Cast & Crew
When socialite Callie Brooks decides to divorce her husband Henry, she cheerfully announces her decision at one of the regular weekend house parties given at her Sands Point, New York home. Callie's friend, Helen Robinson, immediately congratulates her on the clever stunt and wishes that she could be as original in finding a way to leave her husband, Joe. Though Helen applauds Callie's announcement, Connie Mills, another guest, tells her husband Jack that she finds the casual treatment of divorce distasteful. While Joe falls ill and retreats to the library, Helen joins her playboy paramour, Tony Minot, on the balcony, where she tells him that their affair must come to an end because their love has "gone cold." Later, Joe accuses Helen of ignoring his needs and being more than just a golfing parter to Tony. Joe's suspicions of Tony also lead him to inform Jack that the roué is after Connie as well. Jack quickly dismisses the thought and expresses his confidence that Connie will remain faithful to him. When Jack's car breaks down, Tony drives the Millses home and joins them for a nightcap. While Jack mixes their drinks in the kitchen, Tony tries to woo Connie, but she resists him and reassures him that she loves her husband. Jack realizes that Tony's sole interest in his home is his wife, so with Connie's approval, he throws him out. On his way out, Tony accuses Jack of cheating on Connie when he had an affair with a Follies girl. Connie overhears the charge, but she believes Jack when he tells her that he is innocent. Callie soon throws another weekend party, but when Jack makes last minute changes in his plans and tells his wife that a business meeting will prevent him from attending the first night of the party, Connie goes alone. After Connie leaves, Helen shows up at the Mills's drunk and ecstatic that her husband has gone to Callie's without her. She celebrates by drinking some more and playing a tune on the piano. As Helen flirts with Jack and begs him not to leave, Connie returns home, having changed her mind about going to Callie's party, and catches her husband with Helen. Jack tries to explain, but Connie calls him a liar and orders him to leave the house. When Joe shows up at the Mills's looking for Helen, Connie listens to his complaints about his wayward wife and scolds him for being too weak to leave her. With no one to turn to, Connie calls Tony and tells him to hurry over so that he can start making good on his promise to make her "loose." While getting drunk with his business associate, Jack calls home and learns from Brandt, his butler, that Connie left with Tony. Instead of going to the party, however, Connie and Tony go to his place, where she seduces the bewildered playboy. They kiss, but Connie breaks into sobs and admits that she is not good at being a "bad" woman. When Connie returns home, she admits to Jack that she was with Tony. Connie and Jack discuss their marriage and agree to allow each other to carry on extramarital affairs until they decide what to do. One day, while sunbathing at the beach, Tony tells Connie that he has reformed and then proposes to her. Connie consents to marry him and tells Jack that she wants a divorce that same evening. Jack relinquishes his claim to his wife, but when Connie overhears him telling Tony that all he wants is what is best for his wife, she realizes that he is truly devoted to her and that she must stay with him because she, too, is devoted to him.
Robert Emmett Keane
Men Call it Love
The film was released in the pre-Code era, which is readily apparent from the first sequence. Casual jokes about infidelity, rampant adultery, and double entendres abound. Men Call It Love opens at a party among the country-club set, who care more about their golf game than they do about their marriages. Though the setting is nondescript, Mordaunt Hall, the reviewer for The New York Times, likened it to Westchester or Long Island. Menjou stars as wealthy playboy Tony Minot who prefers his romantic conquests to be married. A professional golfer, Tony is described as having two "occupations"--the other being "jumping out of bedroom windows." At the party, the very married Helen, played by Mary Duncan, breaks off her romance with Tony, because he has lost interest in her. Tony has turned his attention to Connie, a naïve young wife who loves her husband, Jack, played by Norman Foster. The purpose of the party was for Callie, played by Hedda Hopper, and her husband Henry to announce their divorce in such a flippant manner that they joke about each other's infidelities. The lack of respect for the vows of marriage bothers Connie, who believes in the sanctity of the institution. When Connie discovers that Jack has been unfaithful with Helen, she throws herself at Tony, who is all too willing to catch her.
Men Call It Love violated the Production Code, or censorship code, in its flagrant use of adultery, particularly because the multiple infidelities suggested that breaking wedding vows was an accepted practice, even fashionable. Aside from Tony and Helen, Helen and Jack, and Connie and Tony, Henry has committed adultery so many times that Callie nonchalantly jokes about it in their divorce announcement. Later, in the locker room of the country club, Callie tells Connie that if Jack is busy on the night of her next party, "Bring someone else's husband." And, she knowingly tells Helen, "You will grab someone else's husband the minute you get there." The double entendres in the dialogue also violated the Code: After Connie receives an impromptu golf lesson from Tony to improve her swing, she announces, "Tony has made me loose." Men Call It Love features many scenes with drinking, though it was still Prohibition. The characters drink at parties, at home, and at clubs, suggesting it was common practice. Even Tony's car is fitted with a hidden receptacle large enough for two or three cocktail shakers. The frequent use of alcohol consumption violated the Code because it was not plot related. Paramount received a warning about the unsuitable material from the Production Code Administration, but because the Code was not mandatory in 1931, the studio ignored the PCA's suggestions.
More than a pre-Code romance, Men Call It Love serves as a kind of commentary on the state of marriage at the end of the Jazz Age. It was adapted from the play Among the Married by Vincent Lawrence, written in the late 1920s and staged in 1929--the tail end of the Roaring 20s and the beginning of the Great Depression. The setting, characters, drinking, and devil-may-care approach to sex are in keeping with the attitudes of the Jazz Age. Following the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which gave women the right to vote, the decade witnessed a loosening of social conventions, social mores, and gender roles. These changes were also due to Prohibition, in which generally law-abiding citizens flaunted the law, as well as the increased urbanization of America in which the young flocked to the cities for employment and recreation. A consequence of these social changes was the skyrocketing rate of divorce (the number of divorces divided by the number of marriages in any given year). By 1920, the rate had risen to 13.4 % from about 8% in 1910. The rate came down briefly in the early 1920s but then steadily rose throughout the decade, according to numbers found in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, part of the U.S. Census Bureau. By the late 1920s, America was gripped by a panic about the future of marriage. Contemporary newspaper and magazine articles speculated on the viability of marriage, lamenting its destruction and predicting its demise by the late 20th century. In his book Sex in Civilization, published in 1929, sociologist Samuel Schmalhausen summed up the crisis succinctly: ''The old values are gone. Irrevocably . . . We live in a state of molten confusion. Instability rides modernity like a crazy sportsman. Civilization is caught in a cluster of contradictions that threaten to strangle it.''
Lawrence's play reflected the Jazz Age's contradictory ideas toward marriage. While the fashionable infidelities of the main characters titillated viewers, Connie's sincere beliefs in the value of marriage supported traditional values. Her integrity and innocence not only shamed Jack after he was caught with Helen but also influenced Tony to change his ways. Near the end, Jack calls marriage "the most sacred agreement" and laments that "with marriage, a few drinks . . . you forget every promise you ever made."
Though playing something of a cad, Adolphe Menjou manages to remain attractive and appealing throughout the film, partly because his character is redeemed and partly because of Menjou's star image. During the silent era, Menjou was under contract to Paramount, which had taken advantage of his debonair manner and continental look to construct an image for him as the dapper, urbane gent. His route to stardom began with recognition for his performance as the arrogant French playboy in Charlie Chaplin's A Woman of Paris (1923) and continued with starring roles in Ernst Lubitsch's Forbidden Paradise (1924) and Frank Tuttle's A Kiss in the Dark (1925). While many silent-era actors worried about their voices when submitting to the dreaded sound test, Menjou's smooth, cultured vocal style guaranteed him a place in talking films. Despite this, Paramount released him in the early 1930s. He was quickly signed by MGM who took advantage of his multi-lingual abilities and his distinguished persona. Menjou's unique spin on the dapper gentleman archetype included his reputation for sartorial splendor. Columnists repeatedly referred to his impeccable wardrobe, and he was named the Best Dressed Man in America more than once. Menjou understood that his debonair star image depended to a large degree on his wardrobe. In his 1947 autobiography, It Took Nine Tailors, he wrote, "On the screen the slightest flaw in the cut of a suit is exaggerated. Sometimes as many as eight or ten fittings and alterations are necessary to get a satisfactory fit. . . . I took my new job so seriously that eventually I had clothes made by most of the great tailors in the world. That was why my wardrobe grew to such tremendous proportions."
While at MGM, Menjou began to move from leading man material to showy secondary or supporting roles. His pre-Code films represent his last efforts at playing the leading man. A week after the premiere of Men Call It Love, The Front Page was released, starring Menjou as Walter Burns. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his highly praised performance, which revealed his comic timing and talent for verbal interplay. However, shortly thereafter, leading roles began to elude him, and by Stage Door (1937), he was appearing in supporting and secondary roles. Though still a charismatic scene-stealer, Adolphe Menjou's career had entered a different phase.
By Susan Doll
Production Management: B.P. Fineman for Paramount Pictures
Director: Edgar Selwyn
Screenplay: Doris Anderson (credited with dialogue continuity), from the play Among the Married by Vincent Lawrence
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editor: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Costumes: Rene Hubert
Cast: Tony Minot (Adolphe Menjou), Connie (Leila Hyams), Jack (Norman Foster), Helen (Mary Duncan), Callie (Hedda Hopper), Joe (Robert Emmett Keane), Brandt (Harry Northrup), Henry (Cosmo Kyrle Bellew)
Men Call it Love
A working title for this film was Among the Married. The Motion Picture Herald review erroneosly lists Adolphe Menjou's character as "Bill" and Leila Hyams' character as "Ethel." According to the file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Hays office, after reading the script in January 1930, informed M-G-M that a picture developed from the script "would violate the Code and would encounter major censorship difficulties." The Hays office stated that "none of the drinking or the dialogue and paraphernalia concerned with the drinking seems justified under it [the Code], and more importantly, the spirit of the Code lacks conformance in implied adultery between Helen and Jack and the intended adultery between Ethel and Bill."