Carole Lombard Rises.
BLU-RAY STREET DATE APRIL 6, 2021 / KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
The second volume of Kino’s Carole Lombard box sets is where she starts to show her chops as a comedic actress. The three movies in the first set showed us glimpses of the star Lombard was to become, but she was confined to mostly straight roles. Lombard, as an actress, became defined for her roles in comedies. This second collection of Lombard films includes three such comedies from the mid-1930s.
Lombard had, by this point, already starred in Twentieth Century, which came out the year before. In an interview with Peter Bodanovich, Howard Hawks admitted he cast her because he saw her tipsy at a party. “She was hilarious and uninhibited,” the director said. Twentieth Century was a big hit, and catapulted Lombard into major stardom. Where in the three films of the first collection, Lombard was second-billed to her more famous co-stars, in this set she has top billing.
HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE
Directed by MItchell Leisen / 1935
Lombard plays Regie, a struggling manicurist who works in a salon in a fancy New York Hotel. Her idea of a retirement plan is to marry a man for his money. “How about love?” she’s asked at one point. Love is for suckers, she explains. Her mother got married for love and worked herself to death as a result. That’s not the life Regie wants. When Regie meet-cutes Ted Drew III, played with plenty of goofy charm by Fred MacMurray, she thinks that this son of a prominent family is the answer to her problems. When it turns out that his family was busted during the depression, and that he has his own plans to marry for money, it turns out her problems have just begun.
Hands Across the Table also stars Ralph Bellamy as a wealthy aviator who was injured in a crash and now uses a wheelchair. It’s a totally awesome art-deco wheelchair at that! It’s size is completely impractical, admittedly, but it’s still a wheelchair a man could sit in and feel like he could get things done! Anyway, once again Bellamy is a bridesmaid but not a bride as he pines for Regie (to the delight of his butler), but Regie is oblivious to the man’s attractions.
Hands Across the Table is a delightfully frothy screwball comedy directed by Mitchell Leisen. Lombard and MacMurray have a nice onscreen chemistry (they’d gone on to shoot 3 more films together, the next one also appearing in this set). While MacMurray was reportedly self conscious about his ability to do comedy, he still has a goofball charm that pairs well with Lombard’s more worldly cynicism.
Kino Lorber’s disc comes with a feature-length commentary track by Allan Arkush and Daniel Kremer. It also comes with a small collection of trailers.
LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST
Directed by Walter Lang / 1936
Lombard was loaned to Universal for this “romantic” comedy. Here, she plays Kay. Kay is in love with Bill Bradford (Cesar Romero), but Scott Miller (Preston Foster) is in love with Kay. Miller is the wealthy head of a big corporation, so he uses his money and position to buy the company Bradford works for and arranges to send the man to its Japanese offices. At the same time, Miller convinces his fiancee to take an extended vacation to Hawaii. Once the decks are cleared, Miller goes about attempting to woo Kay.
By woo I of course mean stalk. Despite Kay’s protestations that she’s uninterested in Miller, he follows her while she goes out to the clubs, horseback riding, and even to her stylist when she goes to cover up the black eye Miller inadvertently gives her in a bar brawl. Through it all, I guess we’re supposed to be rooting for their love to win out, but I honestly can’t think of a less appealing outcome.
I haven’t seen him in anything else, but in this movie, Preston Foster just doesn’t have charm enough for us to be on his side. His character is sleezy and underhanded, and he starts off the film wielding his considerable economic power to break up the relationship of the woman he purports to love. The rest of the movie is clearly on his side. It postulates that Kay is in the wrong for not giving this guy a chance. No thanks. Of the three movies in this set, this one is the weakest by far.
The movie comes with a feature-length commentary track by Alexandra Heller-Nichols and Joshua Nelson. The film’s trailer is also included.
THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS
Directed by William K. Howard / 1936
Happily, The Princess Comes Across more than makes up for Love Before Breakfast‘s failings. This movie has a lot of plot. Lombard plays the Swedish Princess Olga, in a performance that channels both Greta Garbo and Bela Lugosi in equal measure. Olga is sailing to America where she has gotten a lucrative Hollywood contract. Joining her on her voyage is King Mantell, a world-renowned concertina player played by Fred MacMurray. There’s some initial friction between the two of them, but things smooth out quickly enough and they begin to enjoy each other’s company.
Complications ensue (you knew they would) when a blackmailer approaches both of them separately, threatening to reveal unsavory aspects of their pasts. King served a stretch in prison when he was younger, a fact he owns up to, since he’s served his time. Olga, on the other hand, has a much more juicy secret. She’s not a princess, but a Brooklyn born actress who came up with the phony princess ploy to advance her career. The blackmailer is going to expose her unless she can pay up.
To make matters even worse (I said there was a lot of plot, didn’t I?) an escaped murderer has gotten onboard, and there’s a collection of international detectives on their way to a conference. When the blackmailer’s dead body turns up in Olga’s stateroom, she has to turn to King to help her out, lest the detectives start looking at her (non-existent) past too closely.
Once again, Lombard and MacMurray turn out to be a great pairing as each gives as good as they get. MacMurray, more a straight man here than in Hands Across the Table, even gets to show off his skill as a song-and-dance-and-concertina-man to a greater extent than before. While not a lost masterpiece, The Princess Comes Across is a fun mess of a movie, throwing everything at the wall, hoping something will stick. Thanks to the chemistry of the stars, quite a lot of it does.
Allan Arkush and Daniel Kremer provide the commentary track for this movie as well.