As much as I’d love to do long, loving write-ups of everything I watch, there’s not enough time or energy for that. Anyway, lots of movies don’t deserve loving write-ups! I encounter plenty of stinkers in my quest for good new-to-me films.
Here are quick reviews of two such recently endured flops. I went into both of them with high hopes, but those hopes were quickly dashed.
The Richest Girl in the World (1934)
This romantic comedy was produced by Pandro S. Berman, written by Norman Krasna, and starred Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea. In spite of all those people’s involvement, it was still disappointingly half-baked.
Miriam Hopkins plays Dorothy Hunter, a fabulously wealthy heiress and the titular richest girl in the world. Since returning from Europe to live in the US she’s been keeping a low profile, having her pretty secretary (Fay Wray) pretend to be her in public so she’s not hassled. She meets Tony Travers (McCrea) at a party where the secretary is pretending to be her and she is pretending to be the secretary.
She swiftly falls for Tony, who seems to like her pretty well, too. However, she’s concerned that no man will ever see past her riches and love her just for herself, so she carries on with the ruse of being a secretary. She decides to test Tony by throwing the real secretary, the faux heiress, in his path. That way she can see if he chooses the supposedly rich girl for her wealth, or goes instead for the “secretary” he truly fancies.
Tony is a confusing character whose motives are hard to pin down. Not because he’s so complex and richly drawn, mind you, just because the script can’t decide who he is. He seems to want Miriam Hopkins’ character, but when she encourages him to pursue the secretary/faux heiress he goes along with that just fine, too. He didn’t seem to care too much which woman he got, actually. In the end, after some misunderstandings and further ill-conceived “love tests” concocted by Dorothy, Tony proves his love for her. Or something. They end up married, him still thinking she is a secretary.
Having recently watched 1933’s Design for Living (a fabulous movie that deserves and will get a post of its own sometime soon), I was anxious to see more of Miriam Hopkins. And of course I’m a lovestruck fool for Mr. McCrea these days. There just wasn’t enough good stuff for either of them to work with in this movie, though. Their characters and the whole story were underdeveloped and didn’t make a huge amount of sense.
I didn’t hate the movie. In fact parts were amusing and I kept thinking about how it could’ve been really good with some changes and more fleshing out of the characters. As it is, it’s simply very forgettable. On the plus side, Joel McCrea looks really young and handsome!
A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)
Here’s where I drive away half of this blog’s already small readership by admitting that I find John Wayne completely off-putting. Every now and then I watch one of his movies, either because I’ve heard so many good things about it (like The Quiet Man) or because it also stars someone I love (like Montgomery Clift in Red River), but no matter how good the movie may otherwise be, I just can’t get past my antipathy for Wayne. His swaggering, macho persona is not my cup of tea.
This time I put aside my feelings and gave A Lady Takes a Chance a try because it co-stars Jean Arthur, an actress I pretty much think hung the moon. She has her cute moments in the movie, but not so many that I wasn’t checking my watch every ten minutes, wondering when this uncomfortable experience would end.
Arthur plays Molly Truesdale, a career girl who has multiple men fighting over her in New York, but who isn’t keen on any of them. Having seen these fellows, I don’t really blame her for that. She escapes the clamoring throng of goofy boyfriends at home and takes a vacation bus trip out West.
At one of the stops on her tour she attends a rodeo. Cowboy Duke Hudkins (Wayne) is thrown from his horse and into the stands, landing right on top of Molly. He tries to get up, but she pulls him back down on top of her, so thunderstruck is she by his cowboy manliness.
After the rodeo she chases him down for an autograph and they end up spending the evening together. During most of the evening they don’t have much to say to each other, since they clearly have very little in common. They hit a couple of bars and, of course, get into a brawl in which Duke punches people out. (I know I haven’t seen many Wayne movies, but if there’s one in which he doesn’t punch someone that’s news to me.)
Molly is interested in marriage and true love, but all Duke wants is a roll in the (literal) hay. The blatant way in which he shows and tells her that that’s all he’s interested in was surprising to me for a 1943 movie. Molly is offended by this prairie wolf and ditches him.
Having missed the tour bus during her night with Duke, Molly hitchhikes her way to meet up with the rest of the group. One of the drivers she reluctantly gets a ride with is Duke and his “better half,” an old cowboy codger portrayed by Charles Winninger. They all end up camping out together.
That night Molly makes Duke’s horse sick by stealing the poor animal’s blanket so she’d have a second one for herself, a move which made me dislike her almost as much as I disliked the charmless Duke. The poor horse got pneumonia and nearly died! Somehow Duke is able to forgive all and take back up with Molly in spite of this, once it’s clear that the horse will be okay.
Then some more stuff happens, mostly consisting of Molly trying to use her feminine wiles to trap Duke into a life of domesticity and home cooking, Duke running away horrified, and Molly going back to New York alone. It’s no surprise when Duke follows after her, not because the two are so made for each other, but because it’s just an inevitability for this hokey film. He meets her when she arrives at the bus station, snatching her up in his arms (after punching one of her boyfriends, if I recall correctly) and taking her back on the bus headed West. So long to his old cowboy pal — she’s going to be his new “better half.”
I just couldn’t get into this movie at all. Duke Hudkins was kind of a jerk and Molly was much too desperate to catch him. Plus, she almost killed his horse! It was just bad.
For a city girl/cowboy romance with likeable characters and much more charm, I’d recommend Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon in The Cowboy and the Lady, which I reviewed here last week.
For a movie featuring a much more interesting bus trip, you can’t beat the incomparable It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. That was my palate-cleanser of choice after A Lady Takes a Chance. It cheered me up immensely, as it always does.
What a wonderful scene! One of many perfect moments in the movie. If only all romantic comedies could be as delightful and intelligent as that one. Here’s the hitchhiking scene. It just doesn’t get any better than this!
My search for hidden gems as great as the well-known classics like It Happened One Night is fun, and sometimes turns up something obscure but enjoyable. On the other hand, sometimes movies are obscure for good reason.