Sunday, 19 February 2012

Louise Brooks & Evelyn Brent - Love ’em and Leave ‘em (1926)

This is a fun film directed by Frank Tuttle primarily as a vehicle for Evelyn Brent but also providing one of the then teenage Louise Brooks’ biggest roles up to that point.

First time I watched this, a few years back, I only had eyes for Brooksie but second time around, whilst she still steals the show, I paid more attention to the nominal star and indeed there is much to comment on Ms Brent’s performance.

Evelyn plays Mame Walsh a shop worker who shares a one-room apartment with her younger and wilder sister, Janie, played by Brooks. Their mother died when they were young and Mame promised to always look after her sister. Her determination to fulfil this promise is needless to say stretched to the limit…

The film gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives of everyday twenty-somethings in the, erm, 20’s. The house they share is peopled by a variety of characters who race each day to get the hot water in their shared bathroom. There’s Mame’s dopey boyfriend Bill Billingsley (Lawrence Gray) who can barely get himself to work without her prodding. He’s a bit of a sap and doesn’t value Mame as much as he should – he doesn’t see how much she supports him and he’s not alone.

Then there’s the weasely Lem Woodruff (Osgood Perkins) a man who "spent six months curing halitosis only to find he was unpopular anyway." He’s not to be trusted but, for some reason Janie lets him place bets for her at the bookies.

The girls work at Ginsburgs department store and the film shifts to a great set of interior shots showing the shop fully populated with customers. There are humorous vignettes amidst the crushed commerce, a man left with his measuring hat on as a distracted Bill attempts to serve him and the floor manager’s concentrated appreciation of the turn of Janie’s heel as she stands on a step ladder.

By chance Bill is given the opportunity to become a window dresser after Mame turns his joke of directing a fan at the window dummies into a feature of the display. Passers by crowd around the window to watch the display and the store manager, believing this to be all Bill’s idea, gives him the chance to do more.

Mame is there again to provide the real inspiration to enliven Bill’s next idea as she lets a kitten run free amidst the dummies. All of this goes unnoticed by the manager and unrecognised by blurry Bill who takes whatever happens to him in his directionless stride.

Throughout the movie Mame is there to make up for the failings of others and to right wrongs. This makes her a bit of a saint but a knowing one: we never lose sympathy for her.

She goes on holiday after Bill has proposed and by the time she has decided to accept, he has fallen for the allure of Janie. Mame returns to a surprise party only to get more of a surprise than she bargained for as her fiancé and sister return to the apartment canoodling – some great reaction shots from Brent here.

But things get even worse. Credibility is stretched as Janie who having been appointed – for "good behavior" – as the shop’s ball committee treasurer, has gambled away the funds for the ball. Lem has cheated her out of her winnings and she is left to let the blame fall on Mame.

Mame is given an ultimatum of returning the money before 11 or the police will be called. She lets Janie go to the ball – “I won't enjoy a single minute of the dance, worrying about you” - and sets off to settle the score with Lem the Louse.

The story splits in two as Janie proceeds to forget her worries and blow us all away with an all too brief demonstration of Brooks’ dancing. Mame gets dolled up and pally with Lem, getting away with his wallet only for him to catch her as she phones Bill for help.

Their fight doesn’t quite proceed as you’d expect and Mame shows herself to be a strong character in every sense. At last Bill begins to realise her worth and his own responsibilities. As for Janie, she’s working her way up the corporate ladder faster than her dancing feet can carry her.

Evelyn Brent has the majority of the film and on reflection deserves better notices than she gets on some forums. She’s got a good range and whilst she can’t compete with a 19-year old phenomenon she does act convincingly and with subtlety.

Brooks is raw and ablaze with energy. She makes the most of a fairly narrow role and is absolutely believable as the irresponsible, self-serving teen who gets everyone into trouble. Her intelligence and sense of humour rescues the role and adds some extra velocity to the storyline.

As ever it’s difficult to view this in any other way but through the prism of her subsequent legend but she’s good and the bob is cut so short and so sharp!

Osgood Perkins is also good as the slimeball Lem, you wonder what he was like in real life, probably a wonderful and caring chap.

Love ‘em and Leave ‘em is currently available from the likes of Classic Video Streams and Grapevine Video DVD which use decent prints including the tinting as shown above. You can also watch it on YouTube but in poor quality.

One day it’ll be properly restored and remastered along with Louise’s other extant pre-European films…one day. In the meantime, love it and don’t leave it!


  1. Thanks for an informative post. I have always found Evelyn Brent to be a very interesting actress. You are right that Brooks obliterates everyone else in sight, but Brent definitively had something worth watching.

  2. Thanks very much FC - I'm looking forward to finding out more about Evelyn Brent and she certainly worked very well in this film. Will be interesting to see her in the more dramatic roles of Underworld & The Last Command.