Sunday, July 22, 2007


Another one of the lost RKO films that Turner Classic has revived. I was quite disappointed in this one, though based on viewer comments at IMDb, I'm in the minority. The film pretends to be a comedy, and the plot falls squarely in the traditional screwball "comedy of reconciliation" genre, but it isn't really very funny. Ann Harding and Lucille Browne are the daughters of the rich Henry Stephenson; Harding's casual lover is William Powell, debauched heir to a shipping company who is in the midst of running the company into the ground due to his neglect. Browne has just gotten married, and Harding, who believes that marriage is the "business" of women, sets out to trap Powell, who is also carrying on with a married woman (Lillian Bond). She imagines she'll be a savior to Powell, whom she thinks can be goaded into becoming a great man (though he says he much prefers considering the lilies of the field). Harding sets herself and Powell up to be caught by her father in a compromising position, so Powell does indeed do "the right thing" and marries her, but on their honeymoon, he proposes divorce in six months. Powell is soon working hard at his business, but Bond comes back into his life, and when Browne lets slip in an angry moment that Harding set Powell up, Powell leaves her immediately. The finale takes place at a dinner party at which Powell, who is planning to travel abroad with Bond, is supposed to sign an important shipping contract with the Postmaster General. There is a slapstick fight in the kitchen between the butler (Reginald Owen) and the chef, but the party itself is just gloomy, and though Powell does come home at the end, his return strikes me as completely unmotivated, just to give the film a happy ending. The light tone of the first half is undone in the second half, when both Powell and Harding are constantly dispirited, and the otherwise fine actors can't make those much of those moods. There are some amusing lines now and then. When Harding gasps after seeing a picture of a tarted-up Bond in the newspaper, her sister asks what's wrong and Harding replies, "I was reading a new recipe for tomato surprise." I also enjoyed Powell's appraisal early on of Harding as "coolly virginal but exquisitely inviting." The whole thing should have had a faster pace, and the climactic party scene falls totally flat. One of the few times I've been disappointed in a William Powell performance. [TCM]

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