Frank Borzage, born in Salt Lake City in 1893, became a director in 1912. He was the first person to win an Oscar as best director (in 1929, for Seventh Heaven). Among his other movies were A Farewell to Arms (1932) and Three Comrades (1938). Kay Francis, born in Oklahoma City in 1905, became a stage actress in 1925, and moved on to a film career at Paramount by 1929. At Paramount she played in Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise, and hit her stride as a star at Warners, opposite William Powell in One Way Passage. Both these films were released in 1932. She was known for working with the costume designers on the clothes she wore in her pictures. In this one the designer was Orry-Kelly. She was voted sixth most popular star in America by Variety by the mid-1930s, but a series of disputes with studio management, and her high salary, brought her career as a star to an end within a couple years. This film was released in March, 1935.
Aviation was a popular movie theme in the 1930s – think of Test Pilot (1938) or Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Borzage himself was a pilot so maybe it’s appropriate that he made this movie about George Brent’s character’s interest in flying. This movie has so many little errors in it that by now I can recount each of them lovingly – the dates in the montage of newspaper articles about Brent early in the film don’t make sense, there is a guest at Kay Francis’ character’s party who talks about “Central Asia” when she should be talking about “Central America”, and the southern California hills don’t have any counterparts in the Long Island landscape. The picture does have a certain amount of charm, though some of the laughs it provides are probably unintentional. By this point in her career Francis’ difficulty pronouncing the letter R was legendary, and the script, by Jerry Wald and Julius J. Epstein, makes fun of it. Wald later went on to produce at Warners. Epstein was a longtime scriptwriter at the same studio, collaborating with his twin brother Phil on, for example, Casablanca. The New York Times of the time said Living on Velvet had “a rather neat plot situation, some brittle dialogue, and the presence of the amiable George Brent and the attractive Kay Francis,” and called the scenario “pretty close to first rate, the dialogue and action convincing and Frank Borzage's direction sure.” They weren’t happy with the climax, and you probably won’t be either. It has elements that also figure in the resolution of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, though the plot itself is nothing like it. This picture’s lack of perfection doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable to watch, however, and I hope you find it so.