I write on Frank Capra’s first film with Barbara Stanwyck, the early sound film Ladies of Leisure (1930), for Turner Classic Movies. It plays on TCM on Monday, December 21.
Frank Capra was the closest thing to a star director that Columbia Pictures had going for it as it moved into the sound era when the studio was still a minor player compared to Hollywood’s five major leaguers. Studio head Harry Cohn made his respect for the director clear when he gave him the screen credit “A Frank Capra Production” on the 1928 film Say It with Sables and other studios were taking notice. Yet, at the dawn of the talkies, Capra was still a rising young director and not a household name yet.
Ladies of Leisure was Capra’s first film of the new decade – he began shooting in January, 1930 – and film critic and Capra biographer Joseph McBride argues that it marked a turning point in Capra’s career. Based on the 1924 play “Ladies of the Evening,” written by Milton Herbert Gropper and produced in Broadway by David Belasco, it dealt with mature subject matter and turned on the clash of social classes in the heart of the depression. It also featured a character endowed with passion, ambition and street smarts, brought to life by an actress whose screen career almost ended before it began.