La Dolce Screwball

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Show Must Go On!

I promise!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Born to Be Bad

I've been pretty terrible about maintaining this blog. Even worse at listing the old movies I've watched. Somehow I like jumping into other discussions on classic hollywood but not instigating my own. But I'll remedy the situation soon.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Day-Time Wife (1939)

Day-Time Wife (1939) - starring Linda Darnell, Tyrone Power, Warren William, Binnie Barnes, Wendy Barrie; Dir. Gregory Ratoff; Wri. Rex Taylor (story) and Art Arthur.

For a screwball at the tail end of the 1930s, Day-Time Wife has less in common with the movies frequently associated with the film genre, and more in common with one of those frothy and bubbly 1960s Doris Day battle-of-the-sexes comedies: which isn't a bad thing because the movie is at once way ahead of its time and of its time.

The movie opens with a scene now considered typical of married couples on-screen: the husband has forgotten his wedding anniversary. The lovely Jane Norton (Darnell) climbs from her twin bed with pleasure and anticipation of the day and kisses her handsome husband Ken Norton (Power) awake--and he promptly buries his head under the covers. When he does get out of bed, Ken occupies himself with preparing for work instead of sweeping Jane off her feet in celebration. She employs a few ingenious tricks to get his attention, but to no avail. He rushes off to work with nary a mention of their anniversary, and Jane is left alone.

A few frames later Jane and her best friend, the multiple divorcee Blanche (Barnes), are tippling champagne at the Norton's anniversary party--to which Ken had yet to appear. Jane laughs off inquiries about her husband's whereabouts, and after she receives a telephone call from his secretary crying off, the inebriated guests get up the idea to go visit Ken at his offices. Typically, Jane is in for a surprise, as Ken is not there and has not been all day. The guests slink away to a nightclub, and Blanche takes the wheel by snooping through the desk of Ken's secretary. Jane is sweet and trusting and refuses to heed any of Blanche's insinuations--until they discover a bottle of very expensive perfume called Foolish Night in Miss Frazier's (Barrie) desk.

Jane still refuses to believe Ken could be up to no good with his secretary. She goes home and awaits the return of her husband into the wee hours of the night. Ken sneaks into the house pretty late, dressed to the nines and attempts to slide into the bathroom to change when he realizes that Jane--who, reading in bed, only turned off the light when she heard Ken enter the apartment--is still awake. Still trusting and optimistic, Jane believes Ken didn't forget their anniversary when she catches sight of a package poking out of Ken's jacket pocket! But alas, the package only contains cigars. Jane laughs. Ken laughs. He promises to get her a present the next day, but when he embraces her, Jane smells Foolish Night on his collar.

Jane extracts her revenge in one of the many hilarious scenes contained in this movie. Let's just say that a guilty conscience always reveals itself. Her suspicions confirmed, Jane does not throw Ken out of the house and demand a divorce with huge alimony as we see today. No indeed, she is determined to save her marriage and to figure out why men cheat with their secretaries. Jane's speech about the philandering of a husband lying with the wife's inability to keep his attention may rankle this post-feminist world, but there is a grain of truth in the matter which long-married couples do admit to.

In order to find out what hold secretaries have over their married bosses, Jane of course applies for a secretarial position. She finds it with Barney Dexter, portrayed by the always lovably lecherous Warren William. Dexter is an out and out cad, which, for Jane's experiment is perfect. Complicating matters however, is Dexter's tentative business arrangement with Ken Norton, forcing Jane to scuttle for cover whenever her husband shows up to talk shop with her boss. Along the way, Jane happens to learn a number of interesting reasons why married men go with their secretaries (how intriguing that a 1939 script would reveal how men get off on having an edge over a woman), and manages to turn the tables completely on Ken in one of the neatest tricks ever played on a man. Tyrone Power transmitts the misery of a trapped husband perfectly, while the adorable Linda Darnell is magnificent in her power.

This being 1939 of course Ken and Jane reunite. And while I do feel Jane capitulated a bit too easily to Ken, I found Day-Time Wife to be a shockingly progressive film. It ultimately ended up being less a screwball comedy/comedy of remarriage and more of a critique on marriage. The biggest element that elevates the movie is that Linda Darnell was only 16 during the filming of Day-Time Wife, which was her second for 20th Century Fox. Power himself was only ten years her senior, but both were marvelous, natural actors. And it didn't hurt that both were blindingly attractive. 1939 was a great year for films, of which Day-Time Wife is at the top, IMO.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

East Living (1937)

Easy Living (1937) - Starring Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland, Franklin Pangborn, and Luis Alberni; Dir. Mitchell Leisen; Wri. Preston Sturges.

This little gem is when I discovered "screwball comedy." Oh, I'd watched and fallen in love with Bringing Up Baby (1938) long before, but I saw it as a "Cary Grant" film, and while I'd become acquainted with the divine Preston Sturges earlier this year, I still had no clue it was about these movies that I loved. So there I was browsing Netflix for old movies when I stumbled upon this little movie without any actors I knew, save for one (Ray Milland, whom I'd seen in Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder)--but "it was written by Preston Sturges, so it had to be good" I mused.

I popped the DVD into my player the second I received it in the mail. I'd never seen Jean Arthur before in my life, but it was love at first sight. She's a marvelous actress, and that voice! It's so unique I'd recognize it anywhere.

Anyways, here's the scenario: Harried financier (the third biggest banker!) J.B. Ball (Arnold) has a shiftless heir and a spendthrift, pampered wife. He's finally had enough when his son brings him a bill for a Bugati, and his wife attempts to slip him a bill for a brand new mink coat. What follows is a hilarious pursuit of Jenny Ball by J.B.--after his son Johnny (Milland) storms out, intending to get a job--through the house, up the stairs and onto the roof. In frustration, J.B. throws the offending fur coat over the roof. It hits our heroine, Mary Smith (Arthur) while riding a bus down Fifth Avenue.

The stunned Mary gets off the bus and while she tries to find the owner, Ball and his wife continue to pull pranks on one another. As he finally leaves his mansion, he sees Mary wandering down the sidewalk with the coat. After a mixed-up conversation, he offers her a ride to the offices of The Boys Constant Companion, where she works as a writer. What ensues during the ride is an incredibly funny, incredibly frustrating debate over interest and percents that will have you trying to do the math yourself! But the real trouble (or fun) begins when Ball buys Mary a hat to replace the one broken by the fur coat (which he forces her to keep), and word gets around that J.B. Ball has a mistress!

Entering the scene is Louis Louis, chef and owning of a failing hotel with three mortgages owed to Ball's bank! With rumors buzzing about Ball's mistress, Louis gets the idea to install the young woman in the hotel to keep J.B. from foreclosing! Jean Arthur's reaction to the opulent, ostentatious hotel is priceless ("Golly!"), and the following scene is infamous--and brings Johnny Ball into the picture.

In true screwball fashion, mistaken identities and cross-talking conversations abound. Will Mary discover she's assumed to be Ball's mistress? Will Johnny ever prove himself to his father? Will Louis Louis save his hotel?

Though Carole Lombard is credited with the word "screwball," most film critics agree that Jean Arthur was the screwball comedy actress of the 1930s and 1940s. I happen to agree; there's something so infectious about her acting, something just fun, that when she's on-screen, she signals the humor and wit of the movie. Edward Arnold is no slump in the funny department either, though best known for his corrupt politicians in Capra films, he was a true delight in Easy Living, playing the plutocrat, but with a heart. A very young Ray Milland (he was so hot!) rounds out the starring cast nicely, adding a touch of class to the movie. And a word of warning to newbies to screwball comedies: you'll see a lot of character actors pop up again and again--most notably Franklin Pangborn as fussy, gossipy men.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


In this blog, I hope to review and grant exposure to the screwball comedies which are near and dear to my heart. The Screwball Comedy is one which arose from the Production Code--in fact, many lovers and critics of the movie genre characterize the screwball comedy to be a sex movie without the sex, as many of the situations are born out of sexual frustration between the male and female leads. This is most particularly true in Bluebeard's Eighth Wife *g*.

According to my favorite book on the genre, Romantic comedy in Hollywood: from Lubitsch to Sturges by James Harvey, the screwball comedy was preeminent from about 1934 to 1948, though its roots are to be found in Lubitsch's Pre-Code musicals featuring Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald. Proto-typical screwball comedies feature rapid-fire dialogue, crazy situations, and pretty often, divorced couples fighting their attraction to one another. Screwball comedies also made the careers of a lot of struggling actresses--Claudette Colbert (won her Oscar for the first screwball, It Happened One Night), Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Carole Lombard, et al--, gave men like William Powell, Clark Gable, Melvyn Douglas, and Robert Montgomery a chance to be romantic leads, and also made Cary Grant "Cary Grant" (in the hilarious The Awful Truth).

As you can tell, I can on and on about this beloved movie genre. So join me for more!


About Me

My photo
Author of romantic historical fiction -- Edwardian, WWI, 1920s, Harlem Renaissance, 1960s, and Civil War/Restoration England.