The Gilded Lily

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Marilyn David (Claudette Colbert) is just an average poor little working girl, a typist living alone in New York City. Every Thursday she sits on a bench in Central Park munching on popcorn with her best pal Pete (Fred MacMurray), an ace celebrity reporter. One day Marilyn meets a man, Charles Gray (Ray Milland). She doesn’t know it but he’s an English Lord traveling incognito. He gives her a false name and a sack of lies, partly to protect his family name and partly out of love-struck stupidity. When Marilyn finds out the truth from Pete, all Hell breaks loose. Marilyn becomes the “No Girl”, a nightclub comedy sensation, on the fast track too getting to know the real Charles Gray and falling in love all over again.

The Gilded Lily (1935) is one of two films that director Wesley Ruggles made with star Claudette Colbert in 1935 and one of three that they made in total together, all romantic comedies. Ruggles is able to get one of Colbert’s most charming and utterly enduring performances as Marilyn David. Colbert shines in The Gilded Lily, perfecting her persona as the scrappiest incarnation of the “girl next door” Hollywood had to offer.

Screenwriter Claude Binyon’s screenplay for The Gilded Lily is fast, punchy and full of wit. It’s the kind of script that would make Amy Sherman-Palladino envious. Colbert and MacMurray, whose big screen partnership is legendary, handle the dialogue like fish in water. MacMurray cracks wise effortlessly while Colbert surfs the rapid tonal shifts of her scenes like so many waves. The dialogue is clever, unsentimental, and jaded enough to feel fresh almost one hundred years later.

This isn’t to say that The Gilded Lily is some overlooked masterpiece, because it’s not. The Gilded Lily is the epitome of what an old Hollywood quickie could and should be. It’s a well crafted little film that absorbs the viewer and gets them away from their own troubles for a while. It offers a kind of wish fulfillment with its story of a rags to riches search for true love. The Gilded Lily is a fantasy from The Great Depression that nevertheless manages to resonate today.