of Living (1938)”

  1. tfsadmin says:

    The 1930s were one of the worst decades in our history in terms of economics. People if they were lucky to have even the most menial of jobs, just scrimped and got by. You did that too if you were on what was then called relief.

    Lots of socially relevant films were made, but they didn't draw flies as compared with escapist entertainment like Joy of Living. That's what people wanted to see, to keep their minds off their troubles.

    And they wanted to see beautiful people and certainly stars Irene Dunne and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. fill that bill. Dunne is a musical comedy star on Broadway who has these leeches of a family dependent on her. And she meets playboy Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. who is a sea captain by avocation who wants to take her to the South Seas. Experience the Joy of Living.

    I'm convinced part of the charm of this movie at least for the men is the notion they could escape with Doug and Irene by signing on as a deckhand. And the women sat in the audience hoping that a Fairbanks would come into their lives.

    Well, maybe if they sang like Irene Dunne. Playing a musical comedy star gave her to sing some tunes from her favorite composer Jerome Kern. Besides Joy of Living, Irene Dunne did four other films with Jerome Kern scores. Sweet Adeline, Showboat, Roberta, and High Wide and Handsome were the others. From the score of Joy of Living, Just Let Me Look at You and You Couldn't Be Cuter sold quite a few 78 rpm platters back in 1938.

    Escapist stuff like this depends on the charm of it's leads and charm is what Fairbanks and Dunne have in abundance. Nice and entertaining and easy to take is Joy of Living.

  2. IMDBReviewer says:

    Joy of Living is not one of Irene Dunne’s five best movies, but she does what she can with a plot that often seems like a blend of "Theodora Goes Wild" and some of her earlier heroines she played so seriously and so well. In my opinion, it never quite gets off the runway, even though it has a long list of well-known character actors such as Eric Blore, Alice Brady and Franklin Pangborn and some able talents such as Douglas Fairbanks and Lucille Ball.

    The trouble I had with "Joy of Living" is the fact it’s too close to previous roles Irene Dunne played with distinction. How best to describe it? Going to the well once too often? Taking advantage of past successes audiences loved in order to leverage their drawing power? I thought the plot was weak and the writing less than top-notch, which was also true of the cinematography. The sequences in the roller skating rink were not well done; and the one real highlight of the film was Irene Dunne’s impishness when she finally lets loose.

    I don’t blame Irene Dunne for making this movie; but the director failed in my opinion to develop it in such a way as to draw out and highlight her monumental talents. The music written by Jerome Kern, who is one of my favorite composers, doesn’t reach up to his usually high standards either.

    This movie is not a waste of money; and I hate to pan it. But I’m afraid Irene Dunne spoiled me with efforts like "Back Street"; "Ann Vickers"; "Consolation Marriage"; "Theodora Goes Wild"; "The Awful Truth"; "Love Affair"; and "I Remember Momma" and this movie simply isn’t in that league.

  3. IMDBReviewer says:

    Lovely Irene Dunne plays Maggie, a popular Broadway musical-comedy star saddled with a possessive, extravagant and selfishly-annoying family. Maggie would like to rest or leave the house once in a while to experience "real life," but her parents (Alice Brady, Guy Kibbee), former entertainers themselves, worry that they’ll lose their meal ticket and stand in her way. Dan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), a handsome stage-door Johnny, is the Prince Charming who wants to rescue Maggie from her relatives. Dan teaches the repressed Maggie how to have fun on little to no money by taking her roller-skating and to a German restaurant where she takes the lesson to heart and gets drunk on cheap beer. SPOILERS: Dan gallantly sneaks the lady home and then falls asleep on the couch outside her bedroom. When he is discovered in the morning by her shocked family, Maggie is forced to choose between her new leading man or her old cast of hangers-on. Will true love win? Fairbanks and Dunn are first rate as is the supporting cast: Lucille Ball, Billy Gilbert, Jean Dixon, Guy Kibbee, Eric Blore and Franklin Pangborn.

  4. tfsadmin says:

    The elegant and circumspect soprano Irene Dunne, the charming and sophisticated Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the vivacious and witty Lucille Ball, a host of character performers, including Alice Brady, Warren Hymer, Eric Blore, Phyllis Kennedy AND Franklin Pangborn, with a score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields… What more talent could a comedy require to fulfill the screen classics’ mold?

    "Joy of Living" (RKO-Radio 1938) contains all of this and more, considering the wisecracking antics of Margaret Garret’s (Miss Dunne) Assistant, Harrison (Jean Dixon), who helps to advance this film’s plot whereas most other characters–including that of leading man Dan Brewster (Douglas Jr.)–are written without very much in the way of dimension.

    Here, it is (quite naturally) up to Irene to serve as Moral Center and Douglas (with able assistance from Miss Dixon) to advance the story of Musical stage star Margaret Garret’s decision to continue along with her overly-demanding career or to sail away in a carefree lifestyle.

    Whether or not she may balance both entities isn’t an option granted to Margaret Garret, although Irene would play the character as responsible as the script allows.

    Sometimes one wonders why Miss Dunne would pass on a script like "Follow the Fleet" (RKO 1936) – an Irving Berlin scored picture – in order to embark upon a lesser Musical later on. One may speculate that she has already "Been there, done that" with Randolph, Fred and Ginger in "Roberta" (RKO 1935) – also a Jerome Kern scored film; perhaps for the choice of songs, perhaps to co-star with Douglas?

    In many another film, Irene Dunne conveys to an audience her characters’ motivations and decision-making processes, enriching her pathos therein. Here, she explains to her Assistant (Miss Dixon) her reasons for desiring to support her family (which hadn’t much in the way of material wealth before she arose to Broadway fame) and toward her feelings of the moment for Dan, usually when she loves him not.

    Margaret’s family consists here of parents, Minerva (Alice Brady) and Dennis Garret (Guy Kibbee), sister and brother-in-law Salina (Lucille Ball) and Bert Pine (Frank Milan) and twin toddler nieces, Dotsy (Dorothy Steiner) and Betsy Pine (Estelle Steiner).

    Minerva cherishes Margaret’s theatre wealth to purchase antiques, Dennis to stock up on alcohol, Bert to sponge idly. Salina, too, depends entirely upon her sister but also serves as her understudy, publicly complaining about the importunity to appear on stage, yet privately gloating over the opportunity to share Margaret’s illustrious living quarters.

    "Joy of Living" opens lavishly with Margaret, attired in exquisite white gown with a dozen or so tuxedo-clad escorts on hand, to serenade "What’s Good About Good Night?" as her show’s finale. After being "received" by family and admirers in her cramped dressing room, she exits the theatre to be hounded by a mob of autograph seekers, who uncontrollably begin to usurp her wrap and accessories.

    Enter Dan Brewster, to whisk Margaret to the safety of his limousine; yet, from there, upon her appreciative rejection, he begins to stalk the star for his own purposes, which include his attempt to free her of her responsibilities to career, fans and family.

    Along the way, Margaret cleverly ushers Dan to a police station, to have him arrested although he does not seem to mind in the least, laughing off this action as he does most throughout the film. According to this script, she could spare his incarceration if only in the event that she would volunteer to serve as his custodian. Okay.

    Film quality ranks a little below standard for cinematography in certain scenes although overall fine. Sound quality, however, leaves plenty to be desired.

    In short, it’s noisy. For one thing, its score wouldn’t have made Jerome Kern or Dorothy Fields famous of its own merit. There is much cacophony on the home front from the twins and other distractions, as well as that duck quacking going on.

    It’s supposed to be a distracting setting in order for Margaret to need a reason to escape if she likes. But if you listen at low volume, then you may miss a deal of conversation involving our soft-spoken stars.

    Douglas appears in four comedies in 1938, "Joy of Living," the first and longest. He plays his leading roles in the other three a bit more seriously than as Dan Brewster, here: as Jim Trevor in "The Rage of Paris," at Universal, co-starring the lovely Danielle Darrieux; as Chick Kirkland in "Having Wonderful Time," back at RKO, opposite the glamorous Ginger Rogers; and as Richard Carleton in "The Young in Heart," at United Artists, along with the perky Janet Gaynor, in her last feature film starring role.

    Irene, however, makes her sole 1938 feature appearance in "Joy of Living," which she sandwiches between two other RKO productions, "The Awful Truth" (1937), opposite Cary Grant, and "Love Affair" (1939), co-starring Charles Boyer.

    Alice Brady marks one of her last appearances in "Joy of Living," with a mere two to follow before her untimely passing. Actually, Miss Brady and Miss Dunne share an age difference of six years, a shorter span than the difference between Irene and Douglas, one of her youngest leading men in a Romance.

    So, whether or not you may consider "Joy of Living" a film classic, it still serves as a gem in the Golden Age archives because of the elegant and circumspect soprano Irene Dunne, the charming and sophisticated Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the vivacious and witty Lucille Ball, a host of character performers, including Alice Brady, Warren Hymer, Eric Blore, Phyllis Kennedy AND Franklin Pangborn, plus a score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields.

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