Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) Alfred Hitchcock

This review is part of the Carole Lombard Blogathon being hosted by Carole and Co.

The name Alfred Hitchcock on the movie screen evokes the notion of suspense or a thriller, even horror; some sort of on the edge of your seat nail biter for sure. Certainly, the name Alfred Hitchcock does not bring to mind the words ‘screwball comedy.’ Therefore, in 1941 when RKO released “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and the credits rolled on to the screen with the words “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock,” many theatergoers may have been surprised  by what they were about to see or even confused, then again, they may have been thrilled once they realized they were about to watch a delightful, charming, if not totally successful, battle of the sexes played by two of the finest and most attractive performers for this kind of film.

The plot is kind of farfetched to say the least, David and Ann Smith find out after three years of blissful marital battle they are not married due to a legal snafu. The Smith’s are a sophisticated couple who like to play conjugal mind games, one of which is locking themselves up in their bedroom for days. What goes on in the bedroom for three days? Well, their entire household staff is just as interested to know as we are, one gets the feeling the activities are sexual as well as combative, but it comes to a halt when a messenger from David’s Park Avenue law firm arrives at the apartment with some papers to be signed demanding to be taken to their room. Before David leaves, the couple embrace and reaffirm their promise to never leave the bedroom mad. Still there is tension in the air, especially when Ann asks the all important question, “If you had to do it over again, would you marry me?” David’s response is an honest but problem making, “no.”

Life only gets more complicated when the couple discover their marriage was never official due to some geographical mix up with the license at the time. Ann waits for David to propose, a proposal David is reluctant to put forward. Feisty Ann tosses David out of the house, quickly changing her name from Smith to Krausheimer and Ann begins dating David’s law partner, Jefferson Custer (Gene Raymond). Continue reading

Advertisements

Nothing Sacred (1937) William Wellman

I always thought “His Girl Friday” was one of the most acidic screwball comedies to ever hit the screen until I watched “Nothing Sacred.” The cup runneth over in this sharply written film and it isn’t with love. For this you can thank Ben Hecht who co-wrote the original source material for the prior film, the Broadway hit, “The Front Page” and was the only credited writer for the latter (Producer David O’Selznick handed Hecht’s script over to George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, Dorothy Parker and Ring Lardner Jr. among others. Despite all these other hands in the pot, Hecht’s sour look remained intact). Hecht may be more the auteur of these two films than either of the two directors. Both are driven by aggressive, cynical newspaper reporters who will exploit and outright lie to sell newspapers and make a buck for themselves. If anything stops “Nothing Sacred” from being a full blown masterpiece of prickly comedy, it has to do with two components. The first, the part of Wally Cook, the cynical newspaper reporter screams out for Cary Grant. Instead, here we have Fredric March. Now, it’s not that March is bad, he’s not. He just seems like he is wound up a little bit too tight for the role. He cannot let himself let loose like Grant would have. The second factor is the treatment of the film’s black characters which I will get into in more detail a little further on.

For Ben Hecht, it not just the newspaper reporters who are nasty, evil and corrupt, it’s the entire cast! Carol Lombard’s Hazel Flagg is an unscrupulous liar willing to carry on a charade just so she can get out of her hick New England town and visit New York City. The folks from Warsaw Vermont, Hazel’s small hometown are monosyllable, unwelcoming and suspicious of outsiders. Even the kids are nasty; one youngster (Billy Barty) bites Wally on his leg while others pelt him with stones after he arrives in town inquiring about the unfortunate Hazel Flagg.

I should talk a little about the plot before going any further. As I said, Lombard plays Hazel Flagg, a small town girl from Warsaw, Vermont, where people don’t take kindly to strangers, especially slick New York City newspaper reporters. Factory worker Hazel was misdiagnosed by her doctor (Charles Winninger) who informed her she was going to die due to exposure from radiation poisoning at the factory. Her fellow co-workers collected $200 dollars to send Hazel on her dream trip to see New York before she dies. However, just before she is about to leave, she receives even worst news from her doctor. You see, he made a mistake, she’s going to live! Upset, she cries out “It’s kind of startling to be brought to life twice…and both times in Warsaw!” Continue reading

No Man of Her Own (1932) Wesley Ruggles

no_man_of_her_own_LC

Do not confuse this film with the 1950 Barbara Stanwyck film noir  “No Man of Her Own” directed by Mitchell Leisen. This 1932 release directed by Wesley Ruggles was the only celluloid pairing of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. (Technically, Gable and Lombard were in two other films, either in small roles or as extras. Both were silent films and both from 1925, “The Plastic Age” directed by Wesley Ruggles and “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, directed by Fred Niblo).

Made for Paramount, Gable on loan from MGM, the film is a light comedy-drama about a con man named Babe Stewart (Clark Gable) who needs to escape from the big city (New York) to a small town until things cool off with the law. While there, he meets a local librarian, a young and beautiful woman named Connie (Carole Lombard) who is board with the humdrum life of small town living and will do almost anything to  leave her dull surroundings. Babe spots her on the street and follows her to the library where she works, though Babe does not seem the type to frequent libraries. Babe pursues the attractive librarian, and Connie is willing to be caught despite a mother (Elizabeth Patterson) who keeps her on a short leash.

No Man of Her Own- Librry scence     On a flip a coin, Connie gambles not only her virtue but also her future. They get married and go back to New York where Babe plans to continue on his career as a con artist. They move into Babe’s luxurious depression free apartment. Connie, unaware of Babe’s real and illegal profession, believes he is working as a broker on Wall Street. With the move to the big city, the audacious Connie suddenly switches gears and goes from an adventurous young woman to spending the remainder of the film trying to reform Babe to the straight and narrow. When she discovers a pair of marked cards belonging to her husband, she realizes that he has been lying about his career and arranges the deck so Babe will lose. Upset with her chicanery, Babe at first wants to give her a couple of thousand and send her back to her mother. Then he decides to go to Rio de Janeiro with his partners to do some big time gambling, however realizing he loves her, he instead arranges to get himself arrested for a ninety-day jail-term. This so he can square himself with the law, while Connie living with her mother during this time, believes he is in South America. Of course, it all ends happily for the couple in the Hollywood tradition.

No Man of her own- publicity shot   Released at the end of 1932, this pre-code film is loaded with smart bright dialogue and racy pre-code scenes. We see both Lombard and Gable in separate showers scenes and we watch Lombard strip down to a bra and Victoria Secret style undergarments, running back and forth across a room when Gable unexpectedly knocks on her cabin’s front door. We then see her put on a pair of lounging pajamas, but not before the filmmakers make sure we know she is removing her bra. The most famous risqué scene in the film takes place earlier in the library when they first meet when Gable purposely request a book located high up on the top shelf. Lombard has to climb a latter and lean over just enough and at the correct level for Gable to admire her shapely legs. Today, this scene is not very provocative but at the time, it seemed to irritate the guardians of decency and became a symbol in the fight for cleanup of movies.

No Man of Her Owncarole-Gable still_03 There is quite a bit of sophisticated dialogue throughout the film, for example, early on Kay (Dorothy Mackaill), one of Babe’s partners and his mistress tells Charlie (Grant Mitchell) another cohort in the scheme that “next time you play my uncle, cut out those wet kisses.”  Later on Connie says “The girl who lands him will say no and put an anchor on it…But isn’t it tough when all you can think of is yes?”

Both lead characters are allowed to be adult and mature, unlike in most of today’s romantic comedies where the characters, male and female, seem to thrive on infantile behavior.

No Man of Her Own Gable, Lombard, MacKaillnormal_1 The rapport between Gable and Lombard is easily apparent. Both are young and extremely attractive, however they were not romantically involved off screen for a couple of years yet. On screen, their scenes sizzle. Just check how they look at each other in their love scenes. Gable was still married to Ria and heavily involved in an affair with Joan Crawford. In fact, one of the reasons, MGM lent Gable to Paramount was to get him away from Crawford in hopes of cooling off the romance. Lombard, at the time, was still married to the seventeen year older William Powell. At this point, Gable thought Lombard’s well-known salty tongue was a bit much, though later on he would say proudly that she could out curse any man he knew. Lombard’s feelings toward Gable at this point are best surmised by her parting gift after the shoot was over, a ham with a photo of him on it.  Various biographers tell the story that politically Lombard and Gable were at opposite poles, maybe. Lombard was a stanch Roosevelt democrat who hated Herbert Hoover and use to say so loud and clear. Gable, one day, came on the set wearing a Hoover button, which Lombard proceeded to rip off him and said, “You can shove this up Louis B. Mayor’s ass!” Mayor, an unwavering Republican insisted that his stable of stars all vote Republican. It’s not known for sure how Gable voted.

normal_caroleclark2    Before Gable was secured for the picture (in a trade that involved Bing Crosby going to MGM to co-star in a film with Marion Davies) George Raft was considered for the role of Babe. Miriam Hopkins was originally scheduled for the role of Connie but was upset about Gable getting top billing and refused to do the film. The supporting cast consists of Dorothy Mackaill, as Babe’s mistress Kay who he unceremoniously dumps early in the film, Grant Mitchell as Charlie, one of Babe’s “gang”, George Barbier and Elizabeth Patterson as Connie’s parents.

Gable’s name is the only one that appears above the title. Lombard, still a rising star and Dorothy MacKaill share second and third billing below the title. While Lombard was yet to reach the height of her star power, during the filming, Paramount was making a big fuss over her to Gable’s dismay. He considered her a bit of a prima-donna and gave a pair of ballerina slippers as a parting gift.

No mn of her onwnormal_carole-lombard-gable-ham The film seems to be sometimes mislabeled as a screwball comedy however, after watching it there is little to support that label. Screwball comedies usually contain farcical elements, fast-talking dialogue, and slapstick humor. Generally, the couples are mismatched and continually battle each other, none of which applies in to his film.  It is also generally considered that screwball comedy did not come to prominence until 1934 with Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night.”  Finally, Screwball comedies actually came about largely because of the Production Code that came into effect in 1934 which ended much of the pre-code delights in this and many other early sound films.

While this is no great classic, the film is enjoyable, with some sharp dialogue and pleasant performances and the only chance to see Gable and Lombard together as lovers on film.

Sources:

Clark Gable: Tormented Star by David Brett

Clark Gable: A Biography by Warren G. Harris