“But I'm not a Garret, I'm a Brewster. And we Brewsters do what we want to do when we want to do it.”
No Classic Hollywood film can ever go wrong when Irene Dunne is playing the lead. The woman was uber talented making any role she played whether it be dramatic or comedic look effortless. My favorite Irene Dunne films are her comedic ones like The Awful Truth or Theodora Goes Wild because usually she has a scene where she falls apart a bit but still manages to look like such a lady. I can now add Joy of Living to my favorite Irene Dunne comedies.
Maggie Garret (Dunne) is a successful Broadway, movie, and singing star. She cannot go anywhere without being mobbed by adoring fans and most especially her mooching family. Maggie has a very nice apartment where she lets her family consisting of her younger sister Salina (Lucille Ball) and her husband and twin girls and their parents. The family guilts Maggie into everything and everything by saying that if she does not support them she is being a bad daughter/sister.
After a show one night she meets a smitten fan named Dan Brewster (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). He follows her but she sees him more as a nuisance and has an officer take him away. The officer turned out to be a friend of Dan’s so nothing happens to him. Dan can clearly see Maggie’s problem with her life… she does not live it she just goes through with it mechanically. She does nothing for her own sake.
Dan once again finds Maggie only he is tailing her by hitching a ride on the back of her car on the way to rehearsal. This time she has had it she has the driver pull up to the police station and wants him arrested for bothering her. The police officer is yet again the same friend from the other night. Maggie satisfied she thinks she has finally gotten Dan leaves. The officer tells Dan he is turning his back so he can say that Dan got away but Dan will not go he wants to get arrested. Since Dan has been brought up on charges it means that Maggie has to appear in court. The judge rules that either Dan goes to jail for six months or is put on probation. Maggie does not want him to go to jail but she does not want to be the one Dan reports to for his probation since he does not know anyone personally to report to in New York. Maggie reluctantly agrees to be Dan’s probation officer so he will not go to jail.
On the way home from court Dan has Maggie drop him off at his ship that he runs. He tells her that his family are all bankers but he did not want to get stuck doing what they did he wanted to live his own life and do what he wanted so he runs a cargo ship. He wants Maggie to do the same thing he wants her to get away from her family and live for herself. Maggie is blind to that idea and goes away.
Dan finally gets Maggie to go out with him after he saves her from autograph hounds outside the theater where her show is. He brings her to a beergarten. The proprietor calls Maggie out but Dan defends her and says he has the wrong person Maggie is not really Maggie Garret just some lady. They are left alone for the night until Maggie is hilariously drunk and they get thrown out of the place. The night gets even more crazy with Maggie drunk on both beer and fun. Dan bring her to a roller rink which turns into a near disaster. Near the end of the night Maggie manages to get Dan drunk and when they start dancing they start slapping each other.
The next morning Maggie’s nieces find Dan sleeping on the couch in the sitting room part of her room. The girls rush to Salina and their grandparents to tell them Aunt Maggie has a man in her room. The family is in arms because they just think that the man is after Maggie’s money and that he will take her away from them. Maggie defends her family when Dan tries to tell them the truth and he leaves angry with her. Later on with some nudging from her maid Maggie finds Dan ready to ship off but she stops him and says she wants to get married. That night they get married. He wants to take her to his island but she wants to continue with her show since she has a contract. Dan is upset because he felt Maggie was finally letting go and living but she was not willing to give up her work. Back at the house the family belittles her saying she was not thinking of them and they were afraid they would not look after them anymore. Maggie finally grows some nerves and tells her family they can get along with her. On her way out she gives her shoes to Salina saying that she always wanted to walk in her shoes and now she finally can. Maggie runs out in the rain barefoot looking for Dan who was standing right by her door waiting.
Irene Dunne and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. are incredibly adorable and charming together. Dunne playing a drunk scene was one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen. As I said even when her characters were falling apart a bit she always looked like such a lady and even stumbling drunk Dunne still looked like a lady. I was dying in the scene when they leave the beergarten because she was doing this drunken swagger walk and her face was so funny. Then at the door she started doing this dance she saw and Fairbanks just pulls her away. You would have to see it I was cracking up. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was nothing short of incredible handsome and charismatic. I wish Dunne and Fairbanks had made more films together they had great chemistry… but then again who did Dunne not have great chemistry with?
Lucille Ball plays Salina. She is not in the film for very long just bits of scenes here and there. Her character was a brat and we are not supposed to like her. I love seeing early Lucille Ball before she became Lucy Ricardo since everyone is so used to seeing her as this screwball and several of her early roles were serious or sarcastic.
Joy of Living is a very cute film. The story is not that strong but Irene Dunne and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. make up for it. Joy of Living is fun to watch and I have to say it does motivate you to live a little more and hand fun with your life. Hey if Irene Dunne one of the greatest sophisticated ladies of Classic Hollywood can let go with her characters why can’t I.