The Monroe Owsley Film Festival: "Ten Cents a Dance" and "The Keyhole"

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."
Of all the actors who appeared in movies during the 1930s, Monroe Owsley (1900-37) was certainly one of them.

In various films, he appeared opposite the likes of Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, Bette Davis, Kay Francis, Barbara Stanwyck and Margaret Sullavan, leading critics to exclaim, "Who is that guy who always plays schmoes opposite Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, Bette Davis, Kay Francis, Barbara Stanwyck and Margaret Sullavan?"

Alas, someone has to play the schmoe. And Monroe Owsley, not to be confused with Marilyn Monroe, was pretty good at it. He played conceited schmoes, selfish schmoes (say that three times fast), gigolo schmoes, cowardly schmoes, greedy schmoes and psycho schmoes.

In fact, if you're watching a pre-code movie where a heroine is starting to find true happiness, and some nogoodnik comes along to blackmail her, threaten her or otherwise weigh her down like an anchor made of hair pomade, old spats and neediness, chances are it'll be Monroe Owsley.

In the interest of giving you the full Owsley, here's how he appears at the beginning of 1933's "The Keyhole":

He's a blackmailer, and the blackmailee is Kay Francis. He's the old vaudeville partner who tried to lower her curtains, if you know what I mean. She's married to a rich guy who doesn't know about her past, and Owsley's being all Monroe Owsley-ish about it, talking blackmail and such. So Francis goes to Cuba for a quickie divorce from Owsley. Her rich husband doesn't know what's going on, and thinks Francis is being unfaithful to him, so he hires detective George Brent to follow her. In the climax, they all meet in Francis's hotel room:

Fortunately, Owsley has the decency to fall off the side of the hotel and get killed, thereby ridding Francis of her problem.

In "Ten Cents a Dance," a 1931 film directed by Lionel Barrymore (!), Owsley is another kind of problem entirely. He's Eddie, a mild-mannered sort who lives in the same apartment building as taxi dancer Barbara (Barbara Stanwyck). She feels sorry for Eddie and takes him under her wing, but she has another admirer -- decent rich guy Bradley Carlton (Ricardo Cortez). He gives her $100 just to talk to her, and when she finds that Eddie is about to be evicted, she gives him the c-note. This is how we know she is extremely decent, and he is a needy schmoe.

Barbara ends up marrying Eddie, who in turn ends up being selfish, neglectful and snobbish -- he's like a member of the one percent without any money:

Actually, he does have money, but only because he embezzled it from his boss, who happens to be RICARDO CORTEZ. Stanwyck goes to Cortez to ask for a loan to keep Owsley out of jail, and he gives it to her, and instead of being grateful, Owsley ... well, you can guess. Owsley just disappears at the end of this one instead of falling off the side of a building, and that's too bad.

For full credits for "The Keyhole," click here. For full credits for "Ten Cents a Dance," click here.


  1. Where have you been all my life?! I loved your post! It was most awesome. I look forward to playing catch-up with all that I've been missing around these parts. (I'm going to have to do some research on Monroe Owsley -- I had no idea he died so young.) Great stuff.

  2. Hi, Karen -- Thanks so much for visiting! I invite you to wander around the archives. I'm proud to say that my next post will be my 100th -- not bad for a guy whose other blog attempts have withered up and turned into internet tumbleweeds. Don't be a stranger!

  3. P.S. Hadn't realized you aren't on my blog roll. I'll add you at once!