Kept Husbands (1931) Review, with Dorothy Mackaill and Joel McCrea

Dot
Dorothy Mackaill
Dick
Joel McCrea
The Ned Sparks part
Ned Sparks
Released by RKO
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Run time: 76 minutes

Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film

  • The best I’ve got is that there’s a dog named ‘Pansy’.

Kept Husbands: All Lost

“Easy things aren’t much good.”

Have I seen this one before? This is a pretty familiar plot: rich girl meets working class boy and pounces. He’s smitten, especially since she looks like Dorothy Mackaill, but his manhood is crushed when he’s given a cushy office job and no responsibilities other than tending to the vapid wife. Will he stop being cuckolded and put her in her place?

Don’t you feel like you’ve seen this one too?

There are different phases in the films of the early 30s, and Kept Husbands is clearly in denial of the onset of the Great Depression. Early in the film, McCrea’s Dick turns down a $1,000 bonus after pulling a few and men out of an (off-screen) explosion, not feeling like he earned that money. He gets his mother’s okay and we, the audience, are assured by him repeatedly that it wouldn’t be fair for him to take it. Now imagine telling that to someone in the breadline.

But the truth is that Dick really isn’t one of the wretched underclass, but a former famed Yale footballer and possessor of an Ivy League degree. Oh, to start in such poverty! Dick is so goody two-shoes all-American innocence that you just want to take a baseball bat to his head.

Meanwhile, Mackaill’s character reminded me often of my 4-year-old daughter, who is clingy, needy and completely unaware of their own attempted overt machinations. In a 4-year-old, it’s cute.

One excruciating sequence sees Mackaill’s Dottie run off to her ex-lover’s house when she’s having a tiff with Dick. Her and the man sarcastically play act a breast-clasping melodrama about defending her virtue. It’s embarrassing to watch them play this moment, as if these characters are above such material, and then the film launches them immediately into a very serious jealous husband plot line you’ve seen a million times before that deserves just as much scorn.

There are bare bones amusements here, as even Ned Sparks’ role as the comedy relief is neither comic nor a relief. Several plot points left me, the viewer, openly groaning. The most joy you can get out of the movie come from, again, McCrea’s character being named ‘Dick’ so you have passionate, forthright lines like “Don’t let money spoil Dick!” and “If you don’t stop riding Dick–!”.

Kept Husbands is very meek and pleasant– in tone, I should explain–a movie that says “too much money kills ambition” and “men have to take charge in a relationship” and who gives a shit.

Screen Capture Gallery

Click to enlarge and browse. Please feel free to reuse with credit!

Other Reviews, Trivia, and Links

  • TCMDB can’t come out and call a movie boring, but they do everything but.

In fact, the film is in many ways highly conventional for how it reaffirms the gender roles in the Brunton household, arguing that the man and woman should fulfill their proper duties. In the Depression years, rich heiresses were not especially appealing figures for impoverished audiences. Conventions of the time demanded that haughty women like Dot be put in their place by the film’s end.

Kept Husbands has a strong focus on exploring gender roles. During the time-period of which the film takes place, it was often a common stereotype that a man would completely provide shelter and other necessities to his spouse. In this feature, Dot goes out of her way to try and provide a good life for her husband. The subject explored in the film is one which is an excellent cause for worthwhile discussion about society’s perception of gender roles.

  • 20/20 Movie Reviews also calls this “reasonably entertaining” although they give it one star. Also, this is how they end the review?

For all the saucy goings on and emasculating shenanigans of the wilful Dot Parker the movie’s message is a traditional one which is spelled out for its audience by Dick’s mum as she advises the newly brought-to-heel Dot that the only way in which husbands should be kept is by love, devotion and sacrifice. I hope all you ladies are listening out there…

  • Some more screengrabs (and in HD!) over at DVD Beaver.

Awards, Accolades & Availability

  • This film is in the public domain, so it’s available in a variety of places and ways, from streaming on YouTube to a blu-ray release.

More Pre-Code to Explore



3 Replies to “Kept Husbands (1931) Review, with Dorothy Mackaill and Joel McCrea”

  1. First of all, your baby is FOUR?!? When did that happen?

    Anyway, you know I like to guess before I open your posts whether you liked them or not, and I was right this time! I tried watching this movie three or four times, and I’m pretty sure I finally made it, but I don’t remember a thing about it except that it didn’t leave much of an impression. Loved your write-up, though!

Leave a Reply to John Worobey Cancel reply

%d bloggers like this: