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We’re Not Dressing

Gasser

We're Not Dressing (1934)

    I know I’ve raved about Carole Lombard before but haven’t actually managed to review any of her movies –but it’s not my fault! I went through a couple month phase a year or so ago when TCM was playing a bunch of her stuff, but the channel has not managed to devote time to her since. Thank goodness for Netflix. I’ve queued the “Carole Lombard Glamour Collection”, so expect a number of reviews from that set over the next couple months.

     I would call We’re Not Dressing minor Lombard as it is not her best work, but still the actress’ traditional role: wealthy beauty in a romantic entanglement. It came smack dab in the middle of her Hollywood career and would feature a rather young-looking 31-year-old Bing Crosby, only a few years into acting. Bing as Stephen is a deckhand on the yacht of Doris Worthington, played by Lombard. Doris is being courted by two prince brothers, one of which is played by a very young “Raymond” Milland. Along for the voyage are Doris’ uncle Hubert (Leon Errol) and friend Edith (Ethel Merman). Despite the pining princes, Doris is distracted by Stephen, who has been tasked with looking after her pet bear cub (inspiration for Bringing Up Baby?). The heiress is playing cruel to the young man, however, to mask her feelings for a subordinate. 

     A drunken George manages to somehow cause the boat to sink by spinning with the wheel, so Stephen rescues Doris, who has been knocked unconscious by the crumbling ship, and her bear. The duo, along with the princes, George and Edith, wash up on an island, where the parties assume Stephen should be waiting on them. Toppling the social structure, Stephen tells everyone they must work and begins building his own hut and fire and cooking his own clams.  The others stick with stubborn Doris until they are hungry enough to agree to dig their own clams and gather firewood. Doris eventually “earns” some food when she delivers a sack of what turn out to be empty clam shells, angering Stephen. We soon learn that there is a couple conducting research on another part of the island whom Doris discovers, but fails to tell the others. A romance is blooming between she and Stephen, but he eventually takes the whole situation as a prank.

     There’s a great repeated exchange between Bing and Lombard that cements for us that they have feelings for each other. While aboard the ship, a subordinate Stephen is honest with Doris about a roller-skating incident involving her bear, which angers the gal to the point of slapping the deckhand, who responds with a peck on the lips. Later, when Doris delivers the empty clam shells, Stephen slaps Doris, hard, and she kisses him. 

     I must make note of Ethel Merman. I have known the woman only by her grating singing voice and as an older woman in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, so I was hardly expecting the beautiful young woman with a great body. This was only her second film and her singing voice had yet to mature to the annoying extend to which I’m accustomed. Additionally, Gracie Allen plays the dumb wife of the researcher (George Burns) whose ditsyness makes one think he is listening to a Marx brother. She develops a “moose trap” meant to catch  four mice because one is a mouse, two is mice and two mice are a moose. This film might be worth checking out just for her:

Gracie Martin: We just caught Tarzan’s mate!
George Martin: Tarzan is a character in a book.
Gracie Martin: Well, maybe he got out!

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2 Responses

  1. Glad you are reviewing Carole’s films, though I agree that “We’re Not Dressing” isn’t prime Lombard. The story is adapted from “The Admirable Crichton,” which has been used many times for other films, e.g. “Swept Away.” (There’s a story, possibly apochryphal, that states when a director wanted to film “The Admirable Crichton,” an executive told him the public had no interest in naval pictures!) Bing has a number of good songs here, and I don’t necessarily find Ethel’s voice annoying; her talents were better used on the Broadway stage. Since you have the “Glamour Collection,” I suggest reviewing “Hands Across The Table,” arguably her best film at Paramount. (Carole’s “big four” — “Twentieth Century,” “My Man Godfrey,” “Nothing Sacred” and “To Be Or Not To Be” — were made at Columbia, Universal, Selznick International and United Artists, respectively.)

    Bing and Carole had fun working together, and while doing location work at Catalina Island, she once humorously yelled to him during breakfast at the hotel restaurant, “Hey, Bing, did I leave my nightie in your bedroom last night?”

    One other thing to note, and I almost hate to bring it up when discussing such a frivolous film: Women who were having their menstrual periods were told not to work on the set, as it would arouse the bear. One extra didn’t heed the advice, came on the set and was fatally attacked by the animal.

    • interesting about the bear attack and scary. Those four films you mentioned I have seen and are why I love Carole. I’m looking forward to Hands Across the Table because I’ve heard it mentioned often. thanks for all the insight on this film!

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