The last time we examined a Carole Lombard film that wasn't from Paramount as part of our "Cinematic Sundays" series, I was still 62 and the NFL was in the first full weekend of exhibition games. It was Aug. 12, and our subject was Fox's "The Arizona Kid." In today's film, Carole heads a few blocks north of her home base of Paramount for a loanout to "Gower Gulch" -- aka Columbia -- for some "Virtue."
Lombard's involvement with "Virtue" may have had its roots in a loanout she didn't accept, to Warner Brothers late in 1931. Warners wanted her as the female lead, opposite James Cagney, in "Taxi!" On the advice from both husband William Powell (who'd jumped from Paramount to Warners a few months earlier) and agent Myron Selznick, she turned down the loanout.
Warners stayed in-house for the feminine lead, choosing Loretta Young. "Taxi!" turned out to be a sizable hit, to Carole's chagrin.
A few months later, Columbia mogul Harry Cohn -- whose coarse persona won him few fans -- contacted Lombard about a property where her character would play opposite a New York cabbie, played by the next best thing to Cagney, Pat O'Brien. This time, she jumped at the opportunity, as Louella Parsons announced in the Aug. 22, 1932 San Francisco Examiner:.
Three days later, it ran in the New York Daily News:
And actress-turned-scribe Eileen Percy gave her take on the Lombard-Constance Cummings swap in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sept. 2:
On Sept. 4, the Daily News ran a photo of Lombard promoting the film:
The Hartford Courant ran this on Oct. 2, noting the "daring" nature of Riskin's script:
This would be O'Brien's lone collaboration with Lombard...but one more than she made with Cagney.
How "daring" was it? Note the wording of this ad in the Oct. 24 Daily News:
"What Would You Do If You Learned Your Wife Had Been A Street Walker"? In a movie ad? No wonder those under 16 were not admitted.
Also note where it ran. Since Columbia owned no theaters, it sought out independent venues such as the Globe to play its fare. In the early '30s, Columbia still was perceived as a Poverty Row outfit, despite several successes from director Frank Capra (most of which Riskin wrote).
But the ad made a good point in referring to Lombard's portrayal of streetwalker Mae as "her greatest role." In the eyes of many, this is Carole's best pre-Code work, with the exception of "Twentieth Century." (And pre-Code and screwball had minimal overlap at most.)
Unfortunately, contemporary proof is difficult to find. Columbia was seen as a step below its Hollywood brethren, and so the usual reviews from the Daily News, Brooklyn Eagle, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times are nonexistent. But in the trade publication Film Daily, director Edward Buzzell proudly said "Virtue" was carried over for a third week at the Globe.
Were papers reluctant to review "Virtue" because of its subject matter, that it can from a second-tier studio, or both? Hard to say.
Some more ads for the movie. First, the Medford (Ore.) Mail Tribune on Oct. 30...
...just below an item on it elsewhere on that page:
That day, this ran in the Detroit Free Press:
While the "usual suspects" didn't run reviews, the Philadelphia Inquirer did a brief one on Dec. 17:
So examining "Virtue" leaves as many questions as answers.
Perhaps we'll have better luck next week, when we look at another Columbia release, "No More Orchids."