In the mood for an overlooked romantic comedy? While 1935's The Gay Deception likely doesn't count as a career highlight for the esteemed director William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives; 1959's Ben Hur), this piece of escapist fluff is buoyed by his deft handling of a sweet, ludicrous story. The cinematic equivalent of a sparkling flute of champagne, this film has gotten an inauspicious release on DVD as part of Fox's Cinema Archives made-to-order editions of films from their bottomless library.
The Gay Deception stars the attractive Frances Dee (I Walked with a Zombie) as Mirabel, an average girl-next-door who becomes the recipient of a winning sweepstakes ticket. Mirabel spends her days at a dreary office job dreaming of an escape - until the $5,000 prize changes her fate. Seizing her "everything or nothing" motto, she spends all of the cash on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Mirabel books herself into the luxurious Walsdorf Plaza hotel and lavishes herself with gowns, jewels and a personal maid, leading the other guests to believe she's a loaded socialite. Meanwhile, Prince Allesandro of Allesandria (Francis Lederer; Pandora's Box) has gone incognito as a bellhop at the hotel to learn about American business. Sandro is immediately taken with Mirabel, to the point where he becomes a pest and starts offering a well-meaning but tactless critique on her taste in hatwear. That Mirabel and Sandro will inevitably wind up together is a foregone conclusion - most of the movie's entertainment comes from how they reveal their true selves, and in the subplots. The latter involves Mirabel trying to curry favor with the hoity-toity Lord Clewe (Alan Mowbray), and his snooty girlfriend, Cordelia (Benita Hume), along with Sandro playing cat-and-mouse with his country's Consul-General (Lennox Pawle) and avoiding the pursuit of two tough royal guards (the underused duo of Lionel Stander and Luis Alberni). Illogical and random as it appears here, on screen the story unspools elegantly.
The Gay Deception's fluffy, at times ludicrous plot is mitigated by colorful characters, economic storytelling, and Wyler's precise attention to detail. The film also boasts swanky production values (that hotel lobby!), slick photography, and likable performances by the wide-eyed, expressive Dee and the suave Lederer. This, despite plot holes aplenty and the portrayal of a seemingly sane woman falling for a guy who is, for lack of a better word, a douchebag. William Wyler's touch was making it flow, balancing intimate close-ups with nicely composed wide-shots. As shallowly written as the characters are, the viewer winds up having a lot of sympathy for them - especially Dee's Mirabel.
Entertaining as The Gay Deception can be, it seems a little strange that Wyler - pretty important as of 1935 - would work at tiny Fox to do a lightweight screwball comedy starring what are basically knockoffs of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne (sure, Lederer and Dee were no slouches in the talent department, but let's call a spade a spade). The film is actually a charmer, however, its wish-fulfillment story along the same lines as the director's previous feature, The Good Fairy. After The Gay Deception's wrap, Wyler directed an astonishing string of greats within a relatively short time period - These Three, Dodsworth, Come and Get It, Dead End, Jezebel and Wuthering Heights. Although The Gay Deception certainly doesn't match those others, Wyler's smooth technique is evident in every frame of this delightful effort.
The quality of these Fox Cinema Archives made-to-order DVDs are decidedly hit-or-miss, although earlier stuff like The Gay Deception tends to fare better than the post-1940 releases. In this case, the print is soft, pleasantly grainy and with a fairly heavy amount of specks and dust. Note: the version of The Gay Deception included on this m.o.d. is a later television print with a National Telefilm Associates logo inserted between the 20th Century Fox fanfare and the opening credits.
The film's mono soundtrack is somewhat rough and hissy during louder passages, but generally it's a pleasant and unobtrusive listen. No subtitles.
None. As with other Fox Cinema Archives discs, the disc sports a simple menu and chapter stops every ten minutes in the film.
If it wasn't for versatile director William Wyler and his adorable leading lady Frances Dee, 1935's The Gay Deception might very well have been just another feather-brained, forgotten screwball comedy. This story of a working gal disguised as a socialite falling for a bellhop disguised as a nobleman is completely ridiculous, although Wyler's craftsmanship makes it a sweet "rainy day" movie. Mildly recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.