Two Screwball Comedies And A Murder Mystery: ‘Carole Lombard Collection II’ Reviewed

If part of the draw of the first box set was getting to see Carole Lombard work with her offscreen spouses, William Powell (Man of the World) and Clark Gable (No Man of Her Own), the second box set – Carole Lombard Collection II – includes two screwball comedies and a murder mystery.

In Hands Across the Table, Regi (Lombard) is a manicurist who wants to marry for money, not love, which is why she agrees to a date with Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray). Theodore’s family aren’t as rich as they used to be, though, plus there’s the little matter of Theodore being engaged.

On the surface, Regi might seems like a gold digger but her reasons for wanting to get married are much more pragmatic. It’s why Hands Across the Table would make a great double feature with Made for Each Other, another film starring Lombard and James Stewart, which is basically Regi’s worst fear – a happy marriage that starts to fall apart due to financial difficulties.

MacMurray tends to play presumptuous, haughty characters. Theodore is no different, which is why when Ralph Bellamy appears first it’s a relief, if a temporary one. There’s this unspoken understanding that Bellamy’s Allen can’t be a love interest because he’s in a wheelchair, which is unfortunate and untrue and feels very similar to the thinking that kept Harry Belafonte from getting the girl in The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. The one thing MacMurray does have is a great entrance – Regi bumps into him playing hopscotch in the hall – but according to filmmaker, Alan Arkush, in his commentary track with filmmaker and historian, Daniel Kremer, that was Lombard’s idea.

Arkush and Kremer’s commentary is terrific. There’s a mutual respect that makes them a delight to listen to and they spend a lot of time discussing the director, Mitchell Leisen – his career path; how he got along with DPs versus screenwriters; his use of tight shots and blocking.

In Walter Lang’s Love Before Breakfast, Kay (Lombard) tries to convince her fiancé (Cesar Romero) that he shouldn’t take a job in Japan. Later, though, she learns Scott (Preston Foster) got him the job on purpose because he wanted to woo her for himself.

As film historian, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, quotes Cameron Howard as saying in her commentary track with film historian, Joshua Nelson, “…if you added some sinister music, this light comedy could very easily become a scary stalker movie.” However, Foster’s charm and the way Kay reacts to Scott’s persistence makes this film work. Scott eventually backs down (if it takes him a while), and he comes clean about the job immediately (which doesn’t excuse his behavior but does make him more honest). In their commentary, Heller-Nicholas and Nelson breakdown the film’s infamous poster, where Lombard sports a black eye. They also talk about the film’s relationship with Japan and how the ending is more optimistic than other battle of the sexes comedies.

The last film in the collection, William K. Howard’s The Princess Comes Across, is the weakest, as Lombard tries to pose as a Swedish princess. She’s getting away with it, too (even though, with all the publicity, you’d think she’d be discredited).

MacMurray seems more in his element here than he was in Hands Across the Table. The material is darker, Mantell (like MacMurray) is a musician, and, after there’s a murder on the ship, his romantic pursuit of the princess can’t be as prominent. Kremer and Arkush are the commentators again and if the film starts as one thing and ends up another (Lombard’s accent initially points to comedy), they’re right about the lighting and how the production team managed to create a convincing cruise ship.

The Carole Lombard Collection II is available on Blu-Ray starting April 6th from Kino Lorber.

If part of the draw of the first box set was getting to see Carole Lombard work with her offscreenCOMICONRead More

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