Monday, January 25, 2010

Ms. Lombard Does Your Nails

This week's movie is Hands Across the Table, with Carole Lombard playing Regina "Regi" Allen, a manicurist who longs to marry up.  When she meets Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray) she thinks she has found the love of her life - he is funny, he is from an old family, she is instantly attracted to him. Only problem is, he has no money, no job, and no inclination to work.  Oh, and he also is planning to marry up - and in fact has found his "dream girl" - the wealthy Vivian Snowden (played by Astrid Allwyn).  When Ted gets drunk on a date with Regi, he misses a cruise ship to Bermuda. With no money, and unable to go home - since he is living with his finance's family, and they were the one's who sent him away - he rooms with Regi while he waits for his wedding day.

We were intrigued by this look into the past - a world were MEN are the ones getting the manicures, not women! It's pretty clear that Regi is working as a manicurist so that she will meet wealthy men.  And while we see several male clients in the shop (and on Regi's client list), we only see one woman (and she doesn't want a manicure). And while men still do get manicures, how many men do you see as you walk by the nail salon in your neighborhood?

Fred MacMurray is always an interesting actor to watch.  His career has been so varied, it is nice to be able to discuss him within the context of his entire body of work.  His early work (like this film) generally cast him as the romantic hero; sometimes serious (as in Alice Adams), sometimes goofy (like here). But then he segwayed into slick villain roles (like The Caine Mutiny and The Apartment). And finally, becoming the family's favorite father in a string of Disney movies and the long-running TV series My Three Sons. An amazing amount of excellent work, and a tribute to his versatility an actor! 

We have another male lead - Ralph Bellamy as Allen Macklyn, a flyer crippled in an accident.  The film opens with him hiring Regi to relieve his boredom and misery.  Regi brings a joy to his life that he has not known since his accident. And while Regi wants to marry a rich man, and Allen is QUITE wealthy, it never seems to occur to her that she should be pursuing Allen - who has become her best friend and confidante.  There's is a lovely relationship, and we quite liked Allen.  We wanted Allen to have a happy ending too, and we were mentally writing the sequel where Regi and Ted find a girl for Allen!

And finally, there is the every glorious Ms. Lombard.  There is no way you can dislike Regi. She is honest in her pursuit of a wealthy man, and she seems to want to love whomever she finds. Ultimately, love triumphs for our pair of opportunists.  And Ted WILL be learning to work for a living!  Here's a scene from the beginning of the film:

Next week, join us for Love Before Breakfast.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lombard and Stewart are "Made for Each Other"

Made for Each Other (1939) is a delightful little melodrama. Carole Lombard and James Stewart star as Jane and John Mason, a young couple who meet while he is on a brief business trip, fall in love, and marry, as they say, in haste.  Jane returns to John's New York City apartment, to find she has inherited a mother-in-law who is horrified that her son has passed up marriage to the boss' daughter for this precipitous union. Instead of winning a partnership in his law firm, John finds himself and his bride crammed into an apartment too small for his wife, mother, and new baby - the result of a salary cut that quickly plunges the new family into debt.  His frustration, the pain of his wife as she struggles to keep them together, and the travails that must face make us hope they are indeed "made for each other".

As with the film last week, we spent a lot of time discussing the character performances. Again, Charles Coburn shone.  His role this time is that of Judge Doolittle, the head of the law firm for which John Mason works.  At once humorous and infuriating, we watch this man, whom we originally think is an ogre, morph into a human being - and one we begin to love.  The same is true for Lucile Watson as John's mother.  The picture of the mother-in-law from hell, we wait for her to come through in a crisis, and she does.  The thing that is wonderful about their performances, is that we don't find either change out of character or unrealistic. Both Coburn and Watson are such pros that understand exactly why we see a change.  Here, the happy couple let Ms. Watson in on their future:
Finally, a word about Louis Beavers as the supportive maid, Lily.  Her warmth and affection for Jane, which Jane reciprocates, make for a lovely respite to all the troubles Jane faces.  The New Year's Eve scene where Lily visits as she is on her way to a party is delightful, and says so much about the goodness of this enchanting woman.  We discussed Ms. Beavers at some length, eventually touching on her 1934 turn as Delilah Johnson in Imitation of Life and as Gussie in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. A wonderful actress, she brought great strength of character to every role she played.
We'll be back soon with Ms. Lombard in Hands Across the Table.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Carole Loves Cary

We decided to keep looking at Carole Lombard's more serious movies, so we went what I suspect is her most melodramatic role - In Name Only (1939).  Carole plays Julie Eden, a widow,  supporting herself, her young daughter, and her sister, by working as a free-lance artist.  Chance meetings with Alec Walker (Cary Grant) result in attraction, until she discovers he is married.  But, she soon realizes that Alec's marriage to Maida (Kay Francis) is a marriage of convenience. Well, convenient for Maida anyway - she has his name, his money, and the love of his parents.  Alec tells Maida that he wants out to marry Julie, but she manages to stall any activity until Julie leaves him in despair.  And then, the movie gets complicated.

I'm a fan of Kay Francis. I love her lisp and her elegance, and she certainly is elegant here. She is also a total witch.  I think this is the only movie in which I've seen her that she is just SO nasty.  And to Cary Grant! Unthinkable!  But she is terrific.  We (the audience) know how terrible she is but she still has the charm and smarts to make everyone around her believe she is nearly a saint. 

We were pleased to see a very young Peggy Ann Garner as Julie daughter, Ellen. She is quite appealing. The scene in which she calls Alec to get him over the the house for Christmas is lovely.  Another delight was the always wonderful Charles Coburn as Alec's father.  We had just seen him in The Devil and Miss Jones, and were amazed to learn that he has not been in movies before the age of 60.  He contributes so much to every film in which he appears, one would think he had been doing it his entire life.

But let us not forget our romantic leads.  Carole Lombard and Cary Grant are a joy together.  Julie and Alec's love is simple and sweet. One can see Alec falling into the mode of father and husband, in a gentle, loving relationship.  Certainly, Julie is lovely. But unlike Maida, she is not elegant or part of the social elite.  The life Alec wants is what he didn't get with Maida - a simple home, a little girl pestering him to discover what her Christmas present is, and a wife who loves him for himself, not his family, position, or bankroll.

And for those of you who would like a glimpse of this gem, here is a small preview:

Join us again soon for our next Lombard movie: Made for Each Other.