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The Misleading Lady (1932): Charismatic Stars in Fluffy Pre-Coder

The Misleading Lady Claudette Colbert George MeekerThe Misleading Lady with Claudette Colbert and George Meeker. Colbert was seen in six 1932 releases; the others were: The Wiser Sex, The Man from Yesterday, The Sign of the Cross, The Phantom President, and a Make Me a Star (cameo).
  • The Misleading Lady (1932) movie review: The palpable chemistry between skilled stars Claudette Colbert and Edmund Lowe makes this minor Stuart Walker romantic comedy more entertaining than it would have been otherwise.

The Misleading Lady movie review: Personable stars Claudette Colbert & Edmund Lowe give substance to lightweight romp

While hardly a cinematic masterpiece, Paramount’s 1932 Pre-Code romantic comedy The Misleading Lady (filmed at the Astoria studios in New York City) is an amusing romp that makes no special demands on its audience and has no pretensions about having something “profound” to say.

Although the premise – taken from Charles W. Goddard and Paul Dickey’s 1913 Broadway play – becomes fairly predictable about ten minutes into the film, The Misleading Lady still offered enough wit to keep this viewer interested.

At a brisk 67 minutes, the movie doesn’t wear out its welcome, rather having the effect of a genial, casual acquaintance who momentarily engages you in pleasant, idle chatter, while being gracious enough to take leave just as the dinner gong peals in the distance.

Ennuyée socialite

The Misleading Lady stars Claudette Colbert as beautiful socialite Helen Steele, who arises from her pillow one morning, languidly declaring that she is bored.

Tired of her social set and their trivial activities and tedious gossip about society divorces and award-winning racehorses, Helen yearns for something meaningful in her life.

Helen, however, doesn’t intend to bring forth this new purpose by caring for the sick and starving masses in India, or by helping out charities and orphanages. Instead, she decides that the key to her spiritual uplift is to become an actress; so, she vies for the title role in a scandalous new play entitled The Siren.

Out to prove that she has the requisite sex appeal to play the role, Helen makes a wager that after three days she can make a man fall so helplessly in love with her that he’ll propose marriage.

The man in question turns out to be Jack Craigen (Edmund Lowe), a mining engineer who had spent the previous five years knocking about amidst “jungles, savages, and nose rings” in the wilds of South America, and who harbors a rather dubious view of modern womanhood.

Charismatic Claudette Colbert

The strongest elements in The Misleading Lady are the charismatic performances of the two leads.

Best remembered for classics such as Cleopatra (1934), Imitation of Life (1934), Midnight (1939), The Palm Beach Story (1942), and for her Oscar-winning star turn in Frank Capra’s comedic masterpiece It Happened One Night (1934), Claudette Colbert was then at the dawn of a long and prestigious acting career that spanned over sixty years and encompassed film, theater, and television.

A warm and intelligent actress, Colbert was a versatile performer, equally adept at sophisticated comedy and hard-hitting drama. Known for her “light” approach to acting, she always imbued her characters with wit, elegance, and a clear-eyed practicality. Her throaty, well-modulated voice was merely the icing on a delectable cake.

The fact that she always made it look so effortless is indicative of her considerable skills as an actress. Her charming, down-to-earth screen presence often elevated even the most mediocre material into something diverting.

Many of those trademark qualities are on display in The Misleading Lady – even if the role at times seems as if it would have been more suited to the likes of the superb Carole Lombard, as some of the comedy plays more towards slapstick. That’s when Colbert seems slightly out of her range. Still, she makes the most of her part, in addition to being shown to great effect in a number of fetching gowns.

The Misleading Lady Claudette Colbert Edmund Lowe Stuart ErwinThe Misleading Lady with Claudette Colbert, Edmund Lowe, and Stuart Erwin (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for Pigskin Parade, 1936).

Enjoyable Edmund Lowe

Edmund Lowe, whose career spanned about five decades, was likewise an enjoyable screen presence.

Darkly handsome and exuding an impeccably urbane manner, Lowe was often cast as a suave, romantic leading man. Yet his characters often seemed to exhibit something shady lurking beneath the cool veneer – qualities that made them more interesting. Indeed, Lowe was often at his best when cast as opportunists, smooth operators, and alluring fast-talkers.

In The Misleading Lady, his role is somewhat more conventional, though with just enough dark shading to prevent Jack Craigen from becoming a typical (and dull) romantic lead.

In fact, Jack is perverse enough to abduct and bind his love interest, while never navigating too far into these waters to ever put off his audience. Likewise, Jack can be appropriately sympathetic; as played by Lowe, he fully conveys his love for Helen and his heartfelt hurt by her deception.

Unsurprisingly, Edmund Lowe and Claudette Colbert display a palpable on-screen chemistry.

Studio system backbone

The film’s supporting cast is all but negligible, though Paramount’s in-house comedian Stuart Erwin is engagingly over-the-top as an escaped mental patient with a Napoleon complex.

Although early 1930s director Stuart Walker (Tonight Is Ours, White Woman) handles the proceedings with competence, he offers few directorial flourishes. In fact, Walker does little to elevate the material beyond the ordinary, making almost no use of the narrative’s saucier, more risqué possibilities.

Even so, the filmmaker keeps things moving along nicely, while Adelaide Heilbron and Caroline Francke’s adaptation does feature some lively banter. Unfortunately, the overall effect is somewhat uneven, falling short of that elusive quality known as “screen magic.”

But if The Misleading Lady can’t make claim to any cinematic milestones, it remains an entertaining piece of fluff. Movies like it were the backbone of the studio system and they represent a component sadly missing in today’s film culture: Films that simply are.

The Misleading Lady (1932)

Director: Stuart Walker.

Screenplay: Adelaide Heilbron & Caroline Francke.
From Charles W. Goddard & Paul Dickey’s play.

Cast: Claudette Colbert. Edmund Lowe. Stuart Erwin. Robert Strange. George Meeker. Selena Royle. Curtis Cooksey. William Gargan. Nina Walker. Harry Ellerbe. Will Geer. Donald MacBride.

The Misleading Lady (1932): Charismatic Stars in Fluffy Pre-Coder” review text © James Bazen; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.


The Misleading Lady (1932) Movie Review” endnotes

There were two previous film versions of The Misleading Lady: A 1916 Essanay adaptation featuring frequent D.W. Griffith star Henry B. Walthall and the now largely forgotten Edna Mayo, and a 1920 Metro Pictures release starring the studio’s highest-paid actor, Bert Lytell, opposite minor leading woman Lucy Cotton.

George Meeker, Stuart Erwin, Edmund Lowe, and Claudette Colbert The Misleading Lady movie images: Paramount Pictures.

The Misleading Lady (1932): Charismatic Stars in Fluffy Pre-Coder” last updated in October 2021.

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1 comment

Danny Fortune -

Great review! I always enjoy reading about these hidden gems instead of the more often-seen classics. Keep these rare ones alive.

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