It’s time for my monthly challenge with Kristina at Speakeasy where the whole idea is to get the other to watch a film they have somehow missed over the years. This time out she gave me a winning comedy that I am almost embarrassed to say I had never seen before.
From director Ernst Lubitsch comes this engaging “pre code” comedy starring Miriam Hopkins, Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis by way of Paramount studios. Lubitsch opens the film in an entertaining screwball comedy style.
Marshall and Hopkins portray lovers who also happen to be professional thieves. Right from the opening scenes, the sparks fly between them as they one up each other on their pick pocket skills. It’s in these introductory scenes that the film engages in a rapid fire delivery. Very similar to the way that Howard Hawks would get his actors to speak faster than they would in other films.
Things are fun and life is uncomplicated for our thieving couple until they find a wealthy mark in perfume heiress Kay Francis. Francis is rich, beautiful and most importantly single. Because she is in fact single, we are treated to another couple who deliver many of the films laughs through subtlety. It’s her prospective suitors, Edward Everett Horton and Charles Ruggles. They continually try to one up each other through gifts to Kay and insults to each other. Their interplay is really one of the film’s strong points.
Before long they are both feeling that they have lost the battle for Kay’s hand. Not to each other but to the new man in her life, Herbert Marshall. He has won her trust through the return of a stolen item and has taken up the position of her male secretary who she trusts to run and operate her perfume empire. He in turn hires Miriam as his assistant.
Love begins to complicate Marshall’s plans to rob the heiress and run off with Miriam. It doesn’t help matters either when Kay’s former trustee C. Aubrey Smith begins to suspect Marshall is not what he seems. Marshall in turn makes a discovery of his own about Kay’s former financial planners that puts him in an awkward position.
This amusing tale plays itself out in style and keeps one guessing on the first viewing just how this is going to end. Will Marshall and Hopkins wind up in jail? Will Marshall run away with Miriam or marry Kay and live a life of luxury? It kept me guessing till the final scene which is a fitting end to this wonderfully intelligent script.
There is much to see and point at here when it comes to what this film gets away with compared to films released after 1934 when the industry cracked down on what films could employ in their scripts.
Scenes like Horton insinuating that he was about to employ two prostitutes or as he puts it, “business associates.” A do not disturb sign hung on the hotel door of Marshall after he wines and dines Miss Hopkins. Top that off with the fact that they are not even married. The words sex appeal and gigolo are uttered which is highly unusual and many other scenes of Francis and Marshall seen exiting the others bedroom and the insinuation of what may have gone on behind those closed bedroom doors.
This is the second film with Kay Francis I have been challenged with and both films are winners. This being a solid comedy while One Way Passage was a first class weeper.
Miriam Hopkins was top billed here but really winds up as the third lead. Not to worry as she is beautifully photographed with a very Goldie Hawn(ish) quality to her performance. It’s bubbly and fun.
Herbert Marshall is finely tuned to this role. It’s got Cary Grant written all over it but in 1932 Cary wasn’t quite yet Cary as we would come to know him. Marshall has a voice that is unmistakeable. It’s very Jack Hawkins and James Mason. Works perfectly here.
Lastly, savor the exchanges between Horton and Ruggles as they play them with precision timing.
Now head on over to see the challenge I presented to Kristina. It stars an actor who became somewhat of a punchline later in his career. The film I chose for her though is from his days as one of the worlds biggest box office draws.