1920s, 3/4, Comedy, Howard Hawks, Review

Paid to Love

Paid to Love (1927) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

#23 in my ranking of Howard Hawks’ filmography.

Hawks’ third movie, The Cradle Snatchers, is partially lost, so we skip that and head to Paid to Love, a romantic comedy with mistaken identity tropes that plays surprisingly entertainingly. It’s an unchallenging little comedy, but it understands character-based comedy well enough to have aged quite well.

The king of a small Balkan nation is desperate to secure a loan from an American bank, represented by Peter Roberts. The king has a son, Michael, and a nephew, Eric, and the two couldn’t be more different. Michael is obsessed with cars, and Eric is obsessed with women. Roberts is happy to sign over the loan to the king, but he’s unsettled by the idea of the king having a son uninterested in trying to continue the family line. In order to feel more comfortable in the country’s future, he insists that the king find a girl, not to marry Michael but to simply get him interested in girls in general. Then the movie becomes a buddy comedy about two old men looking for a woman, and I kind of love it.

The king and Roberts become a pair of drunk louses working the streets of Paris, looking for a girl who can play up any role in order to accomplish their mission. They end up at a dive in the middle of Paris that’s designed to appear tougher than it actually is, to scare tourists into coughing up their money in an effort to get out and give them a taste of the tough life. In this bar is a nightly show, so to speak, where a girl, Gaby, pretends to be attacked by a man behind a curtain, and fighting him off with a night in the middle of the bar. The king and Roberts figure out it’s a show when the girl wipes her bloody blade on the king’s hat, only for them to discover that it’s actually catsup. Perfect! She can act…okay, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’m going to roll with it. This is an advantage of being amusing can have. You roll past some logical inconsistencies from time to time.

They bring the girl back to the country, dress her up finely, and set her out to capture Michael’s heart. She, though, gets lost in a rainstorm and ends up at a castle with Michael whom she does not know is Michael and he doesn’t want to reveal that he’s the Crown Prince. He has suddenly fallen in love with this girl, just as the plan has dictated, but no one knows about it. So, sure, we end up with a sitcom plot where some simple communication could fix a lot, which prevents this movie from being more than amusing, but it is certainly amusing in spades.

The next day, Gaby follows instructions from the King to meet the Crown Prince Michael. Coincidentally, Eric is at the same place while both are wearing white military uniforms. Eric convinces Michael to go off shooting at the range right before Gaby shows up, and we have our case of mistaken identity when Gaby thinks that Eric is Michael. She does her duty to seduce the Crown Prince, finding it far easier than she had been led to believe because Eric is a complete sleaze and ladies man. At the same time, Michael is removed from seeing Gaby because she’s promised to return to him after two weeks, when her job is done.

The resolution is the sort of stuff one would come to expect from this sort of movie with aghast reveals and heartfelt promises. It all comes back together with the king and financier taking Michael back to Paris where Gaby had run back after the reveals for the final reveals of love. The repetition of key moments from the original run with different emotions and focuses makes the film’s final moments work surprisingly well, especially with the king and financier realizing their idiocy.

The whole film is really endearing, if completely unchallenging. I find no fault with it being unchallenging, but it’s certainly a good silent comedy, a step up from the less successful Fig Leaves. This is a confident little comedy with strong appeal more than 90 years after it was made.

Rating: 3/4

4 thoughts on “Paid to Love”

  1. Another one to hunt down, maybe (I don’t much like silents).
    This is interesting though, as we see Hawks work on his plot and comedy chops, when what he’s really best at is character and dialog.

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    1. Hawks’ silent period was pretty short (almost half of it is lost, which helps shorten things), but there’s definitely some good stuff in there. If you had to limit it to just one, I’d recommend A Girl in Every Port first. It’s more distinctly Hawksian, so it ends up fitting better with his overall body of work.

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