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Breakfast for Two

Gasser

Breakfast for Two (1937)

     The romantic concept underlying Breakfast for Two is a novel one, and although not executed to the best extent, the idea of a woman who professionally attacks a man with the intent to win over his heart is a great one. This brief romantic comedy of little more than an hour in length plays more as a television show that did not have sufficient time to develop the romance between its characters.

     Herbert Marshall as Jonathan Blair is the careless owner of his family’s shipping business, which is on the verge of bankruptcy while the young man enjoys all the spoils of a wealthy bachelor’s life. We start the film with Jonathan waking after a raucous night to discover a young woman has spent the night in his room. This Valentine Ransome (Barbara Stanwyck) had brought the drunk home only to be trapped in his room by the large dog that growled at her every attempt to leave.

     Jonathan is intrigued by the woman and sends her flowers after their breakfast for two is interrupted by the arrival of another young woman after the man’s heart, actress Carol Wallace (Glenda Farrell). Receiving the gift and hearing from her banker about Jonathan’s irresponsible handling of his company, the wealthy Val decides to stay in New York and declares she will make the man her husband. To do that, however, the smart girl starts buying up stock to the Blair company until she is a majority shareholder. Jonathan is outraged to see the business leave the family’s hands and all the more so that this woman is the one to do it.

     Val also moves into the Blair mansion, but the move inadvertently sends Jonathan to live in Carol’s apartment. The man’s financial circumstances also result in his intention to marry the actress. With Jonathan’s valet, Butch (Eric Blore), helping in her scheme, the wedding is twice interrupted. The first is by a ridiculous clan of noisy window washers who keep disrupting the justice of the peace’s (Donald Meek) attempts to wed Carol and “Joe-Nathan”, and the second is by Butch’s presentation of a wedding license allegedly fulfilled on the drunken night Jonathan and Val met. Our couple get their reconciliation after some physical rumbling and the company is restored to the family that built it.

     Breakfast for Two is a quick, fun romp laced with humor eliciting mainly from the character actors of Blore and Meek. Blore’s Butch appears in most scenes and even though playing his typical part of servant, he embodies a much larger role here than in most of his films. Stanwyck brings plenty of levity to the movie as the young and fun woman who seeks to build her target into a respectable man who will fight for his company. Marshall, as usual, derives most of his laughs from witty dialogue, but he and Stanwyck look good as a couple. If more time had been devoted to developing true emotion between the characters, I think it could be a stellar piece. As it stands, however, much of the motivation is skimmed over to the final product’s detriment.

  • Breakfast for Two is set for 10 a.m. ET July 27 on TCM.
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I Live My Life

Gasser

I Live My Life (1935)

     Over the past couple of years I have absorbed A LOT of Joan Crawford movies. I tend to DVR them any chance I get, which has led me through an array of great and mediocre flicks. What I have observed in many of her basic romance plots is that the woman often plays the dame who toys with men’s romantic devotion to her for most of the movie before finally succumbing to the love she never realized was there. That is true of I Live My Life, the title of which tells one nothing of the story.

     Crawford is part of a wealthy American business family as Kay Bentley. She meets Irish archeologist Terry O’Neill (Brian Aherne) while her yacht is docked in Naxos, Greece, and immediately makes a pest of herself. The man is working to dig up an ancient statue he has searched for over two years and the woman feigns an ankle injury to compel him to carry her down a mountain. She begs her boat captain to return them to the island the next day so she may see Terry again under the guise of an apology. The two spend the day together as Kay pretends to be the yacht owner’s secretary because Terry has made clear he has no interest in people who have too much money to be good for them. That night the rugged man declares he loves Kay and will meet up with her again in New York.

     When Terry arrives in American and tracks down this secretary, he finds he’s been misled. He happens to connect with Kay’s father, played by Frank Morgan, however, in presenting his artifact to the museum at which the older man is a trustee. When Terry is invited to his home, he re-meets Kay but both are cold over the lie. Kay’s deception in her identity is not the true conflict of the story, however. Nor is the clear class divide between the woman’s friends and her outdoorsy love interest. Kay is engaged to some other wealthy bloke strictly on business terms that will result in her wealthy grandmother paying out a marriage settlement to the newlyweds. Her father is under his mother-in-law’s thumb and is getting himself into financial trouble through private prospecting. His daughter’s dowry, however, could help him in settling the debt.

     Crawford’s Kay not only allows the male lead to declare his love for her without any reciprocation but waits until the movie is three-quarters complete before shouting her affection. In this vein we see a better performance by Aherne than Crawford because we can read the genuine fluctuation in his emotions as he is scorned and re-adored by this woman. Crawford is content to flit about uttering her lines and projecting the cheerful, fun young woman audiences surely loved but fails to bring any conviction to her part. She does what is required of her, nothing more.

     It is in roles like this one and in The Bride Wore Red with Franchot Tone that we cannot help but fall in love with the genuine affection of the men while loathing Crawford’s parts in their plans for the most financially suitable match. In I Live My Life, Kay could easily have informed Terry of why she would marry her fiancée instead of him, but perhaps that dims the drama.

Piccadilly Jim

Ring a Ding Ding

Piccadilly Jim (1936)

     I was nearly jumping for joy last week upon discovering the movie Piccadilly Jim because not only does it star love-of-my-life Robert Montgomery but it is based on a P.G. Wodehouse story, an author I greatly admire and one capable of cute romance with an abundance of witty dialogue.

     Montgomery plays the title character whose real name is Jim Crocker. Piccadilly Jim is the pen name he uses for his political cartoons published in an English newspaper. Despite being American, Jim resides in England and enjoys a life of too much drinking and too little work. When his butler Bayliss, expertly played by Eric Blore, wakes Jim at the “crack of dusk”, he is informed his father is awaiting an audience with the party boy. The relationship between Jim and father James (Frank Morgan) is a comical reversal on the typical father-son set-up. James is there to ask for his son’s help/approval in marrying a woman. Because this father –a Shakespearean actor who continually has his quotes completed by Bayliss– is less well off than his son, he needs the financial and phony prestige his son presents to convince his girlfriend’s sister that he is a decent mate who can put up a dowry.

     The woman in question Eugenia, played by Billie Burke –for those Wizard of Oz fans, you will note this is a coupling of Glinda and the Wizard– and her sister’s family is a set of wealthy Americans who made their millions through a process to turn cloth scraps back into standard material. The meeting between Eugenia’s family, the Petts, and Jim does not go over well, however. Not only is he late, but they discover that despite James’ description of his son as a serious artist, he is in fact a lowly cartoonist. Not only that, but he has been fired from his job.

     What ultimately results in the Pett’s  rejection of James as a suitable husband leads Jim to develop a comic strip based on the family called “Rags to Riches” and makes fools out of the Petts, or Richwitches as they are known in the strip. The family is oblivious, however, because they are back in the U.S. and the comic runs only in England.

     While all the father drama is occurring, Jim has spotted a beautiful American girl who happens to be seeing a Lord Priory (Ralph Forbes), but that does nothing to dampen Jim’s determination to land her. The girl, Ann (Madge Evans), is willing to accept the man’s advances, but is devoted to her current beau. Jim spends several months frequenting the places he had seen Ann and does not learn until months later she had been in America, but is back in town again. The trouble is, Ann is niece to the Petts and that family’s return to England has brought with it many a jeering and cackling onlooker who recognizes the family as the Richwitches. Jim manages to conceal from Ann that he is Piccadilly Jim as he spends the remainder of the story trying to woo her away from a profitable but loveless marriage to Priory.

     My only complaint about Piccadilly Jim is that it did not contain enough of the Wodehouse-esqe dialogue I would expect from one of his stories. Every now and then I could spot a fast-paced or otherwise dryly hilarious string of phrases, but otherwise it did not necessarily feel like his type of story. What I did enjoy immensely was seeing Montgomery in a romantic role again. It seems I have subjected myself mainly to his war and otherwise nonsexual roles as of late. The romantic plot is certainly very adorable and is the rare time Montgomery plays a man genuinely in love, rather than a cad looking for another fling.

     The story on the whole is full of laughs. Eric Blore, who often plays a servant or other nervous character, was perfect as the butler, and Frank Morgan garnered the usual laughs, especially as he masquerades as a Russian count. The Pett family also has a young boy, Ogden (Tommy Bupp), who spews nonstop snarky lines, trips unsuspecting strangers, and draws mustaches on marble busts and antique portraits. I had a lot of fun with Piccadilly Jim  and highly recommend it.

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