Howard Hawks made a silent film in 1927 called “Paid to Love,” in which the king of a small Balkin country and an American businessman pay a cabaret dancer (Virginia Valli) to woo bashful Crown Prince Michael. The prince, played by George O’Brien, prefers fixing cars to women, which concerns the king (Thomas Jefferson). When the businessman (J. Farrell MacDonald) threatens to pull out of a loan agreement unless the crown prince marries, the king agrees to find a woman to inflame Michael’s passion.
The king and the businessman find Gaby (Valli) in the worst kind of Paris clip joint imaginable, full of con men, thieves and murderous types. She pretends to stab her boyfriend in front of horrified tourists and drops the knife on the king’s table. However, the wily businessman sniffs out the ruse and determines to hire Gaby to woo Michael. She returns with the king and puts on her performance for the crown prince.
William Powell plays Michael’s brother, Prince Eric. Displaying his usual confident and bombastic style, Powell’s Eric makes a play for Gaby, leading to much confusion in the kingdom as she mistakes him for the crown prince. Michael and Gaby turn out to be attracted to each other, which is a great surprise considering the differences in their social status.
Gaby really possesses a violent streak, but O’Brien as Michael plays it so straight laced in this comedy that we believe he’ll remain eternally devoted. As with all love stories that involve a con (such as Preston Sturges’ “The Lady Eve” from 1941), we also must believe the victim will forgive the con when he or she finds out about it. This usually happens in Hollywood romantic comedies.