Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Joan B.'s on the Switchboard

I've Got Your Number (1934) is a film about the telephone: repairing them, using them, working with them.  It opens with a fascinating examination of the importance of the telephone in the 1930s - surely dated, but so enlightening.  In an age where we carry our phones with us, to see the phone being demonstrated as a new technology for both good and ill is a revelation.  As a native New Yorker, I also enjoyed the references to the old exchanges that, back in the day, told you the location of the phone (Nowadays, we carry our numbers with us, no matter where we live!)  

The story is a simple one.  Hotel switchboard operator Marie Lawson (Joan Blondell) inadvertently provides information to gangster Nicky (Gordon Westcott) that results in a financial loss for a guest.  Marie is forced to resign when telephone repair man Terry Reilly (Pat O'Brien) determines the security breech was human rather than machine.  Terry assists Marie in finding a new job.  Only problem is, Nicky is planning to use Marie's new position in a financial office to steal some some securities.  

The film is a tad silly, but it is amusing.  Terry and partner Johnny (Allen Jenkins) make telephone repair look like the most fun job in the world.  And while we have some really great actors, the script doesn't give them a whole lot of time to flesh out their characters.  Terry does a complete about-face when he meets Marie - going from roué to devoted suitor in about ten seconds,though O'Brien does a really good job at making the switch believable.  And Blondell's  Marie come across as very naive.  How can she not know that Nicky is a snake, especially after the incident at her first job?  She's awfully trusting of a man she doesn't seem to like all that much, yet she is obviously, from her banter with O'Brien, very careful of her appearance with men.
Wonderful supporting actors abound:  We've already mentioned Allen Jenkins, who is, as always, a hoot.  We also have Glenda Farrell as Bonnie, aka Madame Frances, a would-be psychic, who's not very good at it and Louise Beavers as her assistant.  And the always wonderful Eugene Pallette as Terry's often frustrated boss, Joe Flood gives a fantastic performance as a man who wants to throttle the devil-may-care Terry, but, when the chips are down, is the first one to come to his defense.  

We were not very familiar with Gordon Wescott.  He made 34 films between 1931 and 1935, but died at the age of 32 from injuries sustained while playing polo. Another interesting bit of trivia - the last scene shows Blondell in bed.  Well, she really WAS confined to her bed - she had just had emergency surgery, and the studio did the scene in Blondell's own bedroom!  The book, Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes states that the emergency was actually the result of a botched abortion.

Released in January of 1934, this film just makes it into the pre-code era, and, as a result, it is quite risque - there is much double entendre.  And the scene in which Terry lounges on a couch with Bonnie really needs no explanations.

Orry-Kelly does the film's costumes, and Joan Blondell has some wonderful dresses that no switchboard operator could afford.   The dress with a fur collar is especially attractive.
Before we go, here is a trailer from the film:

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