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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE (1935)

What did ‘going to the movies’ mean in mid-‘30s America? Back when much of the country, at least in urban areas, might regularly take in a couple of shows a week. Dress may have been considerably more formal (all those hats!); yet the movie-going habit infinitely more casual, spur of the moment rather than event oriented. And, of course, far less demographically (d)riven. The goal wasn’t to find ‘the thrill ride of the season,’ but ’a night’s entertainment.’ And this modest delight is a prime example of what people knew they’d be getting. Carole Lombard is gorgeous & enchanting as a barbershop manicurist at a luxe hotel, determined to use her position to find herself a rich mate to marry. But her first conquest is Ralph Bellamy, an eternal also-ran in A-list pics. Plus, he’s wheelchair-bound, at best a pal. Enter a refreshingly young, not quite fully formed Fred MacMurray, far more charming & sexy than he’d mature into. He looks good, he sounds good, he’s Theodore Drew III! If only his family hadn’t lost it all in the crash. And if only he didn’t share Lombard’s passion for holding out for a rich spouse. In fact, he’s already got one, he’s engaged! Ah, but since we’re at sophisticated Paramount, the film skirts the Production Code as near as possible while sorting things out, letting Mitchell Leisen & Ted Tetzlaff (helmer & lenser) give their stars the same streamlined, sexy art moderne look as the glamorous sets. By the time the film ends, you’ll want to move in.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Lombard’s plump sidekick is delectable Marie Prevost, a silent leading player who had all but fallen off the casting sheets. It’s likely that Lombard gave her this late break. Alas, it didn’t turn things around for her and she’d drink herself to death in a couple of years . . . age, 38.

DOUBLE-BILL: Modern audiences no doubt will wonder why Lombard doesn’t simply opt for that nice Ralph Bellamy, wheelchair and all. But she’s never in love with him, the whole point of the film. Anyway, casting Bellamy was shorthand for ‘doesn’t get the girl,’ which is how these films got so much done in 80 minutes. And, in 1935, any patrician in a wheelchair came off as an FDR reference, a role Bellamy would make his signature piece on stage & screen (to slightly embalmed effect) in SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO/’60.

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