Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beauty for the Asking (1939)


Patric Knowles, Lucille Ball and Donald Woods in Beauty for the Asking (1939)

Beautician Jean Russell (Lucille Ball) has just mastered her formula for astringent cold cream. The business and financial prospects are enough that she can finally marry her live-in beau Denny (Patric Knowles). However, it turns out Denny has his higher aims and plans to marry wealthy yet homely socialite Flora Barton (Frieda Inescort). Settling into life without Denny, Jean and her straight-talking roommate Gwen (Inez Courtney) set out to make Jean's cold cream a success. Jean barges into the office of advertising executive Jeffrey Martin (Donald Woods) determined to get his help with her product. The cold cream evolves into a whole line of beauty products and salons. When Jean and Jeffrey get backing from Denny's new bride Flora, things get awful complicated especially when Denny and Jeffrey vie for Jean's romantic attentions.


RKO's Beauty for Asking (1939) was directed by Glenn Tryon who most will recognize as the male lead in two Pal Fejos films Lonesome (1928) and Broadway (1929). The story was based on an original idea by women screenwriters Grace Norton and Adele Buffington and would then be fleshed out by Edmund L. Hartmann, Doris Anderson and Paul Jarrico.

Adele Buffington, who would later write under the names Jesse Bowers and Colt Remington, championed original stories for film instead of adaptations of plays and novels which were the norm in Hollywood. She got her start as a teenager working at as a ticket cashier at a cinema. This job allowed her to watch as many silent movies as she wanted. At the tender age of 19 she wrote her first screenplay and her journey to Hollywood began. In 1924 she wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times called Beauty and Brains Go Together, in which she fought against the stereotype that intellectuals were ugly and beautiful women were dumb.

This idea, perhaps progressive for the time, made its way into Beauty for the Asking where socialites and business women alike are known for their smarts as well as their looks. In fact the weakest character, Flora Barton-Williams, blossoms when she achieves not only self-confidence and glamour but also grows wise to the motives of her husband. Flora gets help from Jean who is not just her romantic rival but also a role model. Jean who is still smarting from Denny's betrayal is also a diligent business woman who makes a career for herself with her own invention. She didn't intend to give up her aspirations even when marriage with Denny seemed likely. She tells him:

"Why should a woman stop using her brains just because she's caught her man?" - Jean Russell

The screenwriting team was also inspired by Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics entrepreneur who became rich off of her business. She believed in packaging, up-pricing, endorsements and the perceived power of science.  According to an article on TCM.com, screenwriter Paul Jarrico did quite a bit of research hoping to reveal the shady tricks the beauty industry employs to fool customers. A little of this remains in the movie however the focus of the story is more about the main characters relationships with each other than the beauty industry that sustains them.

Beauty for the Asking is a darling little movie. Pair this in a double bill with The Women (1939) and it would serve as a nice little appetizer for that main course. As many classic movie lovers know, 1939 was a great year for the film industry. This doesn't only include the big pictures but for B-movies too.


Beauty for the Asking and The Women (1939)
Beauty for the Asking is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive.You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop. Use my buy links to shop and you will help support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Beauty for the Asking (1939) to review!

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