The Idle Rich (1929)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners  |   Run Time - 80 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Janiss Garza

This light comedy makes one sorry that William C. De Mille gradually gave up his directing career when talkies came in. It is made in the same spirit as most of De Mille's silent work -- it's an intimate, intelligent, and multi-faceted look at human behavior and mores. With the help of screenwriter Clara Beranger, De Mille pokes a few holes in the fierce pride of the middle class. As the wealthy William Van Luyn, Conrad Nagel is the hero, while Joan Thayer, the college-educated secretary whom he marries (Leila Hyams), winds up looking a bit foolish. Joan takes Van Luyn home to her staunchly middle-class family, who live in a modest apartment in a decidedly unfashionable part of town. Instead of wealth thumbing its nose at the hoi polloi, though, it's the other way around -- Joan's parents (James Neill and Edyth Chapman) are wary of accepting what they believe to be charity, while Van Luyn merely considers it his duty to support his in-laws. Even more hardcore in his beliefs is Joan's hostile cousin, Henry (Robert Ober), who insists on lecturing Van Luyn on the value of the middle class. After their honeymoon, Joan insists that she and her new husband stay in her old room at her parents' home for a few weeks, and this is the last straw for Van Luyn. He finally cures the Thayers of their smugness by offering to give away his fortune and put himself on their level (actually this film was released just months before the stock market crash, which could feasibly have made this a reality). Mr. Thayer -- who has just lost his job -- is upset because, after all, he wanted Joan to move up in the world, and cousin Henry is riddled with guilt. Everyone is relieved to discover that Van Luyn was just teaching them a lesson. The brightest acting in the film is offered by Nagel, and by Bessie Love, looking a decade younger than her 30 years, as Joan's spirited sister, Helen. A note of trivia -- Neill and Chapman were married in real life.