Animal Kingdom (1932): Griffith’s Pre-Code Serio-Comedy, Starring Leslie Howard, Ann Harding, Myrna Loy

Edward H. Griffith directed The Animal Kingdom, a Pre-Code serio-comedy, based upon Philip Barry’s comedy of manners play.

The film stars Leslie Howard, Ann Harding, Myrna Loy, William Gargan, Ilka Chase, and Neil Hamilton.

Howard, Gargan, and Chase also starred in the play when it opened on Broadway on January 12, 1932.

Tom Collier (Leslie Howard), the owner of a small press that publishes deluxe books, has been living in the city with his lover Daisy Sage (Ann Harding) without being married.

Daisy. a successful commercial artist for a fashion magazine, has just returned from Paris. While Daisy was away, Tom has fallen in love with Cecelia Henry (Myrna Loy).

Tom’s banker father Rufus Collier (Henry Stephenson) describes his lifelong frustration with his son to Cecelia and Owen Fiske (Neil Hamilton), a family friend and attorney. Tom benefited from education at Harvard and Oxford, and a position at the bank, yet he is an idler and his friends are uncouth.

His father is afraid that Tom might actually marry Daisy. Cecelia reassures him on that score: She is going to marry Tom in June. Owen is surprised and crushed—he thought that she loved him—but Tom’s father doesn’t notice and approves wholeheartedly.

Tom tells Daisy of his impending marriage, assuring her that nothing between them need change, but Daisy sends him away.  Soon, Cecelia has persuaded Tom to publish a book that is “the worst tripe,” but it sells wonderfully. She talks him into publishing bad but commercial books and getting rid of his old friends, including “Red”, his prize-fighter friend and butler.

She wants Tom to sell his publishing company, live in the city with his father as a “proper gentleman” and take their place in society, a prospect that Tom has been resisting all his life.

Daisy tries to stay away, but she and Tom’s friends can’t believe he’s happy. She loves him and wants to have children with him. Tom complains that he’s losing his soul and integrity.  When Cecelia offers Tom champagne to toast selling his publishing company and moving in with his father, Tom realizes that Cecelia’s bedroom suite is like a brothel he used to visit.

When Red tells Tom he is going back to the city, Tom insists on driving him to the station, saying, “I’m going back to my wife,” referring to Daisy.  He signs over to Cecelia large birthday check from his father, and puts it on the mantle, just as he used to leave money for the girls in the bordello.

The film deviates from the play, which emphasized the estrangement between Tom and his father, and that Owen, his “respectable gentleman” friend, introduced Cecelia to Tom.

Though RKO purchased the film rights to The Animal Kingdom as a vehicle for Ann Harding, Irene Dunne was substituted due to scheduling conflicts. In an ironic twist, when filming of “Smilin’ Through” did not finish on time and MGM refused to release Leslie Howard, RKO realized Ann Harding would now be available and reassigned her to the role.

The movie was remade 1946 as “One More Tomorrow.”

Cast
Ann Harding as Daisy Sage, illustrator and artist
Leslie Howard as Tom Collier
Myrna Loy as Mrs. Cecelia ‘Cee’ Thomas Collier
William Gargan as ‘Red’ Regan, Tom’s Butler
Neil Hamilton as Owen, a lawyer
Ilka Chase as Grace – Cee’s Friend
Henry Stephenson as Mr Rufus Collier

Note:

TCM showed the movie on June 5, 2020.