Category Archives: 1935

Rendezvous (1935)

When Rosalind Russell was told she was going to be William Powell’s leading lady in the 1935 film Rendezvous, she automatically felt bad for him. “I felt self-conscious. Powell and Loy had been a hit in The Thin Man, they were an unbeatable team, so my first day on Rendezvous, I tried to apologize. ‘I know you don’t want me, you’d rather have Myrna—‘ Powell denied it. ‘I love Myrna, but I think this is good for you, and I’m glad we’re doing it together.’” (Life is a Banquet, 59).

rosalind russell william powell loretta young
Rosalind Russell with William Powell and Loretta Young

His kindness helped her in more ways than one. It is obvious that they enjoy each other’s company in this film, and Roz does quite well in her first lead role. She adored Bill Powell as a friend and as a man—a man with many great qualities, especially in his ability to make others around him laugh and above all his gentlemanly manners.

After eight rather limited, sometimes thankless roles in films, Roz finally got her lucky chance in a lead role and opposite one of the most popular and charming actors of the day, William Powell. It was also the first time she had a significant comedy role (the only other time she delivered comedy lines was in Forsaking All Others, and she had little screen time). She does wonderfully in her first lead comedy role, which foreshadows what a great screen comedienne she would become.

william powell rosalind russell rendezvous
William Powell and Rosalind Russell

Most Rosalind Russell fans are aware of what some of us call the “Roz Eyes,” which occurs when Miss Russell widens her eyes just enough to make the audience laugh, a funny reaction that she displays in many a comedy. She does it so easily that I have begun to suspect she did it involuntarily; it was just a natural reaction in comedy. She also tended to raise her right eyebrow when she thought something in the situation was a bit off or if she didn’t like what her co-star said. These are the little things—the facial expression, eccentric gestures—that become apparent when one carefully studies an actress’s work. It is just these typically Roz facial expressions that first become obvious in Rendezvous. Oh, she might have done it in earlier films, but it wasn’t as noticeable. It is these reactions that can sometimes remind one of Lucille Ball in “I Love Lucy,” another great comedienne.

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Rosalind Russell on location for filming

Rendezvous stars William Powell (in large letters above the title, of course) and Rosalind Russell (in much smaller letters below the title, but hey, I suppose she was still getting started). These two had a very fun chemistry. Of course, it pales in comparison with the chemistry Bill had with Myrna Loy (after all, they did star in 13 film together), but it is obvious Bill and Roz liked each other and enjoyed working with one another. Bill ended up being a longtime friend of hers and even attended her wedding six years later. I have always wished they made more films together, but we can’t have everything we want. They could have had more delightful fun together. This film takes place during World War I in the year 1917 when the United States entered the war. The film concerns a group of men whose job it is to crack the code coming from the enemy so they know what their next move is. The way the code is always written is with invisible ink on ordinary documents. William Powell plays William Gordon, a master at the task, who even wrote a book about enciphering and deciphering code. Soon after Bill is introduced onscreen, Roz appears and she plays Joel Carter, a young woman who spends a lot of her time helping with charities and participating in the women’s suffrage movement.

rosalind russell william powell rendezvous
Rosalind Russell and William Powell

She immediately wants a celebrated Russian singer who is attending the charity event which they are all attending. She wants him to sing at her bazaar and when a man points the singer out to her, she mistakenly thinks Bill is the man she wants. When he realizes what she wants, he plays along and even puts on a fake Russian accent. He says some bizarre things to her and kisses her up and down her arm, which makes her uncomfortable. It is in this very first scene that some of Rosalind’s comic abilities come together and surface. Oh, even if she isn’t doing all the talking, the audience notices her. It’s all in her facial expressions. More fun ensues as a friend of Joel’s convinces her to help her with the charity auction. The woman tells the participants that the person who bids the highest on a doll will be kissed by Joel.

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Henry Stephenson, Rosalind Russell, and Cesar Romero

Joel is embarrassed to do this, but she goes along with it. Soon, she sees a man with a very cumbersome beard (meaning there is just nothing on his face but hair) bidding higher and higher. She starts to get nervous until she sees Bill bidding on her. She seems to enjoy this, but isn’t laughing when Bill suddenly stops bidding at the last minute and the bearded man wins. She gives him a quick peck on the cheek and tells Bill she didn’t think he was very funny. Also at the charity auction is Nick Nieterstein (played by Cesar Romero), a man who has been jilted by Joel several times already, but is determined to have a date with her.

william powell rosalind russell rendezvous
William Powell and Rosalind Russell

He is rather mysterious and we soon find out he is working for the enemy as he relays a code to a man in San Diego, who cleverly writes the code in invisible ink on a prescription medicine bottle, which is then sent on to Mexico, where a man hands it to some Germans who are hiding out in his basement.

The next day, Bill spots Joel again, this time marching in a women’s suffrage march. He notices right away that she is holding a sign which reads “I sent my sons to war, I want the vote,” which clearly does not apply to her.

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William Powell and Rosalind Russell

He jokingly asks her if she has any grandchildren and she switches to a sign marked “I’m in the junior league, I want to vote.” Suddenly, police officers are trying to stop their march and one in particular gets into an altercation with Joel. He tries to take her sign from her and she resists him, trying to push him away. Bill tries to come to her rescue, but when he throws a punch, the cop avoids it and Joel gets it full in the eye. Later, she softens toward Bill and is enjoying his company, but has a date with Nieterstein. She tells him she can’t possibly break a date with him again, but after Bill persuades her to kiss him goodbye at the train station before he goes off to war, she changes her mind. She looks back at Nieterstein sitting alone in the restaurant and quips, “He isn’t a bad chap. I don’t know why I treat him this way.” However, when she gives Bill a few kisses goodbye, she watches a train go and yells out, “Your train is gone!” Bill quickly explains to her that a train is gone. She realizes he’s taken advantage of her and runs off. He chases her down and they spend the entire afternoon and evening together.

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Rosalind Russell and William Powell

He is ordered to work for the war department in Washington, D.C. so they can make use of his decoding skills. He is furious that he has to work at a desk because all he wanted to do was go to war in Europe. He eventually figures out that the Assistant Secretary of War has a niece named Joel Carter and this is when the tables are turned. In the beginning, Bill was chasing Joel all over town, but once this happens, he is so angry that he doesn’t want anything to do with her. So what does she do? She starts chasing him just like a puppy dog. She knows he loves her and simply will not give up. I liked seeing the woman chase the man for once and it was very amusing the scrapes she got him in over the course of the film. At one point, she puts sleeping pills in his coffee because he has stayed up all night trying to decipher a secret code. After drinking the coffee, he ingests some powder that keeps one awake. When Joel finds out what he’s done, she calls out for a stomach pump. He orders her off the premises because he thinks she is ruining his life.

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Rosalind Russell and William Powell

A very important scene in the comedy of this film is when an enemy spy named Olivia comes into the picture (played by the lovely Binnie Barnes, who 30 years later would make The Trouble with Angels and Where Angels Go… Trouble Follows! with Roz). Joel, not always the sharpest crayon in the box, does not realize that Bill is not in the least bit interested in Olivia. He only wants to try to get some information from her. However, she does a funny bit when she pretends to be a matron to help Olivia off with her clothes. There was no way she would allow Bill to do it himself, after all. All eyes are on Roz in this scene. Just watch the way she handles the clothing and the shoes as she takes each article from her. Also, the way she walks back and forth is just funny. She ends it all with a hilarious line to Bill, “She’s bow-legged.” After she brings Olivia some new clothes to try on (an absolutely hideous outfit Joel purposely picked out), Olivia says, “Lt. Gordon is charming, don’t you think so?” to which Joel replies, “Well, of course I only met him with my clothes on,” giving her a withering gaze.

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Rosalind Russell and William Powell

Joel, completely fueled by her jealousy of Olivia, gets herself into trouble by showing up at her hotel room. She is soon bound and gagged and Bill has to save her. He pushes her down as the room is riddled with bullets. Once the Department of Justice has saved them from harm, Joel crazily starts saying, “He hit me over the head with a hammer!” without realizing Bill saved her life. The film ends charmingly when once again, she is kissing Bill (now her husband) goodbye at the train station as he goes off to war for real this time. However, he is once again ordered to sit behind a desk.

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Rosalind Russell giving Binnie Barnes that withering gaze

He stares at Joel knowingly and he starts chasing her through the station. The first time they did this, she was running away from his intentions; this time, it was just cute. This wasn’t exactly the comedy role Roz was known for, but she is rather adorable, charming, and her comic abilities are not to be missed.

 

 

IMDB page for Rendezvous

TCM Overview

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Scene from Rendezvous (1935)

China Seas (1935)

Romance. Action. Melodrama. Torture. Death. Combine these things together and it spells out “China Seas,” a film from 1935. This is another one of those “Lady Mary” roles Rosalind Russell was already beginning to tire of. She once wrote, “I was always taking Clark Gable or Bob Montgomery away from Jean Harlow or Joan Crawford. Temporarily. It was ludicrous” (Life  is a Banquet).

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Clark Gable, Rosalind Russell, C. Aubrey Smith, and Jean Harlow

This was one of those occasions—this time Clark Gable from Jean Harlow. Rosalind played a rich English woman named Sybil Barkley, but Mr. Barkley is now dead and she is a widow, following an old flame of hers, played by Clark Gable, on the boat of which he is captain.

The film opens on the boat which will sail the China seas, like the title suggests. The voyage will be starting soon, but the captain is not yet on board. Without him around to hear,  a few of the workers express their disdain for him and how he will probably arrive, hung over and grumpy. He does finally arrive and his crew could not be more correct about his attitude. It is in the opening scene where we meet some colorful characters played competently by great character actors. One is C. Aubrey Smith, who plays Sir Guy, an old (also grumpy) man who owns the line of China seas ships and tries to watch over Captain Alan Gaskell (Clark Gable). Also along for the ride are passengers such as  constantly soused writer McCaleb (played hilariously by dependable Robert Benchley) and Timmons (Edward Brophy), the gap-toothed, New York accented man married to a beautiful girl (Lillian Bond), who seems to have some tricks up her sleeve.

clark gable jean harlow wallace beery china seas
Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Wallace Beery

Also, there is Dudley Digges, who plays Dawson, a crew man who is always drinking before he gets to work, and who is constantly being chastised by his captain for doing so or for having chewing tobacco in his mouth. Lewis Stone plays a rather withdrawn  man named Davids, who has a bad reputation of being a coward while working on a ship. Finally, among this seemingly large cast are two of the leads, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. Jean Harlow plays a brassy, uneducated, buxom blonde named China Doll (or Dolly) who was involved with Captain Gaskell at one time, and still can’t get him off her mind. Wallace Beery plays Jamesy MacArdle, a criminal who is in cahoots with pirates and wants to attempt to take gold that he is sure is on the ship. Beery also exhibits a slight Irish accent in his role, which is interesting.

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Rosalind Russell

Shortly before the ship is about to take off, a classy British woman comes aboard. It’s Sybil and Gaskell is almost bowled over that she has materialized before him. He was in love with her some years ago, but could never act on it because she was married. However, he knows that she is now a widow and suddenly has stars in his eyes. She mentions to him that she “is now in his hands” and his temperament soon changes after their meeting. The voyage has started and Dolly, forever without shame, bursts into Gaskell’s compartment and mentions the “English dame” she saw him talking to. She is jealous of any woman he makes eyes at and Sybil is certainly no exception. She describes Sybil as looking like she was “smelling a dead fish or something.” Gaskell laughs it off as a joke and later that night, they all sit at a big table to have dinner and Dolly is envious of Sybil because she is allowed to sit next to Gaskell by the head of the table.

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Rosalind Russell and Clark Gable

Sybil has very polished manners and appears to be charming Gaskell into making “goo-goo eyes” at her… or so it seems to Dolly. And Dolly’s green-eyed monster shows its true colors when she interrupts Sybil as she is talking about her native England with another wealthy, worldly woman named Miss Yu Lan (played by Soo Yong). Dolly starts in with her loud, obtrusive voice, making a mockery of English society women like Sybil and even pretends to put a monocle over her eye, thinking that sums up dull English women in a nutshell. Sybil simply smiles at her and tells Dolly that she must really be in love with Alan if she is willing to humiliate herself that way. She excuses herself and Gaskell glares at Dolly, having had enough of her embarrassing him with stories of his darkest moments.

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Soo Yong and Rosalind Russell

When Dolly goes to Gaskell’s cabin to apologize for her behavior the night before, she tells him maybe there aren’t enough male versions of Sybil to go around. He responds by saying, “The real trouble is there aren’t enough female Mrs. Barkleys.” Although Harlow is a major scene stealer in this film and is constantly barking at Clark Gable, who barks back just as loudly, something great going for Roz is her costumes (again). She wears beautiful gowns that appear to be mostly white, although it is hard to tell in black and white. They are expensive-looking, very lovely, and could not make her stand out more. A personal favorite of mine is the adorable polka dot number she wears the day after the eventful dinner. It is important to note how excited Sybil is to be on the ship and how she seems almost itching to see a dangerous storm or something of that magnitude to take over the ship.

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Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Rosalind Russell, Clark Gable, C. Aubrey Smith, and Soo Yong

After Gaskell and Sybil decide they will get married when they get to Singapore, a storm just like Sybil had heard about begins to brew. It causes chaos and tragedy as large objects move from one side of the ship to the other. Gaskell even saves a little girl from being crushed by a piano that was barreling toward her. On the dock, there are steam rollers that horrifyingly crush a few of the men aboard. And the horror doesn’t stop there. Soon after the storm, the ship is taken over by pirates with whom Jamesy is working. They are sure there is gold aboard, so they torture Gaskell with the “Malay boot” in order to pry information from him. The Malay Boot is an ancient torture device that was put around the victim’s foot and as they are being tortured, the spikes or iron vises inside would put pressure on the foot, crushing it if enough was applied.

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Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell

Naturally, Gaskell constantly passes out from the pain until Jamesy decides he doesn’t know anything about the gold because no man could possibly be that tough. Meanwhile,  Dolly has been forced to work with Jamesy after she accidentally finds out what he is up to. She gets him the key to the arsenal so that the pirates can take over the ship.

The next day, the pirates have been overcome by the ship’s crew, especially Davids, who risked his life (contrary to his reputation) by setting off a bomb near some pirates. Gaskell is using a cane to get around on his bandaged foot. Dolly doesn’t want Gaskell to get into any trouble and tells him that “When a woman can love a man right down to her fingertips, she can hate him the same way,” even though both Gaskell and the audience know that she can only love him.

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Rosalind Russell

When Sybil makes her sudden reappearance, it is only to be told that he can’t marry her. Not only does he not want to involve Sybil in the scandal, but a house in Sussex is not really for him and he could not possibly love any woman more than he does Dolly. Referring to Jamesy’s previous line about no man possibly being that tough, Alan Gaskell in fact is. There was gold on the ship, but it was hidden in the steamroller, and he never let it slip while being tortured.

This is a very good film just chock full of so many different genres and such a large cast, each individual character having their own story. I would recommend it to anyone, especially to Clark Gable and Jean Harlow fans. They are at their best in this film and it is rather thrilling to watch them scream at each other as only Clark Gable and Jean Harlow could.

clark gable jean harlow china seas
Clark Gable and Jean Harlow

IMDB page for China Seas

TCM overview of China Seas

Buy the DVD

Very nice fan made trailer for the film: