The Flirting Widow

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The Flirting Widow

Melodramatic entertainment whose chief boast is the swell acting by the principals, especially Dorothy Mackaill and Basil Rathbone, who vie for the spotlight honors in the telling of this story. Miss Mackaill again plays the sob sister on whom the family depends for every little thing. She even goes so far as to improvise her own engagement to an imaginary colonel so that her younger sister may marry. But after this happens she decides to turn the tables and starts out by inserting a notice in the papers of the death of her imaginary lover. Coincidentally, there happens to be a colonel in the English army by the name of Smith to whom she has written a letter. Colonel Smith, under an assumed name, sets out to unravel the mystery and falls pretty hard for the girl. Just as he is beginning to like her, she tries to hie off to London with her aunt. As Dorothy is about to leave, Colonel Smith makes his appearance and joins her.

The Film Daily, August 3, 1930, p. 10


"Rathbone and Mackaill have a nice, playful chemistry." "The Flirting Widow (1930) Review, with Dorothy Mackaill, Basil Rathbone, and Sally Eilers," Pre-Code.Com: Celebrating Pre-Code Hollywood Cinema, 1930-34 

"Rathbone not only was quite comfortably cast as a romantic lead in that era, but he was also a capable comedic actor. ... He gets a chance in The Flirting Widow to really play up his comedic talents .... For lovers, or even interested observers, of the acting craft, it is fascinating to see an actor step outside the confines of previous perceptions and show the audience a fresh side to his talent, especially when it is a successful venture." Stephanie Star Smith, ""The Flirting Widow," Box Office Prophets


The Flirting Widow

This is a very light story, but sufficiently amusing to be mildly pleasing. Basil Rathbone and Dorothy Mackaill carry through a humorously complicated situation capably and, with fair support, make this screen adaptation of an English comedy a passable picture where otherwise it was in grave danger of falling rather flat.

Celia Faraday is the eldest of three sisters. She refuses to marry and thereby holds up the parade of her younger sister to the altar, because of the old fashioned notions of the father. On her return form a Southampton week end, she discovers the youngster, Phyllis, in tears at the prospect of waiting till her elder sister maries. On the spur of the moment, the bachelor girl Celia invents a fictitious engagement to a Colonel Smith, whom she met at a house party just before his departure for Arabia with his regiment.

Accidentally, the first letter, which she writes at the insistence of her sisters, is mailed to the East, where it is eventually received by a very much alive Colonel John Smith. More curious than interested, he returns to England to find the writer. After the younger sister had been safely married, however, Celia had published in the papers notice of the death from wounds of Colonel Smith. At that moment the colonel arrives, discovers that he is supposed to be dead, and spins an inspired tale about the death of his heroic friend, Smith. The ensuing complication ties itself into a fairly amusing knot then unravels in the usual and inevitable manner.

Basil Rathbone as the fast thinking colonel does a neat piece of work, ably seconded by the artful innocence of Dorothy Mackaill's Celia. The rest are at least competent, with the exception of William Austin, whose attempt at James Raleigh, a stupid and slow thinking Englishman, is neither funny nor very clever.

Charles S. Aaronson, New York City

Exhibitor's Herald-World, August 9, 1930, p. 33


In 1933 The Flirting Widow was remade at the Teddington Studios (the British branch of First National Productions). It was called Her Imaginary Lover.


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First National was a subsidiary of Warner Bros.


"The Flirting Widow" with Dorothy Mackaill

Most of the time it is boresome. It is light comedy, but the laughs are few and far between, for the reason that the characters, although they belong to a well-to-do, well brought up family, are made to act as idiots and the story material is hardly of any interest:

Because her second sister had married, the heroine had worn green stockings in accordance with an old English custom. The third and youngest sister is in love and wants to marry, but her father will not let her do so because he does not want the heroine to wear the green stockings again. When the heroine returns from a trip and is told by the youngest sister that she is in the way of her happiness, she pretends that she is engaged. In order to support her lie, she invents as her fiance an imaginary John Smith, Colonel in the British Army. She places him with the regiment that had embarked that day for Arabia, and even writes him a letter, which her sister mails to "him." A month or so later the heroine, in conspiracy with her aunt, insert an item in the papers stating that Colonel John Smith had been "killed in action." Thus the heroine becomes a "widow." But there is a real John Smith, and by coincidence he was attached to the very same regiment the heroine had placed him in. When he receives her letter he becomes curious and departs for England to investigate. He presents himself to the heroine under an assumed name, and pretends that he was the closest friend of the "dead" man, and that before his death he had instructed him to take certain mementoes to her. The heroine is so beautiful that he falls in love with her at first sight. The situation becomes embarrassing for the heroine. But the hero's handsome looks eventually win out; when he tells her who he really is, she does not object to their becoming engaged.

"Green Stockings," the story by A.E.W. Mason, has furnished the plot. William A. Seiter directed it. Leila Hyams, Claude Gillingwater, Emily Fitzroy and others are in the cast. The talk is very clear. (Silent values, fair.)

Harrison's Reports, August 9, 1930, p. 126


Director William Seiter with Mackaill and Rathbone

Basil Rathbone, Grant Withers, Dorothy Mackaill, and Alice White during a break in filming. Grant Withers and Alice White were making other films at First National studios at the same time as The Flirting Widow was being filmed.


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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2017