Like so many other women, Regi Allen (Carole Lombard) longs for a way out of her mundane life. She’s tired of having to count her pennies, fighting the crowds on the subway, and she’s tired of having to do nails for a living. Of course, the easiest way out of that life would be to marry a rich man and she’s determined to do just that. One day, she’s called up to give Allen Macklwyn (Ralph Bellamy) a manicure and he instantly adores her. Allen is quite wealthy, he had formerly been a pilot but was left disabled after a flying accident. He falls in love with her, makes appointments with her constantly, and they become very good friends, but he never lets her know that he loves her.
As Regi is leaving her first appointment with Allen, she bumps into Theodore Drew, III (Fred MacMurray) as he’s playing hopscotch in the hallway. She doesn’t know who he is, but she thinks he’s a bit screwy and goes on about her day. Later, Ted makes an appointment to get a manicure from Regi. The salon receptionist tells Regi that Ted is from a wealthy family, so when Ted comes to her table and she sees the odd guy from earlier, she tries to turn him away. But when she realizes her mistake, she’s so flustered that she can barely do his nails. Despite the lousy manicure, Ted asks Regi out to dinner and of course, she accepts. The two of them have a swell time on their date, especially Ted who has a little too much to drink. But after a few drinks, he admits that he’s engaged to be married soon.
When Ted passes out in the cab after dinner, Regi lets him sleep on her couch. She only expects him to stay for the night, but he ends up staying longer when he misses his ship to Bermuda and is stuck in New York with no money and no place to stay. His family lost all their money in the big stock market crash and his trip to Bermuda was paid for by his future father-in-law. Of course, the two of them fall in love in spite of one thing: the fact that they both want to marry for money. Regi tries to not get too involved because she’s convinced that Ted could never be happy with her. But when Ted’s fiancée Vivian begins to suspect that Ted isn’t really in Bermuda, she does some detective work and finds out that he’s in New York and that he’s been seen with a manicurist. Vivian books a manicure with Regi and confronts her about what’s been going on. Vivian doesn’t want to give Ted up, but Ted is willing to let Vivian go and he begs her to end their engagement. He wants to marry Regi and he’ll do anything to make it happen, including the one thing he never thought he would do: get a job.
Hands Across the Table is one of my favorite under-appreciated gems and my personal favorite Carole Lombard movie. It may be just a lighthearted romantic comedy, it’s not great cinema, but it is immensely charming. I loved Carole and Fred together. When I saw this movie for the first time, I thought Regi and Ted seemed like a couple I’d want to hang out with and now I know why. Carole and Fred were good friends off-screen and that really came through on-screen, they must have been a blast to be around. Of course, Carole Lombard was a natural with comedy, but the same couldn’t be said for Fred MacMurray. Hands Across the Table is one of Fred’s earliest movies and he wasn’t exactly well versed in comedy yet. Carole and director Mitchell Leisen had to work hard to get his silly performance just right. But all their hard work paid off because he was great as that kind of hapless but lovable character. Why Hands Across the Table doesn’t get more love is a mystery to me.