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Fools for Scandal

Fools for Scandal (1938)

Gasser

I have to wonder what attracts actors to playing the role of a fictional movie star. Do they say, “Hey, that will be easy. I’m fully qualified for that part.” Whatever the case may be, you can nearly forget that Carole Lombard‘s character in Fools for Scandal is an actress because besides the attention the press gives her, she has no other characteristics of a screen star, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Movie star Kay Winters is visiting France while on break from shooting her latest picture in London. When she pauses to watch the joyous outflow of people from a wedding reception, she is kissed by a member of the crowd whom she thinks mistook her for a member of the wedding party. That man, however, also had just sauntered up to the crowd and spying Kay, thought he could make a seemingly innocent move on her. Rene (Fernand Gravet) is an out-of-work cook who hasn’t a dime to his name and has only just exchanged his day suit for his tuxedo at a pawn shop. He finagles his way into sharing a cab ride with Kay and shows her his native city, slowly winning the brunette over.

The two take dinner together and plan a next-day rendezvous, but when Rene over-sleeps, he is stuck with only a tuxedo for clothing. After sending his friend out to retrieve his regular suit proves too time-consuming, he dons a couple oriental rugs and rushes down to Kay, whom he informs he will be with shortly. In his haste to leave, now in his underwear, Rene grabs Kay’s jacket and with it two diamond clips. Kay bails on their date but Rene goes after her all the way to London on the pretense of returning the clips, which his pal has incidentally pawned to bankroll their travel. Once there, he shows off his culinary bravado while at a party and decides to take over as chef once the cook quits.

Kay is unaware this man she sort of loves is hiding out in her house the night following the party and will serve her breakfast in the morning. The party-goers are far more savvy, however, and have noticed Rene did not leave the party. The next morning as the gossip mill has churned, hordes of female friends come pouring into Kay’s bedroom wanting to know about the new cook. Kay is continually furious with Rene, but a horde of reporters on her porch blocks his exit. Complicating matters is Kay’s real boyfriend Phillip (Ralph Bellamy), who is hanging on hoping for an engagement agreement from the star.

When I first saw Lombard on the screen in Fools for Scandal, I gasped at her brown hair. I couldn’t believe such a sight, but as it turned out, the hairdo was a wig meant to disguise her identity as a famous actress. Lombard is beautiful in her expensive gowns and lavish lifestyle and lends the film plenty of humor. The story does contain an arbitrary song, “Fools for Scandal” written by Rogers and Hart. The sing-talk performance mostly by Gravet is uncomfortable in the story to say the least.

Poor Ralph Bellamy once again plays the second-fiddle boyfriend as the leading man swoops in for the kill. He is particularly pathetic in Fools for Scandal, however, as every demand he makes is conceded. He tells Kay she must make up her mind on whether to marry him tonight “or else!” What’s the “or else”, she asks. “Or else tomorrow.” When Philip declares Kay’s behavior is the last straw, he mumbles a “probably” as he storms out the door. This is not a unique role for Bellamy as he often played the less desirable lover, but he was armed with plenty of humorous dialogue that made him fun to watch, if not a bit likeable.

Finally, Gravet is entertaining as our French love interest. He is plenty amiable and can drive a laugh with the help of the ever-comedic Allen Jenkins as his roommate. In one scene he dons an antique uniform and white wig to serve a special dinner for Kay and Phillip. His obnoxious behavior makes the scene wonderfully funny while also frustrating as we empathize with Phillip.

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Matchmaking Mama

Ring a Ding Ding

Matchmaking Mama (1929)

Carole Lombard made probably just as many or more silent movies and shorts as she did talkies, but unfortunately, the hilarity in Matchmaking Mama has nothing to do with her role. This short subject features Lombard as a socialite with an eye for men, any men. Her mother (Daphne Pollard) has her sights set on Larry (Matty Kemp) as a suitable husband for daughter Phyllis, who is also cast in a play that requires he kiss the young woman.

As rehearsals for this musical play go on at the home of matchmaking mother Cornelia McNitt, her husband bungles about and is clearly not at home in his house, which is run by tyrannical Cornelia. When Cornelia learns via telegram that her husband’s daughter is coming to visit from the convent she attends, the tiny woman is livid.

In a case of mistaken identity, Phyllis sends Larry to the kitchen to have the maid sew up a tear in his trousers. When he enters the room, however, he comes upon Sally McNitt (Sally Eilers), having just arrived from the convent, who is trying to pull a smoking pan from the oven using her skirt as oven mitts. The man is entranced by her legs, but being a very modest girl, Sally scurries about trying to figure out how to put the pan down without further exposing herself.

The two fall instantly in love, but a scene later, Larry spies Sally on her father’s lap kissing him, and mistakes the man for her sweetheart. That confusion is cleared up but when Cornelia learns of the romance, she tells Sally that Larry is engaged to Phyllis and is a horrible flirt. This leads Sally to cast the man off and both parties are terribly unhappy.

Pollard even without sound plays an intolerable small woman with the fury of someone twice her size. We can see easily from her interactions with others how dominant she is, and the witty dialogue of the intertitles does wonders for this comedy. You can see her at her vocal best in Laurel and Hardy’s Our Relations. The story is adorable and romantic; I only regret Lombard was not featured more prominently. Her glamorous side was certainly played up over her comedic possibilities. Matchmaking Mama also features a scene photographed in color. Technicolor made possible a limited dance routine scene that features a bunch of young women in green and red hues.

What to Watch — Nov. 16: Nothing Sacred

Turner Classic Movies will air a new Technicolor print of the Carole Lombard vehicle Nothing Sacred Nov. 16 as part of the month’s tribute to blonde actresses. The version TCM has been airing has been a rather grainy version, the color on which looks more like a black and white film that has been colorized than one that was actually filmed with the new technology. Besides being Lombard’s only color picture, it was also the first color flick to use process effects, montage and rear screen projection.

Nothing Sacred (1937)

Nothing Sacred is among Lombard’s fantastic screwball comedies, and she marked the film as her favorite. The great comedienne plays a small town girl who has radium poisoning and is destined to die. Fredric March as a New York newspaperman seeks a story on the girl and takes her to the big city to add some joy to her bleak future, all to the benefit of the paper. Lombard’s Hazel becomes the city’s sweetheart and everyone seeks to show her a good time, but she soon learns she is not actually dying, which puts the paper and the woman at risk of feeling the wrath of duped New Yorkers.

Lombard plays a great oddball in the big city as the screwball genre suited her better than any other, in my opinion. All kinds of nonsense abound as she and her doctor try to maintain the secret of her health and protect the career of the reporter she has come to love. The movie manages a happy ending, although the original script lacked one. Penned by Ben Hecht based on a short story “Letter to the Editor”, disputes between Hecht and Producer David O. Selznick led to some new writers taking over and giving us the ending that I think produced a better result than the planned black comedy.

Lombard was right to call this her favorite movie as it really shows off her talents, though I wouldn’t call it my favorite (see instead Mr. and Mrs. Smith or To Be or Not to Be). Although she was known to not be fond of March, the two got along great on this picture with all kinds of shenanigans going on off-screen. Although I have already seen this one twice, I am looking forward to the supposed improved print and seeing Lombard in at least better-looking color.

It's not all romance for a fake sick girl and an unscrupulous reporter.

  • Nothing Sacred is set for 8 p.m. ET Nov. 16 on TCM.

Source: TCM.com

Virtue

Dullsville

Virtue (1932)

     How do you make Carole Lombard look like a prostitute/ex-prostitute? Give her some dark eyeliner. One would not suspect from viewing most of the contents of Virtue that Lombard’s Mae is meant to be a reformed hooker as her style of dress and manner suggest anything but. In truth, the only difference I saw in this Lombard compared to her other roles was some excessive eye liner. Nevertheless, Mae is what she is, but a poorly acted plot does this story no favors.

     Following an arrest and conviction on an unspoken crime, Mae is ordered to exit Manhattan and not return, but the gal hops the train before leaving the island. She rides along in a taxi driven by our male lead, Pat O’Brien as Jimmy, but skips out on the fare. When she later delivers the money to the duped driver, the two hit it off and begin dating. The trouble with Pat is all he can do is yammer on about how no one can tell him about women and that marriage is the worst fate imaginable. Pat is saving up to buy a share in a gas station and knows that marriage will suck his finances dry. Nevertheless, the two wed.

     On their wedding night, Pat learns of Mae’s past profession of “picking up men off the street” but not from his wife, rather a copper who wants to arrest the girl for disobeying her sentence. Pat slaps Mae but later opts to stay in the marriage. All is fine, despite some minor suspicions on Pat’s part, until an old friend of Mae’s requires surgery and convinces the gal to loan her Pat’s money. What follows is more complicated than a case of missing money as murder charges arise and Pat has to decide whether he wants Mae and Mae must choose whether she should take the lug back.

     Lombard does her standard good acting, but the other players in Virtue drag it down. No one is terribly likeable and the story does not leave the audience rooting for Mae and Pat to work things out. The editing is also sloppy at times with some awkward cuts between shots within a single scene that produce a jarring effect. Editing, except when employed in artistic or subliminal ways, is meant to be invisible, allowing seamless transitions between angles, but some goofs or just poor judgement here make Virtue stand out as a bit amateur on the editing front.

True Confession

Ring a Ding Ding

True Confession (1937)

     I mentioned before that the first on-screen pairing of Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray was a bit lack luster on the latter actor’s part, but when the two reunited two years later for True Confession they had something better going on. Lombard still far outshines her male counterpart but MacMurray at least is a more seasoned comedian by this point, which helps to back the hilarity the actress brings to the screen.

     Lombard brought all kinds of unique character traits to her role of Helen Bartlett, some of which were scripted and others that make me certain this part would have been entirely different if portrayed by another actress. We first see Helen scuffling up the stairs of her apartment building while muttering something repeatedly to herself before sitting down to the telephone in her flat and recounting some gossip to her lawyer husband (MacMurray) that could mean a case for the less-than-successful attorney. It seems the butcher’s son is charged with stealing a van full of hams. Having his scruples, however, means that lawyer Kenneth Bartlett will not defend a guilty party. The alleged thief says he did not steal the hams but will not be able to pay Kenneth until he gets money from selling the hams. Naturally, the attorney throws him out.

     We now have the groundwork for this ruthlessly honest lawyer and as we spend more time with Helen –an unsuccessful fiction writer– we find she is a compulsive liar, having duped a man sent to repossess her typewriter into believing her husband is insane and thinks the machine his baby. Looking to earn some money to support the family but wanting to hide the work from her disapproving husband, Helen takes a job with a rich man who needs a personal secretary four days a week, three hours a day for $50 per week. The deal is really too good to be true, which Helen learns as the man starts chasing her around his home office before she socks him in the gut and runs out.

     When Helen returns later with the moral support of friend Daisy (Una Merkel) to retrieve her hat, purse and coat, the police arrive immediately because it seems the man has just been shot dead. The confusion has Helen looking mighty guilty. She is taken to the police headquarters and as the detective begins to verbally construct his presumed sequence of events, Helen –story writer that she is– one-ups him with a better explanation of why she killed him, before again denying the crime. The police even find a gun in the Bartlett home with two bullets missing (Helen had fired them at a tree as research for her writing) and determine her gun killed the man.

     When Kenneth comes to his wife in jail he naturally presumes she killed the man as self-defense, and thinking that given the mounds of evidence against her make that explanation more likely than her innocence, Helen rolls with it. Here enters John Barrymore as the excessively creepy Charley, a mad man whom we quickly assume is the actual murderer. He follows the trial intently, sitting beside Daisy in court and noisily deflating a balloon throughout. He repeatedly insists Helen will “fry” but Kenneth gets the gal off. The now-successful writer-lawyer couple are enjoying a wealthy life when Charley decides he wants to claim the luxuries he naturally thinks belong to him, given he is the actual murderer.

     Lombard is possibly at her best in True Confessions, which I realize is a bold statement given the public’s general love of My Man Godfrey. Her character is so impulsive, often sticking her tongue into her cheek as a signal to us she has just thought up a doozy of a lie. MacMurray also has to hold her back as she attempts to throw things at the prosecuting attorney during the trial or threatens to beat him up. As I said, MacMurray –whom I generally consider to be a great comedic performer– pales in comparison to this woman, but as he should. The two characters are on the opposite sides of the spectrum in their beliefs and so too are the qualities of their personalities.

     Barrymore, who shows up about half way through, could have upstaged both the leads had he been given more screen time. In a purely comedic movie, he gives a dramatic performance that genuinely conveys the personality of a mad man. He makes no motion to gain a laugh deliberately, instead adhering to the sociopathic glitches for which his character calls. Barrymore also appeared with Lombard in 1934’s Twentieth Century in which the two play actors whose dramatic personalities lead to equally hair-brained action aboard a train. Also a very good watch.

Cinematic Shorts: Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Wowza!

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

     I’m not sure how I stumbled upon watching Here Comes Mr. Jordan the first time, but it was a fortuitous incident. This flick is probably my favorite Robert Montgomery movie, which competes with Mr. and Mrs. Smith for that top spot (and you can understand my dilemma because the other has Carole Lombard in it). I would say no other film shows off Montgomery’s comedy capabilities in the way this feature does. He plays a character totally unlike the military and society dreamboat roles in which he was typically cast.

     As Joe Pendelton, a successful boxer, Montgomery plays a dimwitted man more concerned with keeping his body “in the pink” and defeating a boxing rival than anything else around him. Towards the film’s start, Joe crashes his self-piloted plane, and heavenly beings take him away. The trouble is, the heavenly worker assigned to his case, Messenger 7031 (Edward Everett Horton) takes him before the plane hits the ground, and as it turns out, Joe was destined to survive the crash. The damage is done, however, and Joe is delivered to Mr. Jordan, played by Claude Rains, who must find a suitable body for the man to live out the remainder of his scheduled life.

     Joe is given a temporary spot occupying the body of a man who is about to be murdered by his wife and her lover. He’s an older, wealthy bloke who also has some unkind dealings that involve a beautiful young woman, with whom Joe will fall in love. All sorts of absurdities happen as Joe, looking like the old man, tries to convince his boxing agent (James Gleason) of his real identity and get the old body “in the pink” to defeat his rival in the ring.

     If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it was based on a play called “Heaven Can Wait” that was later done into another movie by that name starring Warren Beatty. This original also inspired a sequel, but Rains was not interested and Montgomery was serving in the military, so the Mr. Jordan part was recast and Rita Hayworth was used as the mythical muse of the performing arts to interfere with goings on of a theatrical production. It was quite a let down.

     Going back to Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I can not say enough about Montgomery’s performance. His low-brow accent accompanies humorous dialogue to give the impression of a man who has been knocked out a few too many times. That is not to say his ignorance is not endearing. Montgomery’s facial expressions also add to this character’s hilarious persona as he stumbles through a whole host of accidental circumstances. I highly recommend this flick for anyone who enjoys comedies.

The messenger explains why Joe and his lucky sax aren't on earth where they should be.

Source: Robert Osborne

The Princess Comes Across

Ring a Ding Ding

The Princess Comes Across (1936)

     For the first several minutes of The Princess Comes Across, you are likely to ask yourself why this part was not given to Greta Garbo. Carole Lombard as Princess Olga of Sweden gives a performance that seems highly influenced by the aforementioned Swedish star, with a deep voice resembling Garbo’s immensely. Give the movie about five minutes, however, and you will quickly learn why Garbo was not cast: Princess Olga is no princess indeed. She is a Brooklyn girl masquerading as royalty to get a Hollywood contract.

     So to start, we think we’re watching a romantic comedy about the princess’ attempts to conceal her true identity while aboard a ship destined for New York amidst advances from concertina player and bandleader King Mantell (Fred MacMurray). The plot changes, however, when the ship’s captain learns an escaped murderer is likely on board and a blackmailer (Porter Hall) is murdered in Olga’s room. The lady, who is now friendly with Mantell, fears that not only will her true identity come out but that it will implicate her in the murder (Mantell helped in moving the body to the blackmailer’s own room). To make matters worse, the ship is also carrying a convention of detectives from different countries, and they are masters at their trade.

     On the dead blackmailer is found a passenger list with three names noted: Mantell, Olga and another to which we are not entreated. The detectives, therefore, latch onto these passengers as their main subjects. When one detective announces he will reveal the name of the murderer later in the day, he is promptly killed before having a chance. Mantell happens to be the first to discover him. As the detectives threaten to call Sweden to dig into the princess, Mantel, who has by now figured out Olga’s true persona, offers to reveal the murderer himself. He does not actually know the culprit, but figures the killer will come after him if he suggests having such information.

     The outcome, and the identity of the actual murderer, is quite a twist and surprise. What is not surprising is the “princess’s” revelation of her actual origins and declaration of love for the bandleader, which makes for a sweet ending.

     I never imagined I would see Lombard in a murder mystery. Although The Princess Comes Across has some laughs, none come from Lombard (mostly from Mantell’s sidekick played by William Frawley. The film on the whole is quite serious and balances the murder with romance. Some great lighting in murder-related scenes gives almost a noir look to some of the shots. Lombard does quite well with the Swedish accent, aloofness and continual use of “we” instead of “I”. She is very stunning in her princess-afforded fashions, and her pairing with MacMurray goes over much better in this flick compared to their previous encounter in Hands Across the Table.

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