Icons of Screwball Comedy Volume One
If You Could Only Cook (1935) – the plot will seem similar to anyone who’s seen Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer in Tovarich (1937) but since this preceded it the latter comedy likely borrowed from this one which stars Herbert Marshall and Jean Arthur. It was directed by William A. Seiter and features a screenplay by Howard J. Green and Gertrude Purcell from a story by F. Hugh Herbert. Marshall plays an automobile tycoon – about to be married (to Frieda Inescort’s character) – whose company is no longer interested in producing his revolutionary designs. Disillusioned with it all including his pending bride-to-be Jim (Marshall) takes a walk and happens upon an out-of-work soon to be homeless woman named Joan (Arthur). Since it’s during the day (at the time of the Great Depression) she assumes that he’s in a similar circumstance and proposes that together they’d have a chance at a job as a cook and butler per a want ad. Taken with her charm (etc.) he agrees and – because Joan really can cook – they get the job working for Mike Rossini (Leo Carrillo) whose right-hand man is Flash (Lionel Stander). When Jim finds out that Rossini is a bootlegger Joan convinces him that “a job is a job” and again he agrees to go along with it never letting on who he really is. There are even a couple of scenes in which they discuss the car executive during which she ‘claims’ to have been his former flame. Naturally Jim falls in love with Joan but is made to realize that the possibility of their getting together is hopeless after he discusses it with a trusted colleague and she inexplicably fails to meet him for lunch. Though the last minutes of the story swings left right and left again the outcome is never in doubt.
Too Many Husbands (1940) – full review!
My Sister Eileen (1942) – first adapted from Ruth McKenney’s autobiographical stories (published in The New Yorker) by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov for a stage play the same two wrote the screenplay for this comedy – directed by Alexander Hall (Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)) – that features the first of Rosalind Russell’s four (unrewarded) Academy Award Best Actress nominations. Russell and Janet Blair play sisters from Ohio Ruth and Eileen Sherwood; they’ve come to New York in search of their fortunes. Ruth’s an aspiring writer who fails to find success until prompted by a magazine editor that’s smitten with her (Robert Baker played by Brian Aherne) she starts writing about her experiences – as the ‘wallflower’ sister of a ‘man magnet’ (Blair in the title role). As fodder for her writing (and this screwball picture) the girls were snookered into renting a cheap loud and without privacy basement apartment in Greenwich Village by a Greek landlord played by George Tobias. The kooky characters include Gordon Jones as a punchy ex-footballer – a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech – trying to avoid his mother-in-law a psychic played by June Havoc and even a surprise appearance by The Three Stooges at the very end. Allyn Joslyn Grant Mitchell Richard Quine (he directed the 1955 musical remake with Janet Leigh Jack Lemmon Betty Garrett and Bob Fosse) and Donald MacBride as Officer Lonigan also appear.
She Wouldn’t Say Yes (1945) – Rosalind Russell plays a psychiatrist that believes one should keep their impulses under control; Lee Bowman plays a cartoonist whose “Nixie” character inspires people to do what they want to do. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which way this comedy is headed once the two of them (quite literally) bump into each other. The story by László Görög (The Affairs of Susan (1945)) and William Thiele adapted by writers John Jacoby Virginia Van Upp and Sarett Tobias is too contrived to make this one very entertaining though Russell’s character is typically sassy (which is sometimes enough). Adele Jergens plays a Bolivian blonde man-eater that gets in the middle of things as does Charles Winninger who plays Russell’s doctor-father and Henry Davenport her manservant. Percy Kilbride is perfectly cast as a confused judge that becomes a pawn in Bowman’s plot to entrap Russell’s before his character is shipped overseas to serve in the war. It’s unfortunate that spotting and identifying the uncredited actors who have bit parts – like Willie Best Al Bridge Arthur Q. Bryan (the voice of Elmer Fudd) Edward Gargan Eily Malyon a very young Darren McGavin Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer and Cora Witherspoon – is the most entertaining part of watching the movie. Mary Treen also appears and is among the credited cast.