I normally try to focus on a theme to better curate my viewing. This post will encapsulate 3 films whose primary players don’t have much in common. However, if you wanted a loose point of connection, all three are comedies from 1937-38.
It all happened when I was on the lookout for some underrated screwball comedies and though some of them are more innately screwball, I was pleasantly surprised by what they had to offer. If you haven’t seen them already, consider this a hearty recommendation to check out some underrated films:
Love is News (1937):
Although it traverses the same worlds of pictures like The Front Page, Platinum Blonde, and Libeled Lady, there’s something rather lustrous about getting Tyrone Power in his first headlining role with his leading lady being such a fine rival as Loretta Young.
In the 1930s the prevalence of newspaper movies makes them a workplace subgenre all their own. Love is News is made by this sense of good-natured ribbing and antagonism found end-to-end. In the office, Tyrone Power and Don Ameche feud incessantly, always buzzing the intercom to pull one another off the payroll. And this comic fodder continues when Steve Leyton (Power) finagles a scoop from the “Tin Can Heiress” (Young), sidestepping all the red tape and effectively gaining her confidence.
The piece de resistance is (no, not George Sanders playing a jilted French lover), but the fact the heiress hatches her own scheme as an act of revenge. She calls in a story to say she and Leyton are to be married!! She’s used to the publicity hounds, but he is pummeled by his newfound notoriety without a moment’s peace.
What makes the movie is the kind of rambunctious reunion you would expect given such a scenario. A podunk Judge (Slim Summerville), with a jailhouse falling apart at the hinges, locks them both up: She receives a speeding violation, and he’s apprehended in the middle of grabbing, err “stealing” her vanity case.
By now the last place he wants to be is stuck right next to her — anything else would do — but she orchestrates everything just so. There’s an exuberance because now the game is afoot as Young playacts her way to her desirable conclusion.
Even if the enemy-to-lover romantic arc is something we see so often, it’s the leads who make it spark, and there’s enough chaos to make it more than palatable. I couldn’t help thinking about how bright-eyed Power and Young both feel at this point in their careers, and it gives a kinetic vitality to their chemistry.
Double Wedding (1937)
Double Wedding feels like it banks on all the best characteristics of William Powell. He’s witty, at times churlish and juvenile, but boy does it make for goofy, ever-contentious comedy. This was one of his prevailing gifts as a film actor. We have a fine time messing about with him, and he never quite relinquishes his charm.
I’ve previously mentioned how I’m partial to The Thin Man movies because it plays off the amenable chemistry of Powell and Myrna Loy; not on their antagonism. It’s more about their repartee as comedic and matrimonial equals than it is watching them quarrel and make up.
But enemy-to-love arcs must cast Loy in some other way. In movies like Double Marriage or I Love You Again (1940), she must seem unreasonable from the outset or at least chafe against the wisecracking good humor of Powell.
In this story, she’s the fastidious businesswoman and older sister, who effectively runs her younger sister Irene’s life. It makes her an easy target for Charles Lodge, a man who’s probably a bit slap-happy and far too bohemian for the ’30s, living out of a trailer and putting on his own stage productions.
He scorns this kind of buttoned-up oppression and though Irene and her wet-noodle of a fiancee are charmed by his influence, they’re also not brave enough to stand up to Margrit. It’s so easy to sink back into tedium as she begins to set about plan their wedding for them.
Powell feels like the lynchpin of the movie as he rebuffs Irene’s newfound advances, tries to help the dreary Hugo reclaim his manhood, even as he tries to woo Margrit under the most unconventional circumstances. It hardly seems material that the title gives something away. It feels like more of a signpost for us to aim for.
The escalated chaos of the finale exceeded my expectations as folks crowd in and around Powell’s mobile home for the wedding proceedings overseen by the ever-handy Donald Meek. It just keeps on going and going, but then again, I should expect nothing less from a Powell/Loy comedy. John Beal and Edgar Kennedy are other personal standouts to keep an eye out for.
Young in Heart (1938)
Without any preconceived knowledge of Young in Heart, it actually positions itself with an intriguing premise. It’s built out of a family ensemble of con artists who are always looking for ways to get ahead with varying degrees of success.
Their esteemed patriarch and matriarch are played by Roland Young and Billie Burke respectively. Father is constantly ingratiating himself as a distinguished Colonel who fought with the Bengal Lancers. The grown kids (Janet Gaynor and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) are out on the prowl for eligible suitors, who also happen to be loaded. The French Rivera has more than a few prospects though the authorities are especially vigilant.
The whole movie comes into its own after they’re unceremoniously kicked out of the country and then stuck aboard a train trying to figure out their next angle. George-Anne (Gaynor) meets a kindly old lady, “Miss Fortune,” who has her own compartment. She gladly shares it to stave off her loneliness and the family is quick to oblige. She’s just another mark they can perform for.
She welcomes them into her home, glad to have the company, and they realize if they’re nice to her, she could very easily credit them in her will. For modern audiences, it has the ring of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite albeit without the social commentary. Instead, this family secretly unearths their soft hearts finding that as they model goodness, they find it suffusing throughout their lives.
The Colonel becomes a revered car salesman of “Flying Wombats” to the wealthy. Richard stumbles into an engineering firm because of the pretty girl behind the desk (Paulette Goddard) and soon learns the edifying nature of an honest day’s work. They also fall in love.
If we see the progression from a mile away, it’s still a pleasure to watch this family evolve in front of us, and it feels like each member gets their individual moments to shine. Gaynor feels like the undisputed focal point, and though I don’t necessarily buy her in a skeevy role, we like her already, which is half the battle.
Young and Burke might be known for a single role each (in Topper and The Wizard of Oz), but they always can be counted on with a highly specific brand of comic eccentricity. There’s something wonderful about watching their charms bubble over. Although we could have easily had a Fairbanks-Goddard rom-com on its own, it might have been a bit bland. The ensemble brings the best out in everyone.