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Lonely Wives


Pre-code fun with Edward Everett Horton.

Lonely Wives is a 1931 American comedy film directed by Russell Mack and produced by E.B. Derr for Pathé Exchange, and was distributed by RKO Pictures after the merger of the two studios; it starred Edward Everett Horton, Esther Ralston, Laura La Plante, and Patsy Ruth Miller. The screenplay was written by Walter DeLeon, based upon a successful German Vaudeville act entitled Tanzanwaltz, penned by Pordes Milo, Walter Schütt, and Dr. Eric Urban. The German production had been translated for the American stage by DeLeon and Mark Swanand, under the same title as the film.

Plot summary

File:The Lonely Wives (1931). Edward Everett Horton.jpg
Richard "Dickie" Smith (Edward Everett Horton), is a seemingly respectable defense attorney by day, who turns into a philandering Don Juan when the clock strikes 8 o’clock. His wife, Madeline (Esther Ralston), has been away for several months, and is not expected back anytime soon. However, Madeline's mother, Mrs. Mantel (Maude Eburne) is staying with the Smiths, in an effort to curtail the possibility of any straying by Richard. Unbeknownst to her, he has made plans to go out on the town that night with his new, sultry secretary Kitty Minter (Patsy Ruth Miller), and his new sexy client, Diane O'Dare (Laura La Plante), who, a lonely wife herself, wishes to divorce her husband for neglect.
The issue is how can he go out on the town without alerting his mother-in-law. An issue which is seemingly resolved by the arrival at his home of a vaudeville impersonator: Felix, the Great Zero (also played by Edward Everett Horton). Felix is seeking permission to impersonate the famous lawyer on-stage. At first reluctant, Richard, noticing the striking resemblance between himself and the actor, realizes he might have a way to deceive Mrs. Mantel. In order to obtain his approval, Felix must agree to impersonate him at his house that evening, while he goes out.
While Richard goes out on the town, he discovers that Diane's husband is none other than Felix. Meanwhile, Madeline arrives home unannounced and early. Thinking that he is about to be exposed, Felix phones the nightclub where Richard has taken the two women for dinner and drinks. As he waits for the return phone call, much to his surprise, rather than exposing him as an imposter, Madeline begins to come on to him. He attempts to resist, trying to hold out until he can speak to Richard, but he succumbs to her charms just as the phone begins ringing.
When Richard returns home the next morning, Felix is still there. He is followed closely by a very inebriated Diane, with whom it seems he has spent his time away from home. When Felix recognizes Diane, and Richard understands that Felix has spent the night at his house, both men believe that his look-a-like has slept with the others' wife. After a series of events, Smith ends up chasing Zero with a loaded gun. Meanwhile, Andrews, the Butler, (Spencer Charters), thinks he must have the Delirium tremens, seeing double of his employer.
File:The Lonely Wives, (1931), Patsy Ruth Miller, Laura La Plante, Esther Ralston, Publicity (Pathe).jpg
The truth comes out when Madeline admits that she knew it wasn't Richard all along, and other than the kissing, nothing happened between the two of them. Diane admits that she spent the night in the cab, riding around, and not with Richard. Reconciled, Richard is cured of his wandering ways and Felix and Diane are reunited.


  • Edward Everett Horton as Richard "Dickie" Smith, and Felix, The Great Zero
  • Esther Ralston as Madeline Smith
  • Laura La Plante as Diane O'Dare
  • Patsy Ruth Miller as Kitty "Minty" Minter
  • Spencer Charters as Andrews, the Butler
  • Maude Eburne as Mrs. Mantel
  • Maurice Black as Taxi Driver
(Cast as per AFI database)< name=AFI />


  • "Madeline", unknown composer
  • "Baby Feet", unknown composer, sung by Maude Eburne< name=Theiapolis />


Mordaunt Hall, the film critic for the New York Times, gave the film a positive review, calling the direction "skillful", and singles out the performance of several of the actors, including Esther Ralston, Maude Eburne, Patsy Ruth Miller, and Spencer Charters. He was especially impressed with Horton, stating that he "delivers a wonderfully clever dual impersonation ...", and is "wonderfully amusing".< name=nyt></>


In 1959, the film entered the List of films in the public domain in the United States due to the copyright claimants failure to renew the copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.<> See Note #60, pg. 143</>
It was released on DVD by Roan/Troma Entertainment in 2001.
The English translation of Tanzanwaltz, entitled Lonely Wives, was produced by A.H. Woods in Stamford, Connecticut on August 11, 1922.< name=AFI /> The play was scheduled to open in New York in August 1922, starring a well-known female impersonator of that time, Julian Eltinge as its star, but was never produced, apparently because while humorous, it had no value or integrity.< name=TCM2></>
The film was acquired by RKO when they purchased Pathé Exchange in January 1931.< name=TCM2 />

Category:1931 films
Category:American films
Category:1930s comedy films
Category:English-language films
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:Films based on plays

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