Category Archives: 1936

Craig’s Wife (1936)

john boles rosalind russell craig's wife
John Boles and Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

Although Rosalind Russell did not say much about her last film of 1936—her few words added up to “I was playing a meanie in Craig’s Wife”—it is a powerhouse performance that finally cemented her place as a serious actress in Hollywood. Rosalind fought hard so she wouldn’t have to do this role. She was sure everyone would hate her if she played “Craig’s wife,” but in the end, she did it and she was very close to being nominated for her acting skills. She may not have wanted to do it, but she gave it her all and I personally am glad we get to watch her in such a different role.

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Jane Darwell, John Boles, and Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

It shows how much range she was capable of and how well she could do it.

Craig’s Wife was the first film in which Rosalind received top billing. In the past, she was either relegated to the supporting cast or she was the female co-star behind the male star.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

But in Craig’s Wife, lo and behold, she was the star. And she deserved it! She needed to put those snobbish English lady and “other woman” parts behind her, put her acting shoes on, and go show the world how many emotions she could instill in them. No, she wasn’t a superstar, but she was getting there; she was getting more and more well-known and—I’m sure of it—loving it.

Directed by the famed woman director Dorothy Arzner, Craig’s Wife is about a woman who has complete control over her husband, the people who work for her, and her house, but who, in reality, just wants to be alone.

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Jane Darwell, Rosalind Russell, and Nydia Westman in Craig’s Wife (1936)

Or does she? The film opens with an air of fear and stress as one of the maids, Mazie (Nydia Westman), moves one of the vases on the mantle just an inch. The older maid, Mrs. Harold (who is well-respected and more aware) immediately shouts out to her to leave it alone.

rosalind russell john boles craig's wife
Rosalind Russell and John Boles in Craig’s Wife (1936)

If she moves even one thing in this house or leaves one speck of dust, there will be a lot of trouble in store for both of them. She calls the room in which they are standing the “holiest of holies.” Later that night, Walter Craig (John Boles) is having dinner with his Aunt Ellen (Alma Kruger), who also lives at the house. He is going over to a friend’s house to play some poker, which he hasn’t done in a long time.

rosalind russell john boles craig's wife
Rosalind Russell and John Boles in Craig’s Wife (1936)

Ellen mentions that he hasn’t gone out to have fun by himself in a long time because of his controlling wife, Harriet (Rosalind Russell). Walter doesn’t think much about it. He just hopes that Harriet will come home soon. She is in Albany visiting her sick sister in the hospital.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

When he leaves for his friend Fergus Passmore’s place, he exchanges a short conversation with their next door neighbor, Mrs. Frazier (played by Billie Burke). She often stands outside, watering her beloved roses, which she treats like her own children.

Walter visits his friend, a jealous man with a faithless wife, who tells him that his wife will be going out again and that nobody wants to play poker with him.

john boles rosalind russell craig's wife
John Boles and Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

Walter is the only one who has come by. Fergus seems very distraught and angry, which worries Walter a bit. Meanwhile, in Albany, Rosalind Russell makes her first appearance as the icy Harriet Craig. She sits in her sister’s hospital room, contemplating what is going on. Her sister’s daughter, Ethel, is by her mother’s bedside, sobbing over her sickness. Harriet immediately fetches a nurse and tells her she will leave right away with her niece because she thinks Ethel will set her back.

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Rosalind Russell and John Hamilton in Craig’s Wife (1936)

It is on the train home that the viewer gets a first glimpse at the type of woman Harriet is. Ethel informs her aunt of her intention to marry a man who teaches at the college she attends, and that she would never marry someone unless she was in love.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

Harriet doesn’t seem to agree with her views, saying that “love is a liability in marriage.” Ethel discovers that her aunt has never been in love with her husband, Walter, and that the main reason why she married him was to have a place in society and to have a lovely house, which we find out later is her “true love.”

rosalind russell john boles craig's wife
Rosalind Russell and John Boles in Craig’s Wife (1936)

“I married to be independent… independent of everybody,” says Harriet, something that shocks Ethel. Harriet then sends a telegram to Ethel’s boyfriend in Ethel’s name, which immediately rouses suspicions in him.

rosalind russell john boles craig's wife
Rosalind Russell and John Boles in Craig’s Wife (1936)

The next morning, Fergus and his wife have been found dead in their home and Mrs. Harold, one of the Craigs’ maids (Jane Darwell) suspects Mr. Passmore right away. Harriet arrives home ahead of schedule and exhibits some very obsessive compulsive behavior the minute she walks in the door. The first thing she notices is that the door was ajar when she came in and she will have none of that. While she tells Mazie to get Ethel’s bag up to her room, she looks around the room for even the tiniest thing out of place.

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Rosalind Russell and Jane Darwell on the set of Craig’s Wife (1936)

She touches every surface to make sure no dust is visible and examines every object in the room to see that they have not been moved from their original position. It is clear—although it is subtle beneath her icy exterior—that she is unhappy when she finds some mysterious flowers in the room and a stray piece of paper on a table.

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Rosalind Russell on the set of Craig’s Wife (1936)

Her anger rises when she finds out each object is directly connected to something she didn’t control. The flowers came from Mrs. Frazier, who is visiting with Aunt Ellen upstairs and the paper has a phone number on it—a number where Walter could be reached since he went out last night. Despising the fact that he went out without her permission, she hurries upstairs and calls the number, trying to find out who it belongs to.

rosalind russell john boles craig's wife
Rosalind Russell and John Boles in Craig’s Wife (1936)

Because the Passmores were found dead that morning, any calls to the number are being monitored, immediately putting the Craigs into some hot water. Harriet simply doesn’t trust anyone, even her own husband, who clearly adores her. She doesn’t trust others to be in her house, especially her neighbor, Mrs. Frazier.

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Alma Kruger, Rosalind Russell, and John Boles in Craig’s Wife (1936)

When Walter comes home and finds out his wife is back, he runs up the stairs, excited as a little boy, and greets her with glee. It is awful to imagine the fake love Harriet has for her husband, a man whose love is genuine. One of the first things she tells him when he comes into her room is to not sit on the bed because he will muss it.

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Billie Burke and Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

He doesn’t see why it matters, but he listens to her anyway (as he always does). He kisses her, so happy to see her, and she tells him that Ethel is here and that she doesn’t want Mrs. Frazier in the house. She doesn’t want her near the house or near him and Walter thinks it’s ridiculous. And it is indeed ridiculous to think a woman 23 years older (the actress anyway) than Harriet could steal her husband away.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

Later that evening, Ellen tells Harriet that “people who live to themselves are generally left to themselves,” a statement that would resonate with Harriet later on. She tries to explain to Walter what kind of woman Harriet really is, but Harriet immediately and nervously laughs very loud in reaction.

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Rosalind Russell’s withering glare in Craig’s Wife (1936)

She doesn’t want to hear it because she knows it’s true. Her husband has been fooled by Harriet’s motives in the two years they’ve been married and she wants it to stay that way. But once Harriet has left the room, Ellen tells Walter the truth.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

She explains that to Harriet, her life is all about her reputation and her lovely home, not the people in it. If she thought she could have this house without Walter, she would do so. After the enlightening conversation with his aunt, Walter takes a ceramic object off the mantle and smashes it on the floor in anger.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

He doesn’t care anymore that Harriet doesn’t want a thing out of place, for the room to be spic and span. He has been fooled for far too long and he will smoke in the house if he wants to.

The next day, Ethel finds out that Harriet had answered the phone when her boyfriend had called and told him she was not to be disturbed.

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Rosalind Russell and Dorothy Wilson in Craig’s Wife (1936)

She is angry about what she did because she wanted to talk to him. While she is explaining her reasons for leaving, Harriet is suddenly distracted by a noise outside. She gets down on her hands and knees in despair and rage, inspecting the damage the mover has caused.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

He was carrying a trunk across the hall and accidentally dropped it, causing it to slide across the floor, scratching it. To scratch Harriet’s beautiful floor is a terrible crime. She screams at him and doesn’t even notice that Ethel has already gone.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

It is at this point that everyone starts leaving her house, which is something she thought she wanted anyway. After Ethel, Aunt Ellen and Mrs. Harold hand Harriet their keys to the house. They leave together, leaving Harriet with Walter. However, the same day, after Harriet has discovered the broken pieces and cigarette butts all over her “holy” room, Walter also gives her his keys, saying she can keep the house.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

It’s all she wanted anyway and “you neither loved me nor honored me.” She is left alone in the house and she looks around, trying to take in what just happened.

She receives a telegram, informing her that her sister has died. Without any family or anyone in the house to keep her company, she is finally completely alone. She breaks down, crying about her plight, and realizes this isn’t what she wanted after all. When Mrs. Frazier comes by and hears of the news, offering condolences, Harriet decides she wants company after all. But by the time she calls out to her, Mrs. Frazier has already gone. Harriet looks around the big, empty house discerningly with glistening, beautiful tears in her eyes.

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Rosalind Russell in Craig’s Wife (1936)

She now knows what it’s like to be “independent of everybody” and it’s too late to go back.

This role was a far cry from anything Roz did before or after, but I have to say, it’s fascinating to see her transformed into an ice queen with a domineering personality. I also have to admit her character frightened me at first. It was a bit of a shock to me, but what a performance!

IMDb page for Craig’s Wife

TCM overview of the film

Trouble for Two (1936)

robert montgomery rosalind russell trouble for two
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

Adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson short story “Suicide Club,” Trouble for Two is the first time MGM paired Rosalind Russell with Robert Montgomery. Although she had a very small role in Montgomery’s film Forsaking All Others two years earlier, it can hardly count as a co-starring venture. This 1936 film is rather bizarre and it certainly is neither Rosalind’s nor Robert’s best film. That said, it is still an entertaining little gem (and I mean little because it is very short, only 74 minutes long).

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

Rosalind Russell once said in a 1943 Photoplay interview that this film was her worst (so far), but I am sure she was completely disregarding the fact that she had already made The Casino Murder Case. After all, she wrote in her book that she liked to pretend Casino didn’t even exist (Life is a Banquet, 65). As with several movies before this, one of the advantages was the wardrobe. The film takes place in the 19th century, so she wore many lovely period costumes with some beautiful jewelry.

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

A simple star necklace is my favorite piece in the movie. Robert Montgomery had curly hair in this film, a far cry from his usually straight brown hair. He also sported a mustache, which I found took some getting used to. Roz wore her hair in cute little ringlets, which gave her a unique look.

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

Montgomery plays a crowned prince of the fictional Corovia. His name is Florizel and his father is the king, played by E. E. Clive. Colonel Geraldine (Frank Morgan at his usual comic best) is called upon to always keep an eye on Florizel because he sometimes thinks he can do whatever he pleases and needs to stay out of trouble.

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Rosalind Russell and Frank Morgan in Trouble for Two (1936)

When Florizel first makes his appearance, he is causing a ruckus in the palace with a group of friends while he stands on stilts in the middle of the room. Geraldine fetches him and brings him to his father, where they have a meeting about Florizel’s upcoming arranged nuptials to Princess Brenda of Irania.

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

Florizel is not keen on the idea and is amused when he discovers Princess Brenda feels the same way. She says of Florizel, “I will never buy a pig in the poke,” and has no intention of marrying him.

After the embarrassment this has caused for the royal family, the king sends his son off to London for a while (incognito, of course) with his chaperon, Geraldine. Florizel and Geraldine endure a dull boat ride to London under assumed names (Mr. Godall and Major Hammersmith, respectively).

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Frank Morgan, Robert Montgomery, and Rosalind Russell on the set of Trouble for Two (1936)

It is there that he meets a mysterious woman with dark eyes (Rosalind Russell) who would like him to help her (“a damsel in distress”) by taking possession of some papers that she says someone wants badly from her. He keeps them and when they dock in London, he intends to return them to her but cannot find a sign of her, and what’s more—the papers are completely blank. But she has captured his attention.

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

The next evening, the mysterious woman finds out where Florizel is dining and follows him there. Florizel meets a man at the café who is offering an enormous amount of cream tarts to everyone he meets. Florizel asks him what it is all about and he finds out that the man intends to end his life and he is having a last bit of fun before that happens. The man’s name is Mr. Barnley and he speaks of a secret “suicide club” in town, where you “choose to die, but not at your own hands.” In this morbid “game” of sorts, once you pay an admission to the club, each member draws a card from a deck. The person who draws the ace of spades is the one who is to die, and the person who draws the ace of clubs is the executioner.

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Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

The three of them decide to go to this suicide club out of curiosity. Mystery Woman follows them there and it is revealed her name is Miss Vandeleur. She is the only woman in the club and becomes the “executioner” her first time there. She does not appear frightened about it and in fact always stares emotionless, which makes her even more of a mystery.

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Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery in Trouble for Two (1936)

Mr. Barnley is the one to die and they disappear. The next morning, they find the death notice of Mr. Barnley in the paper and Florizel cannot believe she could do something like this.

Still curious, Florizel goes to the suicide club again and finds Miss Vandeleur there. This time, Florizel draws the ace of spades and once again, Miss Vandeleur draws the ace of clubs. They take a carriage ride into the woods and Florizel keeps asking her questions about herself and about what will take place.

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Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

She simply stares ahead, not allowing him to see any trace of emotion. In fact, when she informs him that he will be “torn to pieces” by lions, she says it with so much conviction and so apathetically that I find it difficult not to laugh. I’m just trying to imagine someone actually saying something so gruesome without even a line of worry in their face.

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Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

She is about to unlock the lion enclosure at the Malden Zoo when we suddenly see that she has feelings after all. She can’t do it and runs off crying. They suddenly find they are being followed by the president of the suicide club and flee to a local inn.

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Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

Florizel soon finds out Miss Vandeleur is in fact Princess Brenda when she says to him, “I refuse to buy a pig in a poke!” They laugh, but they know they are in trouble because they didn’t carry out the suicide club’s task. Florizel discovers he has been accused of treason by another Corovian, Dr. Noel.

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Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

It turns out that Dr. Noel is the president of the suicide club (Reginald Owen) and has been plotting to assassinate Florizel. Princess Brenda, who has now completed her mission of finding out if Florizel is a brave man, helps Florizel and Geraldine carry out a plan to trap Dr. Noel into a duel.

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Rosalind Russell in Trouble for Two (1936)

There is a magnificent fencing duel between the two, which ends in Dr. Noel falling backwards, defeated.

Florizel and Brenda get married as planned, but it is not quite the traditional arranged marriage. They have indeed fallen in love with each other and wink at each other, keeping the secret to themselves.

IMDb page for Trouble for Two

TCM overview for the film

Trailer of the film: