Man of the World (1931)

After a scandal, reporter Michael Trevor (William Powell) left America for Paris where he claims to be writing a novel. Ha! His income actually comes from blackmailing like Mary Kendell’s (Carole Lombard’s) rich Uncle Harry. Though it’s not his custom to prey upon women, Michael’s partner in crime and former lover Irene convinces him to black mail sweet Mary. She’s sure he’ll make so much he’ll be able to afford to have the time to write a novel.

Soon Michael falls for Mary’s charms, but Irene is expecting a windfall. How can he put an end to this con? He’d like to propose to Mary but how can he without revealing what he’s really been up to? Mary’s dilemma is that she’s already engaged. Her feelings grow for Michael and she vacillates between writing her fiancé a Dear John letter or not.

Man of the World, like the other Carole Lombard films I’ve seen, is fine, light entertainment. Michael’s blackmailing isn’t charming, but we like Powell enough to overlook that but only a little. Lombard is elegant and her wardrobe sublime. Yet she had little history. What we see of Mary is superficial until the end. Clearly, they don’t know each other well enough to know whether their feelings will last beyond a holiday romance, but the film does show Michael struggle morally and the ending was realistic, not what I’d expect today. I thought the ending more satisfying than the usual Happily Ever After ones.

Hands Across the Table (1935)

Lombard and McMurray

In Hands Across the Table Carole Lombard plays manicurist Regi who’s sworn off love and plans to marry for money. A wealthy customer, Allen Macklyn, who’s confined to a wheelchair, gets Regi to open up. He soon falls for her; he sees the light and strength under the rough exterior. They soon become friends, though Allen hopes for more.

Into Regi’s life hops scion Theodore Drew III who’s playing hopscotch in the hotel where Regi works. Theodore’s smitten when he meets her, but Regi thinks he’s a nincompoop.  She saw him playing hopscotch by himself in the hotel hallway. Theodore goes to the barbershop for a manicure so that he can ask Regi out to dinner. She’s uninterested until she realizes he’s wealthy. Then she becomes so nervous that she cuts or jabs each of his fingers. They do go out and Theodore wines and dines Regi, who’s soon charmed. It isn’t till the wee hours when Theodore’s taking her home that he mentions that he’s getting married. She’s stunned and heartbroken. 

Nonetheless Theodore doesn’t see why Regi’s upset. Can’t things continue in spite of the wedding? After all he’s only marrying for money. It turns out his family’s lost its fortune and as Theodore has no ability to work and earn it, he must marry. Circumstances, flimsy ones, keep Theodore with Regi, who continues to fall for this cad. Meanwhile, Allen decides to propose to Regi. This sterling fellow would surely make Regi a wonderful husband if she can accept his disability.

Hands Across the Table was full of surprises. It was bold to show Theodore as a scoundrel from the start. Lombard was witty, beautiful and down-to-earth. Few actresses today can be both elegant and “of the people” as she was. Fred McMurray played Theodore, who was convincing as the fun guy with the mind of a child, a real Peter Pan. His character had one fact so I don’t fault him for not adding sophistication to this playboy.

While I hoped for a different ending, the film was fun and plot fairly original. It’s a good choice when you’re looking for light entertainment.

We’re Not Dressing (1934)

Trailer

Light and entertaining, We’re Not Dressing stars Carole Lombard and Bing Crosby. I can’t improve upon the IMDB storyline so here it is:

Beautiful high society type Doris Worthington is entertaining guests on her yacht in the Pacific when it hits a reef and sinks. She makes her way to an island with the help of singing sailor Stephen Jones. Her friend Edith, Uncle Hubert, and Princes Michael and Alexander make it to the same island but all prove to be useless in the art of survival. The sailor is the only one with the practical knowhow to survive but Doris and the others snub his leadership offer. That is until he starts a clam bake and wafts the fumes in their starving faces. The group gradually gives into his leadership, the only question now is if Doris will give into his charms.

“We’re Not Dressing.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0025965/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_20 on September 24, 2020

We’re not Dressing is a fun, though far-fetched love at first sight movie with some tunes like “Stormy Weather,” a heiress’ pet bear ad schtick from George Burns and Gracie Allen. It’s a fun romp that does have a twist at the end just when you think true love will prevail without another dark cloud.

My Man Godfrey

The 1936 screwball comedy My Man Godfrey is witty, but I’m not so sure about this romance.

William Powell stars as Godfrey, a down-on-his-luck fellow who’s fallen financially and is living on a city ash heap, which reminded me of the ash land in The Great Gatsby. One night socialite Irene, played by Carole Lombard, rescues Godfrey from the ash heap. To help Irene win her bizarre scavenger hunt, Godfrey agrees to allow her to use him as a “forgotten man,” the last item on her team’s list. Her exclusive club has its members who’re dripping in diamonds running about the city collecting goats, bird cages, flower carts, Japanese goldfish and a “forgotten men.” These crash elites treat people as objects and Godfrey plays along out of curiosity to see how horrible these people can be.

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Though ditzy, Irene isn’t half bad. She soon decides to hire Godfrey as the family butler. She doesn’t realize how she’s still objectifying him but there’s something wise about Godfrey. He realizes what’s going on and how clueless Irene is, but he’s willing to play along because he doesn’t romanticize poverty to the degree that he thinks sleeping in the ash heap is more honorable than sleeping in a clean, heated bedroom.

From day one the family’s clever maid sets Godfrey straight. The family is bananas. The mother is a souse, ruled by her caprice. The oldest daughter is a mean snob who plots to get Godrey arrested. A human bank, the father is ineffective, long suffering, tuned out like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Finally, the mother’s protege is a human eating machine who’s willing to be a toy for the mother in exchange for a free ride.

Irene becomes smitten with Godfrey and won’t take no for an answer no matter how much Godfrey tries to set boundaries. Though all the other butlers were quickly fired or quit in a huff, Godfrey hangs in there. Yet a house party, Godfrey’s true identity is revealed when one of his former Harvard classmates recognizes him. His nemesis Irene’s sister Caroline is intrigued and starts to follow Godfrey around town.

I can’t say My Man Godfrey will become a favorite. While I appreciated the insights and depiction of people who fell in status during the Depression, the two sisters were immature and catty. That’s no surprise because the mother also was an overgrown child.

Screwball comedies are supposed to be silly and over the top. In this regard, the film is a success. I am glad I saw it, but the end didn’t win me over. Perhaps if Irene changed more, perhaps I’d think better.

Spoiler

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Made for Each Other

made for each other
With Carole Lombard and Jimmy Stewart, Made for Each other has been described as the “serious side of the screwball comedy.” I saw it on YouTube for the MOOC I’m taking on Marriage and Movies. We’re only in week 2 so if you’re interested, sigh up.

Young attorney, John Mason (Stewart) meets Jane (Lombard) by chance on a business trip to Boston. He surprises everyone by returning to New York with a new wife. Most surprised of all is his mother, with whom he lives (which wasn’t as unusual as it is today). Both the mother and John’s boss, a crotchety, hard of hearing lawyer played by Charles Coburn (later known as Uncle Joe on Pettycoat Junction) think such haste is insanity, yet both Jane and John are so sensible and good looking that the audience buys their union. Surely, love will prevail. Or will it

The only problem I had with the film was the continual use of “the baby” rather than the child’s name, Johnny. It’s a bit of a deus ex machina ending, but I bought it.

Yet as the first years of their marriage progress, life hits them hard. John is passed over at work and money is tight, extremely tight after their baby is born. John’s mother and wife bicker as they share a small apartment. Everyone seems to be pulled to the brink and despite their sensibility and earnest attempts to persevere, the marriage is in jeopardy.

Made for Each Other held my interest because it was so original, so different from the screwball fare of couples meeting and bickering until they make it to the altar. It’s a rare look at what happens after people say, “I do.”