Plot: The circulation numbers for a once popular fitness magazine have dropped, but while the flagging numbers are a concern, there is a plan to revive the profile and raise the subscription rates once again. The magazine’s new owners plan to sign some well known Olympic athletes to promote the publication and appear in various articles, to give the magazine some authentic presence. But while the athletes will likely spike sales a little, the real plan is to use the wholesome image of the athletes to ensure the issues pass the censors, while various skimpy photos and scandalous articles inside will be the real drive to success. But how long can the owners keep the true intent hidden from the earnest athletes and what will happen to the magazine when the truth comes out, revealing the true nature of their plan?
Entertainment Value: This pre-code drama has some risque elements, including some sex talk and naked asses, but I just wasn’t that drawn into this one. The narrative is fine and has a clear direction, with that eternal struggle between morals and financial gain as the central focus. The movie runs under 80 minutes, but it felt much longer and to me, was drawn out and rather slow at times. The slow pace doesn’t lead to more depth or development however, as the characters remain rather one dimensional and the moral issues aren’t given a deep look. That said, while the movie didn’t have me glued to the screen, Search for Beauty has some bright spots and when the cast is just turned loose, it can be a fun watch. I also appreciated the bolder moments involved, even if the movie isn’t willing to pursue that approach in full. In the end, I am glad I checked out Search for Beauty, but I just didn’t connect with this one and with so many interesting pre-code classics out there, it just doesn’t stand out.
The movie seemed to work best for me when the characters drove the narrative, rather than the other way around, thanks to a rock solid ensemble of performers. Buster Crabbe is a natural as the fitness enthusiast of course, while he and Ida Lupino handle the moral high ground well overall. These aren’t the most fun characters to have around, but the performances are good. I also think there’s some entertainment with these two, as Don and Barbara are so earnest, it leads to some laughs. The real good times come from the less ethical characters of course, who provide the film’s spice and most of the more memorable moments. Gertrude Michael, James Gleason, and Robert Armstrong bring those folks to life and provide some terrific exchanges. The banter between the idealistic characters and our business minded villains is one of the best parts of Search of Beauty, especially when the drama is dialed up a little.