Friday, March 7, 2014

Ms. (Joan) Bennett Goes Home to Mother

The Housekeeper's Daughter (1939) is a light little comedy that is quite funny.  Hilda (Joan Bennett) has been "working" for Floyd (Marc Lawrence) as his moll and his shill.  She's sick of it, and decides to leave him, returning to the home where her mother, Olga (Peggy Wood) works as housekeeper.  There should be plenty of room in the house, as the family is about to go on vacation.  However, the son and heir, Robert Randall (John Hubbard) decides to stay behind.  He has ambitions to become an crime reporter, and, encouraged by Hilda, he heads to the newspaper office, where he offers his services to Editor Wilson (Donald Meek).  Reporters Deakon Maxwell (Adolph Menjou) and Ed O'Malley (William Gargan) are covering the murder of Gladys Fontaine (Lilian Bond). Randall, in a druken stupor (Deak and Ed have gotten him drunk) is told by Benny - the actual murderer, more on him later - that Glady's dead body was thrown off a house boat.  When that hits the papers, Robert becomes a hero - and the target of Floyd's ranker. 

This flick has a little bit of everything - romance, suspense, mystery, and random silliness.  And while a couple of scenes became tiresome (Deak and Ed on the roof of the Randall house throwing fireworks at each other got ridiculous after a few minutes), mostly this is a fun picture that keeps your attention.  Especially funny were two interactions towards the end of the film between Mrs. Randall (Leila McIntyre) and Editor Wood.  Mrs. Randall's particularly deadpan response to the chaos around her was an absolute riot.

We promised more information on the character of Little Benny.  As portrayed by George E. Stone, you know almost immediately that there is something not quite right about Benny.  Regardless, the women in the film, our victim Gladys Fontaine and Hilda, both seem to find him cute, and both agree to be "his girl".  For Gladys, that promise spells her doom when Benny, who is a master at making poisoned coffee, inadvertently kills Gladys when Benny prepares his deadly potion, intending it for Floyd (who Benny sees as a danger to Gladys).  Stone manages to give Benny a spooky, but also rather cute, demeanor. 

The film has a number of rather appealing actors. Adolphe Menjou is particularly appealing, not the least because it is the older woman, Olga, who captures his heart.  He spends most of the film getting into trouble with a twinkle in his eye.  Also present in the film (he's listed WAY down in the credits) is Victor Mature as Lefty, one of Floyd's gang members.  He's probably the only member of the gang who is likeable, because he is the only one who seems to care about Hilda.

On the other hand, we found John Hubbard  (Robert Randall) to be a rather banal actor.  It turns out we've all seen him on TV and none of us recall him; in fact, I had JUST seen him on an episode of Maverick, and could NOT remember who he was.. Unfortunately, with so many strong character actors, Hubbard just fades into the background.

Joan Bennett is quite lovely.  Her Hilda is strong and attractive, both physically and emotionally.  She is a good influence on Robert Randall, trying to encourage him to follow his dream.  She is kind to Benny, and a loving daughter.  Her biggest fault, of course, is that she lies to her mother and to Robert about her prior "employment".  Bennett had a very long career.  Beginning in the silent era (1916), she worked until 1982. Among her notable films are the 1933 Little Women, Scarlet Street, Woman in the Window,  and Father of the Bride.  As her career started to wane, she became a regular on a soap opera, entitled Dark Shadows, which brought her new fame.  "I feel positively like a Beatle." she is reported to have said about the reactions to Dark Shadows.  She died at aged 80 in 1990. 

A quick note about Lilian Bond, the lovely actress who played our murder victim.  She was, it seems, photographed in the nude by Alfred Cheney Johnston, a photographer who specialized in nudes, and was the photographer for the Ziegfeld Follies (Bond was in both the Follies Earl Carroll's Vanities).  She had a fairly long career - from 1929 until 1958. 
One notable appearance - a tribute to her beauty - is as Lily Langtry, the object "Judge" Roy Bean's adoration in The Westerner.  She died in 1991, at the age of 83.

We leave you with a brief snippet from the film, in which Hilda meets John for the first time.