While her husband was alive, Nellie Rimplegar (Mary Boland) and her family enjoyed a happily carefree life living together in a beautiful mansion with lots of money. But after her husband’s death, Nellie was left in charge of managing the family’s money and, unfortunately, Nellie isn’t too savvy about investing and their money and soon, it’s all over — the Rimplegar family is shocked to suddenly hear that they are flat broke.
The family has to cut down on all their extravagances, but Nellie’s adult children band together and all set out to get jobs. Elizabeth (Claudette Colbert) gets a job in a shoe factory despite her lack of experience, Ed (Tom Brown) lands a job as a lifeguard, Kenneth (Wallace Ford) keeps working as a legal clerk until he can pass the bar exam, and Douglas (William Bakewell) gets an acting gig. They don’t have much at all, but they do what they can and quickly start to adapt to their new lives as ordinary working class folks.
Meanwhile a couple of family friends move in with the family. One is Ronald (Hardie Albright), Elizabeth’s writer boyfriend who is completely out of touch with reality. He’s recently been kicked out of his apartment and Elizabeth allowed him to come live with the Rimplegars, but even with the family’s woes, Ronald refuses to look for a job or pay rent. And then there’s Dr. Alan Stevens (Richard Arlen), who moves in under the guise of helping out, but he really just wants to be close to Elizabeth.
Three Cornered Moon is a delightful little comedy. Not as strong as other Depression-era comedies that directly deal with the Depression like Gold Diggers of 1933, but it’s still very enjoyable and noteworthy for being an early precursor to some of the zanier screwball comedies that were about to become widely popular in the not too distant future. It’s the sort of movie I can easily see why Depression-era audiences would have enjoyed. It showed how ridiculous the behavior of wealthy people could be, but when they get taken down a peg, they’re likable enough to root for them. Although I was more interested in the movie for Claudette Colbert, Mary Boland stole the show for me; I really got a kick out of her as the gloriously over-the-top and eccentric family matriarch.