Category Archives: Life is a Banquet

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

It Had to Happen (1936)

It Had to Happen9Yippee! I have moved away from the year 1935 and will now continue this series with 1936, a year in which Rosalind Russell made 4 films. The first of those four is called It Had to Happen co-starring George Raft. Roz was known for being a practical joker in those days, whether they were pranks pulled on her co-stars or later on her own husband. While she was making this movie with Raft, they made a football bet. Her team lost and she had to pay up. So she did—by delivering a huge bag filled with pennies to his doorstep. Well, hey, as long as it added up to what she owed him, right?

When I watch It Had to Happen, the first thing I notice is the difference in height between the two stars (actually, lack thereof). George Raft was 5’7” and Rosalind Russell was about 5’8”. It Had to Happen8Throughout the film, it looks a little bit awkward that Roz is playing love scenes with a man who just wasn’t tall enough for her. In some scenes, I am almost sure he must be wearing lifts to seem a bit taller, although it doesn’t help his case much. But I am also not overly critical of this movie. I like it and enjoy it. I believe Rosalind and George got along with each other in real life and although it appeared awkward when they were dancing, the chemistry is not nonexistent.

The film opens on a ship going to the United States and Rosalind Russell, playing Beatrice Newnes, is shown being interviewed by scads of reporters. She is called “the richest girl in the world,” as farfetched as that sounds, and is constantly being questioned about who she will marry. It Had to Happen7She thinks it’s all fun and games as she smiles and answers their question while carrying her dog in her arms. However, when they ask her about a man named Rodman Drake, a man she left at the altar, she says emphatically, “That is a question I cannot answer,” and runs off. When she goes down into the steerage area, she meets Enrico Scaffa (George Raft) for the first time. She stands next to him as she tells the person in charge her information, and he stares at her the entire time without blinking. She doesn’t even notice and turns around, walking away, breaking her heel in the process. Enrico walks over and hands her the purse she left behind. It Had to HappenHe picks up her heel as well and a funny thing happens as she trips and falls, then he does the same and falls on top of her. Embarrassed, she quickly gets up and runs away from him. Clumsily, she has to keep picking up her things that she repeatedly drops along the way.  This has to be mentioned because Rosalind Russell was known for her comedy skills. Maybe she wasn’t known for them at this point in her career, but as her skills were honed in small, subtle scenes like this,  it is interesting to see how they blossomed as time passed.It Had to Happen5

Enrico and his pal Giuseppe Badjagaloupe (Leo Carrillo)are immigrants coming to the U.S. for the first time to get work. I must mention here that the spelling of Giuseppe’s supposedly Italian last name shows some ignorance in movies back then. I am no expert on the Italian language, but I do know that no Italian name would be spelled in this way. What they did was spell it the way it sounded to them. I have always found this strange and not very authentic. But you can’t always expect authenticity from a black and white film from 1936. Enrico and Giuseppe eventually get a job in construction. They make it a point to show that Enrico lets people walk all over them because he doesn’t like fights, but it doesn’t take long before the bullying American workers rile him up. It Had to Happen4By the time he and Giuseppe are working in construction and he is given the “honor” of holding up the red flag which stops traffic, he suddenly feels differently. It is also here that he meets Bea again. They haven’t seen each other since the boat, but he notices her and hands her the heel she dropped. Absolutely bowled over by the fact that he still had it with him, Bea explodes with peals of laughter. Rico yells at everyone who barks at him for stopping up traffic, including the mayor, who usually has special privileges. When Rico’s boss calls him a “dumb foreigner” for yelling at the mayor, Rico responds with a punch to the boss’s jaw. Now that Rico has been fired, the mayor snatches him and his pal up to work with him in politics, admiring Rico’s attitude. It Had to Happen3It doesn’t take long for Rico to become well known in politics as he keeps getting promoted and has a talent for getting important people out of trouble without doing anything illegal. He is an honest man and makes sure others know it.

Rico learns about a problem at a trust company where $4 million were embezzled out of the bank. The man behind this is Rodman Drake. Rico goes to his house, where he finds that the man has married Bea, the woman Rico has loved ever since he saw her on that boat. Bea recognizes him right away and acts very indifferently to him because he keeps showing up in her life. It Had to Happen6As she plays the piano in the living room, she keeps looking back at Rico, very wary of his presence. She soon learns what has happened at the company and that if Drake doesn’t give Rico the $4 million to put into the trust company himself, Drake will be indicted.

Back at Rico’s office, he has a secretary named Miss Sullivan (Arline Judge) who is clearly in love with her boss. However, she becomes jealous when Bea arrives at the office and she realizes Rico’s infatuation with her. After Bea promises Rico he will get the money to get her husband out of trouble, he constantly tries to ask her for a date, which she refuses each time. It Had to Happen2Finally, at the horse track, he bets her that if his horse wins the race, she has to go out with him. If her horse wins, he has to stop asking her. She agrees and after she excitedly sees her horse, Queen Anne, win, he sadly shakes her hand and with a tip of his hat, he takes his leave. Before he knows it, that evening, Bea has shown up at his apartment. Feeling sorry for him, she asks him out on a date herself. They go out on the town, dancing and drinking champagne all night. ItHadToHappen4The date ends with them sitting outside, looking at the moon, which Bea swears there are two of (too much champagne). When she gets home from the date, she realizes she is in love with him. She also finds her husband has come home again after being away in Cuba, running away from the scandal he is caught up in. She tells him she wants a divorce because she is in love with another man. He refuses and she relents, telling Rico she needs to stay with her husband because he doesn’t have anyone else or any prospects.

ItHadToHappen54However, Bea can’t stay away from Rico and eventually agrees to marry him after she has divorced her current husband. But when a group of crooked men start to make it look like Rico stole the $4 million from the trust company, he is suddenly in big trouble. By his lawyer’s advice, he decides to flee to Canada for a while and he wants Bea to come with him. She refuses to go anywhere with him, saying he is doing exactly what her husband did. ItHadToHappen101She tells him, “I thought I fell in love with a man. Sorry. My mistake.” This is a brutal blow to any male’s ego and Rico goes to the hearing and tells them exactly what happened—that he did everything honestly and only so the stockholders at the bank won’t lose their money because of some crooked man like Rodman Drake. The judge understands that Rico has caused no harm and lets him go. ItHadToHappen125Rico immediately runs over to Bea’s apartment, bursts into her bedroom, and pulls her out of bed, yelling at her that she will love him and marry him. It is almost as if he is ordering her to do so and surprisingly enough, she likes this kind of treatment and smiles at him as he tells her to kiss him… and again… and again.

This is a fairly good romance even if there some things that I found ridiculous. It is definitely worth a watch, especially for Rosalind Russell fans because this is one of her more rare movies.

 IMDB page for It Had to Happen

TCM overview of the film