Thursday, March 10, 2016


Pity poor Phyllis Faraday; she's in love with Bobby, but because of her tradition-bound father, she cannot marry until Celia, her older sister, does. However, Celia is a free spirit who doesn't care a whit about tradition—when we first see her, she's dressed in a tie and pants and has a short haircut—and is unlikely to take a husband. But when she finds out the pickle that Phyllis is in, she hatches a plan: she tells the family she's engaged to be married to (the imaginary) Col. John Smith who is off fighting in Arabia. She even writes a love letter to him which she discards when no one is looking. Weeks later, after Phyllis and Bobby have married, Celia puts a notice in the paper announcing the death of Col. Smith, and she hopes that will be the end of the charade. What she doesn’t know is that her love letter actually did get sent, and there really is a Col. John Smith, and when he reads her letter—in which she calls him Wobbles as a pet name—his curiosity gets the best of him and he shows up at the family home to meet her. When he finds out that the fake Col. Smith is dead, he claims to be a friend of Smith's who read Celia's letter and the game between Smith and Celia is on.

Though this is a rather stagebound early sound film, if you stick with it long enough, you'll enjoy yourself. It does take a while to warm up to the stodgy British family members, all overplayed a bit as though the actors were in front of a live audience, but once the plot mechanics start moving—especially when Basil Rathbone shows up as the deceased lover—it becomes quite fun. Dorothy Mackaill, whom I think of as a melodramatic pre-Code actress, is surprisingly bright and frothy as Celia, though I can picture someone like Myrna Loy being more suited to the part. William Austin does well with the showy, campy role of the upper-class sissy/twit; when he says to Celia, "In that outfit, you look almost like a man," she replies, "With that mustache, so do you—almost." Austin also gets to give the movie its title when, after the family reads that Smith has died, he says, rather cheerfully, "Makes the old gal a widow before she's a wife!" Speaking of good lines, when Rathbone first shows up, he gives Mackaill a necklace to wear, claiming it came from Smith: "He bid you wear this always [long dramatic pause]… on your bosom." Also with decent performances from Lelia Hyams as another sister, Emily Fitzroy as an aunt who helps Celia pull off her scam, and Anthony Bushell as Bobby. Nicely done. [TCM]

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