Hands Across the Table

Gasser

Hands Across the Table (1935)

     Marriage for money. This was a typical theme of many classic romantic movies, which seems to suggest the practice was a common one back in the day. Typically a good-looking girl is angling to move herself out of the chorus and into a mansion, or individuals from once-wealthy families need to land rich spouses to maintain their way of life. Hands Across the Table has both.

     Carole Lombard is manicurist Regi Allen who dislikes a life of scraping to get by and wants to marry for money, not love. Working in a salon on the ground floor of a hotel, Regi is called to the suite of a wealthy, but wheel-chair bound gentleman Allen (Ralph Bellamy), whose mood is lifted for the first time in a long stretch by the girl’s mere presence. The two start a close friendship as she does his nails every day. She explains her desire for a profitable marriage, and Allen is clearly in love with her, but she does not seem to notice.

     Upon leaving his room one day, Regi runs into some dope playing hopscotch on the checkered floor tiles. She thinks him a buffoon, but he is immediately interested in the dame. The bloke turns out to be Theodore Drew III, played by Fred MacMurray, part of a wealthy family. He next requests a manicure from Regi in her shop, but she is so nervous upon learning who he is, that he leaves with half his fingers bandaged, this after securing a date with Regi for that night.

     While on the date, Regi learns Teddy is engaged to a wealthy pineapple heiress, a marriage he must secure because his family fortune has been lost. When a drunk Teddy passes out in their cab on the ride home, Regi is stuck storing him on a cot in her apartment for the night. When she returns home from work the next day, Teddy is still there (he had no cab fare) and because he missed his boat to Bermuda, persuades Regi to board him at her apartment until he is expected home to his fiancée. There is no chemistry between the two as both are in the same marriage-for-money boat, that is, until their last night together when the feelings rise to the surface and both try to get their head around whether to take the leap into a relationship doomed to working-class status.

     MacMurray was fairly young in Hands Across the Table as it was his second film. I’ve always found the actor to be a great comedian, but here he was funny at times but awkward the most. In the scene when Regi does Teddy’s nails, MacMurray whispers all kinds of funny lines, but watching I felt as uncomfortable as Lombard’s character shakily scrubbing away at his cuticles. His delivery improves as the film goes on, but I frankly was rooting more for Allen to land Regi rather than Teddy. Regi says multiple times that a union between the two would only end in them hating and resenting each other, which I think is unfortunately true. Like many movies, however, the action ends before we can see the unhappily ever after scenario that is more likely than the happy one. Still, this is far from a bad film. It is fun and romantic, if not unsatisfying in some terms.

  • Hands Across the Table is set for 10 p.m. ET Aug. 28 on TCM.
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