Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.
Release Date: October 31st, 1931 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Frank Capra Actors: Loretta Young, Robert Williams, Jean Harlow, Halliwell Hobbes, Reginald Owen, Edmund Breese, Donald Dillaway, Walter Catlett, Louise Closser Hale
n a bustling newsroom, easily distracted Post journalist (and aspiring playwright) Stewart Smith (Robert Williams) hides away from his boss to play a handheld game as beautiful young coworker Gallagher (Loretta Young) looks on transfixed, clearly enthralled by her companion, though he barely takes notice. Stew is finally assigned to get an in-person statement from all the important parties in the headline-making Schuyler incident, involving rumors of disgraceful letters written by Michael Schuyler (Donald Dillaway), that promises a great scandal. Competitor and Tribune writer Bingy Baker (Walter Catlett) is the first reporter granted an interview, but he’s more interested in pilfering some cigars from the waiting room and taking a bribe to remain tight-lipped than getting to the truth of the matter.
Stew is next up, immediately manipulating information from the Schuylers’ attorney, Dexter Grayson (Reginald Owen), and matriarch Mrs. Schuyler (Louise Closser Hale) about a breach-of-promise case and a certain Gloria Golden, who demands more than the $10,000 already paid out to keep her quiet. “As a special favor to me, you won’t print that story, will you?” coos sultry blonde daughter Anne Schuyler (Jean Harlow), attempting to use her batting eyelashes to persuade the wily newspaperman. But it’s no use – Smith is only interested in printing a whopper of a story. Despite upsetting the family, he returns the next day to make amends with Anne, who strikes him as a proper woman (or quite the society girl).
“That was news and this is blackmail. I don’t like blackmail.” In an entirely anticipated turn, Stew and Anne hit it off, trading light flirtations and sarcastic quips. For him, she’s a catch; but for her, he’s a mission – to make a gentleman out of a tramp. When they swiftly elope, Gallagher is reduced to tears; but again, Smith takes no notice (after all, Gallagher is just one of the boys, not even given a feminine first name so as to further diminish her sexuality). Although there’s a rapid-fire sensibility to the dialogue, coupled with wry, cynical observations, this Frank Capra-directed comedy-drama is heavier on the drama than the comedy. And it’s obvious that the newlyweds aren’t the most suitable couple, which ought to be remedied at some point, likely with spats and tears.
“Stop calling me mother!” Contention unfolds immediately, with the affluent elites disapproving of Anne’s underwhelming marital selection. Of course, Stew and Anne aren’t on the same page either, since she wants a kept man while he wishes to be the breadwinner who rescues his princess from the monotony of her palace and opulence. Even in the context of the early ’30s, it’s strange to imagine that these two could possibly end up happy together, or change one another; he doesn’t want to give up his manly independence (he despises the thought of being a bird in a gilded cage, a “cinderella man”), and she doesn’t want to give up her life of luxury. The culture clash is irreparable. Of course, when Stew has his own valet engaged, and receives monogrammed garters as a gift, it’s not long before he adopts a few of the ways of the prosperous.
“I don’t need anybody to help me button my pants.” Thanks to the terrible mismatch of the leading couple, jealousy and discontent brews, routinely numbing the comedic components. Disappointingly, Stew only realizes Gallagher’s romantic worthiness when she styles her hair and puts on a sumptuous dress. It’s difficult to sympathize with Smith, who makes one poor decision after another, as his quick wit does him no good when it comes to being blinded by a platinum blonde beauty; and Anne isn’t lovable either, as she has no interest in compromising. They may be scripted this way, but they’re two of the most incompatible onscreen lovers in all of cinema.
The inevitable love triangle is therefore of little complexity; Stew and Anne can’t possibly remain together, and they surely shouldn’t have wedded in the first place. Apparently, in order to become a successful playwright (his dream job), Stew must experience some romantic discord first-hand – but it makes him no more admirable. At least the parting shot is a return to the classic film formula.
– Mike Massie