“Ladies of Leisure,” a 1930 film starring Barbara Stanwyck, proved to be a breakout role for her. She plays a call girl, Kay Arnold, who tries to reform by posing for a famous and rich artist. The artist, Jerry Strong, maintains high ideals about the perfect pose and the perfect painting, and ends up taking a lot of time painting Kay. He dominates her and orders her around, but shows no romantic interest in her. Naturally, Kay falls for Jerry, much to the dismay of his rich industrialist father.
Much of the film takes place in Jerry Strong’s studio, and it seems from the paintings displayed there that he’s a lousy artist. I’ve known lots of artists and not too many of them seem like the stiff Jerry, played by the square-jawed and Chester Morris-like Ralph Graves. Stanwyck performs very well, as usual, and her roommate and fellow call-girl, Dot Lamar, played by Marie Provost, steals several scenes.
What’s great about pre-code films is that they feature wonderful actresses in good roles. The director, Frank Capra, keeps the pace quick, despite the long scenes of Kay posing for Jerry. Capra took a chance on Stanwyck and propelled her into a future star. Capra made 4 more movies with Stanwyck, including “The Miracle Woman (1931),” “Forbidden (1932),” “The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933),” and “Meet John Doe (1941).”