(director: Frank Capra; screenwriters: story by Harry Chandlee & Douglas W. Churchill/Jo Swerling/Dorothy Howell/Robert Riskin; cinematographer: Joseph Walker; editor: Gene Milford; music: Irving Bibo/David Broekman/Bernhard Kaun; cast: Jean Harlow (Anne Schuyler), Loretta Young (Gallagher), Robert Williams (Stew Smith), Reginald Owen (Dexter Grayson), Walter Catlett (Binji Baker), Halliwell Hobbes (Smythe, The Butler), Edmund Breese (Conroy, The Editor), Claude Allister (Dawson), Donald Dillaway (Michael Schuyler), Louise Closser Hale (Mrs. Schuyler); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Cohn; Columbia Pictures; 1931)
“Still, with all its usual Capra faults, it holds up as a slightly above average breezy newspaper comedy.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Frank Capra (“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”/”State of the Union”/”It’s a Wonderful Life”) directs this Depression-era populist newspaper comedy with his usual schmaltz over class differences and winning one for the underdog. Regular Capra writer Robert Riskin is the main screenwriter on the team. The bleak romantic comedy is miscast (the Harlow and Young roles should be reversed) and suffers from a slight story and a trite message about hard work paying off for its working-class hero as opposed to the wasted life of the idle rich; nevertheless, it’s entertaining, fast-moving, has some fairly realistic newspaper workplace scenes, features snappy dialogue and gets a great performance by Robert Williams–in his last performance before dying from a ruptured appendix at age 35 just a month after the film was released, thereby cutting short a promising career.
The working-stiff reporter, Stew Smith (Robert Williams), earning a mere $75 a week, marries a spoiled and fickle heiress named Ann Schuyler (Jean Harlow), who tries to reform him to fit in with her society crowd and that gives the poor bloke second thoughts about the marriage.
Stew’s boss is the hardboiled editor Conroy (Edmund Breese), who assigns him to report on a “breach of promise” lawsuit and sends him to the blueblood Schuyler mansion in Long Island to get the facts. The wisecracking reporter is bribed with $50 by the family lawyer (Reginald Owen) not to report the story that the family gave $10,000 to a blackmailing chorus girl to recoup the love letters the wealthy cad Michael Schuyler (Donald Dillaway) wrote to her. Stew refuses the bribe and calls in the story in front of the family. Only Stew returns the next day with the six love letters he swiped from the chorine and turns down a $5,000 bribe from the brother’s attractive younger sister Anne Schuyler (Jean Harlow) and instead gives her the letters for gratis because he finds her beauty overwhelming and he feels he’s doing the right thing.
In the newspaper office, the down-to-earth reporter Gallagher (Loretta Young) is Stew’s gal-pal and secretly has a crush on him and would be a perfect soul mate; but Stew, a month later, elopes with Anne. The editor calls Stew a “bird in a gilded cage,” and will be from now on known only as the husband of Anne Schuyler. This phrase becomes the film’s main metaphor, as it reverses genders on the Cinderella fairy-tale story.
The rocky marriage has the prole living with her snobby elitist family in the left wing of the Schuyler mansion and, furthermore, wifey hires him a valet–who is promptly fired by the uncomfortable prole. Feeling trapped with people he doesn’t like, Stew invites his plebeian colleagues and artistic friends over to the mansion for a wild boozy party. Returning home unexpectedly, an upset Ann lays down the law about cavorting with the riff-raff.
When the bossy society conscious Anne tells the loose living Stew to get garters to hold up his socks and he refuses, we know it’s only a matter of time before the marriage is over. Capra makes this trivial difference the comical point where Stew exits from the marriage, as he holds to not wearing garters as a symbol of his freedom and tells her he’ll wash behind his ears for her and do almost anything else but never wear garters for her.
Predictably, since Anne wants nothing to do with his working-class friends and he wants nothing to do with her society acquaintances, the restless Stew flies the coop right into the arms of a consoling Gallagher, whom he has loved all along without realizing it, and tells her after he gets his divorce that they’ll marry.
Halliwell Hobbes is amusing as the family’s snooty butler, while Walter Catlett is comical as the corruptible reporter for the rival paper the Tribune. Young has too little to do to make an impact, Harlow is not given many funny lines and is therefore just adequate rather than giving her usual splashy performance, and Louise Closser Hale gives a one-dimensional performance as Harlow’s heavy-handed bigoted blueblood mom.
Still, with all its usual Capra faults, it holds up as a slightly above average breezy newspaper comedy, as one of many such films that were the rage in the 1930s.
REVIEWED ON 11/16/2008 GRADE: B