Yesterday was most certainly been the most five-star day on TCM this month! Yesterday afternoon, I was able to watch: The More the Merrier, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Lady Eve, and Ball of Fire. And those are only the ones I saw. I skipped Notorious, High Society, and most of A Foreign Affair since those were all on quite early and I’d seen them all before. I also caught Casablanca and The African Queen, but since I don’t have anything particularly unique to say about either one of those, I’m just going to skip writing about them. Plus this entry is going to be long enough as it is without those two movies.
The More the Merrier (1943):
The More the Merrier is about Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur), who tries to do her part to help the WWII housing shortage by getting a roommate. Connie originally wanted another woman to share her place with, but instead ended up getting Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn). Connie and Benjamin almost immediately get off on the wrong foot when Connie, being very orderly, tries to implement a down-to-the-minute schedule for them to follow while getting ready in the morning. Of course, chaos and hilarity ensue. While Connie is gone, Benjamin meets Joe Carter (Joel McCrea), a soldier in town for a week before being sent to war and offers to sublet half of his room to him. Connie isn’t thrilled about this situation, but lets Joe stay because nobody has enough money on hand to refund his rent. Connie has been engaged for the past 22 months, but finds herself falling for Joe. It just so happens that Benjamin knows Connie’s fiance and thinks she could do better so he starts trying to play matchmaker. He does everything he possibly can to push them together and succeeds.
I had never seen this movie before today and hadn’t even originally planned to watch it. I thought maybe I’d take a break from TCM and possibly do something mildly constructive instead. But then I started watching it and absolutely had to watch the whole thing. It was totally charming and very funny. It was well written, Jean Arthur was fantastic, Charles Coburn played his standard character but he played it very well, and Joel McCrea was great with both Jean and Charles. It’s an excellent movie that’s really a must-see. I can’t believe I went this long without having seen it.
The Devil and Miss Jones (1941):
We’ve got another pairing of Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn here. Charles Coburn plays John P. Merrick, the richest man in the world. He is surprised to learn that he is the owner of Neely’s department store after the New York Times runs a story about its employees trying to form a union. Determined to put a stop to this, John goes undercover as a salesman named Thomas Higgins to find out exactly who the troublemakers are. He goes to work in the shoe department where he meets Mary Jones (Jean Arthur). Mary helps him adjust to his new job and eventually, he starts to sympathize with the department employees. He’s made friends with Mary and her boyfriend Joe, who has been the leader in organizing the union. He’s also fallen in love with his fellow worker Elizabeth.
Mary, Joe, and Elizabeth are all in the dark about who he really is. At least they are until John makes a suspicious remark that leads to Mary doing a little investigating and discovering that he isn’t who he says he is. Unfortunately, by that time, John has gotten a hold of the list of all the employees who want a union. Mary and Joe conspire to get the list back from him by knocking him unconscious in the storeroom. However, before Mary can hit him on the head, a boot falls and knocks him unconscious. The store security comes in and takes them both to see the manager. Fortunately, John has become very upset by the way management treats the workers and he and Mary refuse to give them the list. John takes this opportunity to reclaim his store, gets rid of the bad management, and takes all his employees on a cruise to Hawaii.
This was another movie that I hadn’t seen before and didn’t even plan to watch today. But after seeing The More the Merrier and loving it so much, I just had to see how this one compared. I didn’t think this one was as great as The More the Merrier, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fun and funny. I don’t know if I’d call Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn one of film’s all-time great duos, but they certainly did make a good team.
The Lady Eve (1941):
Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Coburn play Jean and Colonel Harrington, a father-daughter pair of card sharps. While they’re on a ship, they encounter the wealthy Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), who is returning from the Amazon where he was studying snakes. Jean and Colonel set out to take Charles for all he’s got. But Jean and Charles quickly fall in love with each other and she makes sure that her father doesn’t rob him blind. Falling in love was enough to make Jean want to give up being a card sharp. Charles’ valet, Muggsy, is very suspicious of Jean. Muggsy sets out to find the truth about her and tells Charles what Jean and her father do for a living. Furious, Charles breaks it off with Jean. However, Jean isn’t the type to sit idly by and let him have the last word. A while after their boat trip, Jean and her father run into a friend who has been living in the same area as the Pikes and has been posing as Sir Alfred McGlennan. Jean decides to pose as his niece, Lady Eve Sidwich of England. The two of them show up at a big party thrown by the Pikes, where Charles is stunned by how much Eve looks like Jean. But Charles assumes that if it were Jean, she’d try to changer her appearance more. He ends up falling in love with Eve and falls right into her trap. After seeing her for a couple of weeks, Charles proposes and she accepts. But after the wedding, in a hilarious scene, Eve tells Charles all about her fake sordid past, which is enough to make Charles get off the train and want a divorce. Charles heads off for another boat trip and, in a last ditch effort, Jean books a trip on the same boat as him and they are happily reunited.
In a way, Barbara Stanwyck reminds me of Greta Garbo. They’re both actresses who aren’t most commonly associated with comedy, but when they did do comedy, they were brilliant at it. I know when I think of Barbara Stanwyck, I first think of her tough dame pre-code era movies like Baby Face and Night Nurse. But then there’s movies like The Lady Eve where you get to see how funny she can be and they’re such a refreshing change from the typical Stanwyck movie. Just watch this scene for proof. Barbara’s costar, Henry Fonda, is another person you don’t think of as being very funny, but he could really be great at comedy when he did it. He was great at doing all the tripping scenes and I loved him in the scene where Eve is telling him this big, long story about her fake sordid past. Henry’s reactions were priceless. Stanwyck and Fonda together were cinematic gold.
Ball of Fire (1941):
Ball of Fire has a fairly simple plot. A bunch of professors live together in a house where they are trying to write an encyclopedia. Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) ventures out to do some research on slang since he’s not hearing much of it hanging around a bunch of professors. He stops by a nightclub where he sees Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanywck) perform and thinks he could learn a lot from her. He goes by her dressing room to talk to her and she initially turns him down. But then it turns out that the police are looking for Sugarpuss because they want to ask her some questions about her mobster boyfriend, so Sugarpuss goes into hiding at the professors’ home. But then Sugarpuss and the professors begin to like each other. She teaches the professors how to dance and they have a lot of fun together. And, of course, she and Professor Potts fall in love and Professor Potts ends up rather awkwardly proposing to her. She accepts, but her mobster boyfriend also wants to marry her so she won’t be able to testify against him and sends some of his cronies to take her away. It ends up being a battle of wits between the professors and the gangsters to get Sugarpuss back.
Another great comedic turn from Barbara Stanwyck. Although in terms of Stanwyck/Cooper pairings, I think Meet John Doe was better, but this one really was fun to watch. I liked that this movie kind of combined the best of both Stanwyck worlds. She’s playing a gangster’s moll, burlesque queen, which sounds like a more typical Stanwyck role, but then there’s a comedic twist on it. Very fun indeed.