Musical Monday: Joy of Living (1938)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Joy of Living (1938) – Musical #276

RKO Radio Pictures

Tay Garnett

Irene Dunne, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Alice Brady, Guy Kibbee, Jean Dixon, Lucille Ball, Eric Blore, Warren Hymer, Billy Gilbert, Dorothy Steiner, Estelle Steiner, Frank Milan, Franklin Pangborn, John Qualen, Clarence Nash (uncredited), Grady Sutton (uncredited), Charles Lane (uncredited), Richard Alexander (uncredited), Tay Garnett (uncredited)

Margaret Garrett (Dunne) is an overworked Broadway star whose family (Brady, Ball, Kibbee) is living off of her. Exhausted and also learning she’s near broke because of the chiseling family, she meets Dan Brewster (Fairbanks), who teaches her how to have fun and relax.

• Only film for the twins Dorothy Steiner and Estelle Steiner.
• Working title “Joy of Loving.”
• Clarence Nash does the voice for Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.’s Donald Duck impression.
• Director Tay Garnett has a small, uncredited role as a man on a telephone.
• Irene Dunne’s only film of 1938.

Irene Dunne and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in “Joy of Living.”

Notable Songs:
• “You Couldn’t Be Cuter” performed by Irene Dunne
• “What’s Good About Good Night?” performed by Irene Dunne
• “Just Let Me Look at You” performed by Irene Dunne

My review:
Known for her screwball comedies like “Theodora Goes Wild” and “My Favorite Wife,” audiences sometimes forget that actress Irene Dunne was also an accomplished opera singer.

In “Joy of Living,” that mix of comedy and soprano singing are combined. Irene Dunne plays a harried Broadway performer whose family lives off her income in spades. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. plays the guy who teaches her how to have fun. He follows her, and she turns down his advances until she finally gives in – and the two fall in love.

Guy Kibbee, Alice Brady, Lucille Ball and Frank Milan

Her sponging family is rounded out by Alice Brady and Guy Kibbee as her parents, who are former performers living through her success. She also has a married sister, played by Lucille Ball, who wants to get into show business and is Dunne’s understudy.

The whole family lives together, and Dunne’s money goes not only to support them but to buying her mother’s antiques, keeping her father pickled in alcohol and publicity and singing lessons for her sister.

Dunne sings several songs in the film, though this is more of a comedy. The family element reminds me a bit of “Bombshell” (1933).

Dunne is as charming and beautiful as usual with her glittering smile. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is also incredibly dashing.

While the songs are great, the film itself is hilarious. The only downside of the film is Fairbanks talking like Donald Duck, voiced by Clarence Duck. (This was when RKO distributed Disney’s films).

If you love 1930s comedies and also want to hear Dunne sing, “Joy of Living” is a good film for you. Even if you don’t like musicals, this film is mostly a comedy.

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