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Sunday, December 6, 2015


More desperate than ‘screwball,’ this romantic comedy sticks an ill-equipped Margaret Sullavan in the usual Carole Lombard spot . . than lets her squirm. Not that things would have been aces with Lombard in it, though at least the gowns would show with glamorous flair and the comic screaming would have been stylized rather than screeched. But there’s plenty of blame to spread around. Henry Fonda (Sullavan’s real-life ex by three years) is the adventurous best-selling author, hounded by female fans; Sullavan’s a temperamental Hollywood star running away from an arranged marriage. They meet-cute in a horse-drawn carriage in the midst of NYC traffic, then secretly rendezvous at a snowy cabin lodge, unaware of each other’s fame. Now & then (okay, twice), they get a quiet scene to display their usual charm, but elsewise, labored jokes in the extreme: Fonda is ‘atomized’ into submission with perfume; Sullavan gets a straitjacket as comeuppance. Pretty insufferable. One true oddity, though. Routine megger William Seiter flattens what might have been a highlight as Fonda & Sullavan go thru their nightly ablutions in separate train compartments built back-to-back with the 'fourth wall' removed. Staring at their respective mirrors as if they were staring at each other, unaware of the situation. Seiter does nothing with this set up, but reverses angles 180º when he cuts back; switching Fonda from right side to left, while Sullavan naturally flips from left to right.

Check out this magazine lay-out that helpfully ‘corrects’ his ‘reverse.’  (Click to expand.)  Sullavan, gifted & smart, never tried this sort of thing again. Fonda, gifted & smart, triumphed playing a variation of the same character in Preston Sturges’s THE LADY EVE/’41.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: As mentioned above, THE LADY EVE, though, strictly speaking, Sturges’s pics are not ‘screwballs,’ they’re Preston Sturges pics, sui generis. For ‘screwball,’ tag along to Universal with Lombard where she was probably filming MY MAN GODFREY/’36 at the time.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: For once, Beulah Bondi, as Sullavan’s older assistant, lets someone else (Henrietta Crosman) play grandmother.

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