Turn Back the Clock (1933)

Turn Back the Clock (1933)

Directed by Edgar Selwyn who co-wrote the screenplay with Ben Hecht (Underworld (1927) & The Scoundrel (1935)) the story is a very clever exploration into the “what if” as in “what if I made a different choice at a pivotal moment in my life” and what would have happened. It stars Lee Tracy (The Best Man (1964)) as the man who gets the opportunity to “see” how his life may have been had he chosen to marry one girl vs. another in his youth.

Joe Gimlet (Tracy) runs a cigar shop in New York. He and his wife Mary (Mae Clarke) whom he loves very much have just gotten by financially and at 43 years of age their life savings amounts to $4000 (less than $60000 in 2005 dollars). While playing checkers with Pete (Edward Gargan uncredited) in walks Ted Wright (Otto Kruger) an old friend of the Gimlet’s from the days when they all lived in a small town together as did Ted’s wife Elvina (Peggy Shannon). Helped by Elvina’s family money Ted is now president of a bank and he invites Joe to bring Mary to dinner for a little get together “nothing formal just black tie” he says. Of course this is really dressing up for the Gimlets but they go to catch up on old times though they must walk for 15 minutes to get to the Wright’s hotel. They dine with the Wrights and their friend Dave Holmes ( C. Henry Gordon) who Joe learns by observation is likely having an affair with Elvina. Ted doesn’t seem to mind though since he asks Joe & Mary to come back to their room without interrupting Elvina & Dave on the dance floor. Ted tells Joe that he actually envies him but Joe says “that’s easy to say from where you’re sitting” (e.g. with wealth). When Ted finds out that the Gimlet’s savings amounts to just a few thousand dollars he offers to invest it for them promising it’ll be worth $20000 in a few months and perhaps $100000 in a year. Though Joe is very interested in Ted’s offer Mary declines it. This obviously becomes a source of conflict between the two as they return home that evening leaving Joe wishing he’d taken the $400 he’d saved all those years ago and given it to Elvina’s father for an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a real estate deal he’d been offered.

After a drunken argument with Mary who goes to bed Joe leaves hastily and is instantly hit by a car and taken to the hospital. When they put him under for surgery he hallucinates most of the rest of the film – what would have happened if he had accepted Elvina’s father’s offer and married his daughter instead of Mary. It starts with Joe waking up in bed and noticing himself looking much younger. He seems to realize right away that he’s gotten his wish which is confirmed when he enters the kitchen to find his mother (Clara Blandick – Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz (1939)). After a brief confused discussion with her she calls the doctor (Charley Grapewin uncredited) to examine him but Joe fast talks his way out of there. He then walks to his job as a soda jerk in a drug store passing through the small town he lived in at the time Theodore (not Franklin Delano) Roosevelt was President of the United States. Once there after an unsuccessful attempt to convince Mr. Crandell (William Burress uncredited) that his store should be selling knickknacks Elvina and her father enter the place. Because of his daughter’s close relationship to Joe Mr. Evans (George Barbier) offers him a partnership in a real estate deal for the $400 Joe has saved and this time Joe accepts. Mary is sorry to hear about the deal because she thought Joe was saving the money to get married to her! Ted shows up to console Mary (later the two of them marry).

We then get to follow Joe’s life as he marries Elvina and given what he knows about the future becomes wealthy as a visionary. Something I should mention is that the Three Stooges a very young looking Larry (Fine) Moe (Howard) and Curly (Howard) are singers at the Gimlet’s wedding. One of the deals he makes is with the same Dave Holmes who owns part of a trucking business Joe wants to own to prepare Evans’ and his company for the pending war. When the Great War does break out instead of going himself as he did when he was married to Mary Joe gets caught up in the patriotic speeches to the departing soldiers and announces that he’ll give a million dollars ($200 each) to the returning veterans. Elvina isn’t real happy about this or the fact that the President appoints Joe to a war department job which takes him away from her. But she adapts and adjusts by having an affair with Dave Holmes naturally. The years pass quickly until Joe finds himself in much the same situation as he found Ted in the first part of the film. He then enters a cigar store and what do you know it’s Ted’s shop and he lives in a “little dump” upstairs with his wife Mary. You can pretty much tell where things are going now. However I don’t think when Joe laments to Ted that he’d trade places with him in a minute that it’s entirely earned (e.g. Joe seems to have had some fun and was rather unsentimental up until that point).

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