Slightly Dangerous (1943)
Though this may not be the best screwball comedy that I’ll watch this year, there’s no denying that MGM has thrown together an unbelievable cast of recognizable faces in support of Lana Tuner’s first top billed role. That includes casting Robert Young as her leading man in this Wesley Ruggles feature that tilts to tears of joy in the end. While the title may conjure up images of a Noir follow up to Lana’s classic The Postman, this offering casts Lana in the sure fire plot device of a department store soda fountain employee. Is it just me or are department store settings a prerequisite for half of the genre’s output?
It’s a small town tale that winds up in the big city when good girl Lana sporting a brunette look picks up a lucky penny off a street corner and promptly wins the employee of the month award and her $2.50 bonus. Realizing she’s stuck in a dead end job with no man in her life (???) she let’s her temper get the better of her and in one of the film’s highlights, to prove how monotonous her job is, she blindfolds herself and promptly serves the customers banana splits and whatever else is ordered up. When a crowd of on lookers gather round, the new boss rushes over to reprimand her played by Young. One look at Lana minus the towel around her face and BANG. Yup, he’s been caught.
I did say this is a screwball comedy didn’t I?
When the distraught Lana decides to take on a new identity the snowball effect of mishaps begins. Her coworkers believe she has jumped into the river committing suicide and all fingers point at the future Marcus Welby as the prime candidate for her state of mind. Young finds himself fired from his job and determined to locate the missing Lana. Lana herself wanders into a beauty parlor only to emerge as the blonde Goddess that Hollywood made her out to be. With a name change and looking like a society girl, she promptly runs into a bucket of paint and gets KO’d in the process on the steps of a newspaper building owned by gregarious Eugene Palette. Fearing a lawsuit, Pallette has Lana brought into his office and the hysterics begin. She has no identification and upon waking up sees she just might have a meal ticket at her beck and call.
A missing heiress? Could be, and that angle gets shoehorned into the plot as well though it’s a rather nasty prank to pull on the long grieving father, Walter Brennan who lost his little girl years ago. Could the suddenly amnesiac Lana be his missing daughter or just another dame claiming to be in order to inherit a fortune? Then we have a real dame, Dame May Whitty as the long lost little ones Nanny who Lana must attempt to convince that she is indeed the real deal.
Much of the comedy that comes to the screen here is thanks to Young who is convinced that the society girl who has reappeared from the past to take her place next to the wealthy Brennan is in fact the girl from the department store believed to be currently residing at the bottom of a river. There’s also a good running gag between Young and Walter’s bodyguard Ward Bond. Bond repeatedly puts his fist into Young’s stomach when he causes trouble trying to get too close to Lana. Learning his lesson he’ll be sure to get the final laugh on the heavy handed Bond.
Happy ending? Sure it’s a screwball isn’t it? It’s just a matter of how we get there and who we get to see play along in support of MGM’s rising star who had graduated from playing Andy Hardy’s love interest to playing second billed roles opposite Gable and Taylor. The cast of faces includes Alan Mowbray playing….. surprise! Brennan’s butler. Millard Mitchell, Ray Collins, a fun turn by the unbilled Mantan Moreland and how about long time bit player Ray Teal getting to carry the injured Lana into Pallette’s office. I suspect that the eventual Sheriff Roy Coffee on Bonanza never got this close to a leading lady of Lana’s stature ever again during his incredibly long list of screen and television credits.
For the trivia hounds, John Ford and Howard Hawks buffs might be surprised to see Bond and Brennan sharing the screen together in a non western. I was.
Having caught this on TCM, the film was introduced by Ben Mankiewicz who pointed out that the blindfold gag that had Lana serving up splits and shakes was actually directed by one of cinema’s great silent stars and himself a king of gags, Buster Keaton.
So no this Slightly Dangerous version of Lana isn’t a Noir but it does offer a few laughs along the way should you happen across it’s next showing. Clearly Lana was the on the marketing teams mind.