February 1st, 2021

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Lombard, 'Ladies' Man' and lesbianism

"Ladies' Man," a Carole Lombard-William Powell romantic drama, celebrates its 90th anniversary this spring. The film, also starring Kay Francis, casts Powell as a gigolo who woos Lombard, her character's mother, and Francis before meeting a tragic end. The movie has its moments, but might be best analyzed from what we today would call an LGBT perspective.

And it has, thanks to a blogger who calls herself "NotorouslyNora." She examines the undercurrents of classic film in this manner and recently explored "Ladies' Man" this way (https://notoriouslynora.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/latent-lesbianism-in-ladies-man/comment-page-1/?unapproved=134&moderation-hash=bb2853da00174cb5633a371058686cfa#comment-134). She has several cogent points to make. For example, she says "Ladies' Man" has a "fascinatingly progressive subtext that teases an open embracement of unconventional values." This subtext, Nora says, "gains its entire substance from everything that is left unsaid."

The Francis character intrigues Powell by her unconventionality, which she uses to wield power over him and consequently turn the tables. Powell meets his demise at the hands of Lombard's father.

Nora notes Francis' character is relatively cool with Powell, but livens up with Lombard -- even if Carole may be a bit oblivious to what is going on. "Played out through expression and body language alone, Kay Francis evokes a sensuous and undeniable desire that permeates through the screen."

Lombard was 22 when "Ladies' Man" was made, and while it's uncertain whether she ever experimented with lesbianism during her brief life (in fact, she would marry Powell in June of '31), she almost certainly was aware it existed, and likely knew Francis -- who'd become a close friend -- was bisexual. She played well against Kay's sexual ambiguity.
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