Friday, October 24, 2008

Queen Norma Shearer ~ Let Us Be Gay (1930)

~Let's be gay about it!~

This is what it's all about. This is the stuff that feeds my soul. This is the cream in my coffee, the salt in my stew, the starch in my collar and the lace in my shoe. This is what I love.

Picture this. It's 6 am and the TV is turned to Turner Classic Movies. A lion roars on the screen and some jazz music follows opening up to the title sequence. It's a film from the early 1930's. Part comedy, party drama, light-hearted with a moral. It could be naughty, it could be sweet, it could be a wonderful mixture of both.

This is my absolute favorite type of film and Queen Norma Shearer happened to make several of them, including Let Us Be Gay (1930). Now before you snicker, "gay" here means jovial and carefree. When the title character of the movie finds her husband is cheating on her and divorces him, taking their three children with her, she decides to be gay, without a care in the world. Norma Shearer transforms from a plain jane to a celebrated beauty. What amazes me is the plain jane version of Norma Shearer. I did a doubletake when I saw her. Stripped of any make-up, donning thread-bare duds, glasses and a homely haircut, this vision of her contrasts greatly from the glamorous Norma that most of us are familiar with. I admire Norma for her willingness to do strip down like this. She does the same in Marie Antoinette (1938).

Films like Let Us Be Gay don't take themselves seriously. They are perfect 1 to 1-1/2 hour vehicles in which audiences escape into someone else's life. Whether they be rich or poor, the unique characters are what drive the story. The industry was still transitioning into talkies from many years of producing silent films, so the movies from the early '30s are oddly quiet. I find this quite refreshing. The takes are sometimes long and lingering, a total opposite of what is found in our present ADD culture. These films are not difficult to watch and most are quite entertaining. This is my favorite type of film and what a pleasure it was to have seen the obscure classic Let Us Be Gay!


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. (Somehow, however, TCM seems to screen all of these films between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.)

    Lovely blog!

  2. This is one I've caught on videotape but haven't had the chance to watch yet. Thanks for whetting my appetite even further.

  3. Eileen - I'd like to organize a protest against TCM. We could chant "What do we want? Pre-codes! When do we want them? Prime-time!"

    Craig - At least you are in the position of being able to watch it. Many are unfortunately out of luck. Let me know when you do see it. I'm interested to hear what you think.

  4. It's easier when you subscribe to their program guide. Every month, I scan it for early '30s films and set my recorder for the more interesting ones.

    It's a practice I recommend; the guide is only $12 a year.

  5. Don't knock the 2am crowd. ;)

    Actually, I think the best movies come on at five am. That's when TCM starts over each day, usually with something (extra) old and delightful!


    Norma looks lovely in that picture up there. And from your review, LET US BE GAY sounds slightly akin to THE DIVORCEE. Is it?


    I hope you're well. :)

  6. Raquel, this sounds like a very entertaining movie. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Discussing obscure but interesting films has always been one of the strengths of your wonderful blog.

    Here's a question for your readers: In what film was "gay" first used to descibe sexual orientation? I recall Cary Grant's comic outburst in BRINGING UP BABY, when he said something like "I've suddenly turned gay"(or something to that effect; I haven't seen the movie in years), while wearing a rather feminine robe or nightgown. That would have been in 1938, I believe. Can anyone think of an earlier film with that kind of reference?
    Does anyone think the line in BABY was a veiled reference to sexual orientation?

  7. Ginger - Ahh I'm a morning person who secretly envies late night people. I agree with you that the best TCM is when they start fresh on a new day.

    I would say that The Divorcee was more serious and Let Us Be Gay was more jovial. But they are a similar type of storyline. Cheating husbands were popular fodder for films I guess.

    Bob - There is another blog "Obscure Classics" that dedicates itself to lesser knowns. I have it linked on the sidebar.

    I don't want to reduce this film to one word, however. Although I myself have an interest in etymology.

  8. I find the long and lingering takes very pleasant, and you're right that it is quite opposite to what we see "in our present ADD culture."

  9. Hi,

    I have always wanted to see the rest of this. Found the beginning on YouTube, but that's all so I've only seen the first 10 min. :(

    Fun little piece of trivia, for those who don't know: Norma was pregnant with Irving Jr. when filming this, and together with Adrian (the designer) they were able to perform the most incredible feat--making Norma appear svelte and slim! They did an incredible job. Although I could tell she was pregnant, I knew that before watching the movie. Those who don't probably would never be able to tell.


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