Monday, September 28, 2015

Barbara Likes to Work

Barbara Stanwyck again plays a working woman reluctant to wed, though this time in a more comedic vein, in The Bride Walks Out (1936).  Stanwyck plays Carolyn, a successful model (she's earning $50 a week in the middle of the Great Depression), who is in love with would-be engineer Michael Martin (Gene Raymond).  Michael wants to marry immediately - and wants a stay-at-home wife to live on his $35 a week salary.  He doesn't care that Carolyn loves working and appreciates the independence and the luxuries her job allows her.  And while she is, at first determined to stay single, her love for Michael wins out, and she reluctantly marries him.  Within a few months, she discovers that, even with scrimping, she is unable to make ends meet: they owe the grocer and their landlord, and cannot make the payments on the apartment full of furniture Michael bought on credit.  Add to that, Carolyn just can't cook.

The biggest problem with this film is that you wonder why is Caroline so in love with Michael.  He's supposed to be intelligent - he has an engineer degree, but he hasn't enough common sense to spread on a cracker.  He has no clue of what things cost; he buys new furniture that he cannot afford, when Carolyn has perfectly good furniture from her apartment.  And WHY is he so unwilling to let her work?  They could be socking away some money for a nice home, and to finance his professional ambitions before they have children.  He claims that this is just the way it is in his family, but we never meet his family.  (We wondered if seeing his family would have given us more insight into him). Besides - it's still the Depression - any income in this period is good income.
Gene Raymond plays Michael as someone who lives in the moment and cannot look forward to the future, either financially or emotionally.  He marries Carolyn hoping to change her.   He ignores their finances and the debts he has incurred, yet over her objections, squanders $50 on a party.  Yes, she is hiding some of the financial woes from him, but he isn't looking either.  And when money starts to magically appear, it never occurs to him that their sudden financial security is not possible on his salary.  He wasn't able to save very much when he lived alone on his salary, how he intends to support and save for two with only one person working is unbelievable.

We need a triangle, so early on the film introduces Robert Young as Hugh McKenzie, a wealthy ne'er-do-well, who meets Carolyn and Michael in court, and falls head over heels for the new bride.   As portrayed by Young, Hugh is the only character who grows within the course of the film - he begins as an incorrigible drunk, but with Carolyn's help, he matures into an unselfish individual who wants only what is best for Carolyn.  

As an actor, Young had a remarkable and long career (he was, in fact, on loan from MGM for this role.  See this brief article at the AFI database). His career started with a role in a short film in 1928 (uncredited), but he quickly had a nice role in The Sin of Madelon Claudet as Helen Hayes' adult son.  He worked steadily throughout the 1930s and 1940s, appearing in such films as Journey for Margaret (1942), The Shining Hour (1938), The Enchanted Cottage (1945), and Crossfire (1948).  As work in films disappeared in the 1950s, Young segued rather seamlessly to television, first as the titular head of the family in Father Knows Best (1954-1960) and then as the kindly general practitioner in Marcus Welby, MD (1969-1976).  He was married to Betty Henderson for 61 years, and they had four daughters; however, Young's private life was a troubled one. He battled alcoholism and depression for much of it, even to the point of attempting suicide in 1991.  He recovered, and spent much of his later years encouraging those likewise afflicted to seek help. He died of respiratory failure in 1999, five year after wife Betty's death.  The Robert Young Center in Illinois is named in his honor, for the work he did in campaigning for the passage of 708 Illinois Tax Referendum (which created a financial base for the support of a mental health board)
Also notable in the cast are Ned Sparks (Paul Dodson), Helen Broderick (Mattie Dodson), and Hattie McDaniel (Mamie); as well as a brief visit from the wonderful Charles Lane (as a Judge)!  Precursors of the Bickersons, Paul and Mattie spend most of the film sniping at one another, but they prove to be the perfect foils for Carolyn and Michael, as the Dodsons truly love one another without any desire to change the other person. We have a similar situation with Mamie - like Mattie, she cannot understand this man who is forcing his wife to live on a pittance anc be miserable.  Ms. McDaniel, as always, makes Mamie quite feisty and humorous.

Since I first saw her in Top Hat, I've been a fan of Ms. Broderick, who can deliver a bon mot with the best of them.  She appeared in 37 films, from silent shorts to talkies (though she is someone that it's hard to envision silent) and 15 Broadway plays (from 1907 to 1934), notably in The Band Wagon (with Fred Astaire).  Her lengthy marriage to Lester Crawford produced one child - her son, Broderick (the Oscar winning star of All the King's Men).  She had retired from the screen by 1946; she died in 1959 at the age of 68.

One thing we found an interesting counterpoint in the film was the wedding scene of Carolyn and Michael.  As we watch them try to get married, we see another couple in which the husband is nervous and uncomfortable - his mirror is Carolyn.  She is the one is reluctant, who doesn't appreciate the rushed ugliness and irresponsibility of a marriage that has to be hurried, so her husband can return to work.  It made me think of a similar scene in Woman of the Year, where Katharine Hepburn's Tess doesn't listen to the marriage service, and so has no understanding of the responsibilities she is taking on.  Michael similarly will not listen to the service.  The question is - will he ever listen to anyone?

It's intriguing that, in this New York Times review, the reviewer not only didn't like the film, he thought that Michael and Carolyn's marriage was doomed. And unless Carolyn can work another miracle on Michael like the one she worked on Hugh, we thought the reviewer was probably right.  Other reviews, according to this TCM article were acceptable, and the film did well, probably because of Stanwyck and Broderick.  

We'll close with this scene in which Carolyn and Michael meet at her place of work.  It's an interesting look at a couple who aren't exactly on the same wave length.  Next time, another film about marriage, this time from the 1950s. 

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