BARBARA STANWYCK, a clear favorite, has just been crowned champion of this era, the 1930s. She beat out Myrna Loy, another popular actress, 51-43. She will face 1950s champion Audrey Hepburn on Saturday afternoon on Monty’s blog, http://www.poohtiger-allgoodthings.blogspot.com
This means that my participation in the tournament is now over. I have had fun, as I do every year. Thank you, Monty, for inviting me to co-host again! I loved every minute!
When it came to the movie that finally made Rosalind Russell a bona fide star, The Women, she made a few smart decisions, even if one in particular was underhanded and not very professional. Although Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford were much bigger stars than she was, Rosalind was determined to have her name billed above the title and wasn’t willing to settle for “with Rosalind Russell” after the title. So this is what she did: after much of the movie had been shot, she pretended to be sick.
“You couldn’t pull that trick in the first few days, they’d just replace you. I never attempted it again in my whole career, and I only did it that once because I had a feeling I could make it work…Norma Shearer wouldn’t give in on the billing, so I wouldn’t come to work. I wasn’t holding up production, they had plenty to shoot, but I let it be known that I was going to be under the weather for quite a long time.
I lay out in my garden, looking up at the sky, and every day Benny Thau, who was in charge of talent and their problems, would phone and ask how I was coming along, and I’d say, ‘Not very well. I don’t feel very well.’
The last time he called—it was the third or fourth day of my strike—he said, ‘Oh, something happened this afternoon. Norma Shearer says you’re so good in this film that she’s going to allow you to be starred too.’
‘That’s very nice of Norma,’ I said.
Pause. Then Benny spoke again. ‘Do you think,’ he said, ‘you’d feel well enough to come to work tomorrow?’
‘Hmm,’ I said. ‘I’ll call my doctor, Benny, and I’ll make a stab at it.’
Not only did The Women bring her the stardom and recognition she yearned for, it also brought her to the attention of the man who would become her husband of 35 years.
On the voyage to America, he watched The Women on board, the only movie they would show, and Rosalind’s crazy antics caused him to proclaim: “I’m either gonna kill that girl, or I’m gonna marry her.” And marry her he did.
Although Miss Russell had some trouble getting the bigwigs to believe she would be good as the vicious, gossipy Sylvia Fowler, she gave a rather exaggerated screen test that made them finally believe in her. The Women is a film full of women with no men in sight. The tagline says it’s “all about men,” but it’s more about the women in the film and the complicated relationships between friends and enemies. There are many different types of women represented in the film, from the good wife (Norma Shearer) to the gold-digging hussy (Joan Crawford) to the fiercely disloyal gossip monger (Rosalind Russell) to the naïve, timid newlywed (Joan Fontaine) to the older, more experienced mother of many (Phyllis Povah). I could go on and on, but these are quite a few of the different characters represented.
When the movie opens and it starts with two female dogs yapping at each other and then we start to see the cacophony of yappity-yap from the mouths of the human females inside Sydney’s salon, it sets the scene for this film. We can all tell gossip will be a very important component of this film and how it damages others, as funny as the situations are. Incidentally, the first star the audience sees is the first creature shown—the dog who plays Toto in The Wizard of Oz, which was released the same year as The Women. The first prominent character we see in the film is—ta-da—Rosalind Russell as Sylvia Fowler! She couldn’t look more bored as she sits in her chair, getting her nails done, while reading a magazine, her glasses dangling from her mouth so precariously.
The manicurist, Olga (Dennie Moore), is rattling off one rumor after another, but Sylvia’s ears do not perk up until she hears the name of her friend and cousin, Mrs. Haines. It is not long before Sylvia is on the phone, spreading the rumor to another friend, Mrs. Edith Potter (Phyllis Povah), who has children (all girls) crawling all over the place. She informs her friend that “Stephen is stepping out on Mary” and “wouldn’t it be ghastly” if Mary was to hear about it? And “won’t it be too tragic, eating her food and knowing all about her husband?” This scene allows us to have a peek at what type of person Sylvia is.
Let’s just say we wouldn’t want to have her as a friend. It also reflects the opening titles, which have each actress and character represented by an animal. For example, Mary (Norma Shearer) is a docile deer, Crystal (Joan Crawford) is a predatory cheetah, and Sylvia is a black cat, hissing. No, the black cat is not your friend and no, you do not want this black cat to be your friend.
Sylvia is due to be at Mary’s house later that afternoon for lunch. In the meantime, we meet Mary, who is riding horses with her daughter, dubbed Little Mary (Virginia Wiedler). They appear to have a very close, fun relationship. Mary is very excited about a yearly trip to Canada she takes with her husband—to the spot where they had their honeymoon about ten years earlier. Her guests soon start coming in. As Edith arrives, we find Sylvia in the living room chatting her head off with Peggy (Joan Fontaine) and Nancy (Florence Nash) in the room with her. As Sylvia takes off her jacket to reveal a blouse underneath that has eyeballs on it, Nancy cracks, “Great guns, what are you made up for, the Seeing Eye?”
“You better save your cracks for your next book, dear,” Sylvia fires back. Little Peggy is clearly the youngest of the lot and hasn’t been married very long. It is obvious how naïve she is by the way she talks. This type of character is one that Joan Fontaine would go on to play to great acclaim in Rebecca the following year. As much as Sylvia loves to gossip with Edith, she isn’t safe from her insults. “Oh, Edith, you are a bore!” she says at one point and after Edith leaves the room, she continues, “I’m devoted to Edith Potter, but she does get me down.”
When Nancy insinuates that Sylvia wouldn’t hesitate to tell Edith about her husband’s flirty habits, Sylvia says, “I’d die before I’d hurt Edith,” to which Nancy replies, “Nuts?” holding out a bowl of nuts. This is a funny little trick because Rosalind does the same thing 19 years later in the movie Auntie Mame: In response to what someone has said, she holds out a bowl of nuts, saying, “Nuts?” Sylvia goes on about how it may be possible Mary’s husband is straying. The deliciously funny banter between Sylvia and Nancy the novelist is great. Nancy: “Oh, you’re so resourceful, darling. I ought to go to you for plots.” Sylvia: “You ought to go to someone.”
Another one—Nancy: (talking about Mary) “She’s content to be what she is.” Sylvia: “Which is what?” Nancy: “A woman.” Sylvia: “Oh, and what are we?” Nancy: “Females.” Sylvia: “And what are you, pet?” Nancy: “What nature abhors—I’m an old maid, a frozen asset.” A lot can be said about this absolutely brilliant screenplay, which was mostly written by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin based on the play by Clare Booth Luce, but a lot of writers contributed to it, including the famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald. That wonderful, biting dialogue is to die for!
Before Mary comes in to greet her guests, Sylvia finally gets Edith in the bathroom, telling her more details about the rumor. Stephen has been seeing a woman named Crystal Allen who sells perfume at Black’s, Fifth Avenue. It is clear how Sylvia thinks she’s better than working class people; the way she looks down her nose at the fact that Stephen is seeing a woman so obviously beneath him is proof.
In the middle of all this, Sylvia doesn’t pass up the chance to insult her friend: “You know I go to Sydney’s for my hair. Oh, you ought to go, pet. I despise whoever does yours!” Also, when she complains about the sort of creature Olga the manicurist is, it is ironic how it so accurately describes her: “You know how those creatures are—babble babble babble—a lot they care whose lives they ruin!” And that’s just what Sylvia’s set out to do.
As Mary finally comes out to meet her friends, Sylvia starts right away in trying to get Mary to go to Sydney’s Salon, showing her the nail job they did on her. She smiles mischievously and devilishly puts her hands together after Mary makes it a point to remember Sydney’s and Olga’s names.
In the next scene, Mary goes to Sydney’s just like Sylvia wanted her to and gets her nails done by Olga. Just like with any other customer, Olga quickly starts telling Mary the rumor about her husband. Mary is shocked and hurt by what is being said and Olga doesn’t realize the damage she is doing because she doesn’t know Mary is Mrs. Haines. Now Mary knows everything, including the woman’s name—Crystal.
Before you know it, she is crying to her mother about her husband’s betrayal. I enjoy this scene because although her mother has very old-fashioned ideals, telling Mary she must ignore it and go on with her life and marriage as is, Mary is adamant and says she will not stand for it because giving in to it is “shockingly wrong.” Mary is acting more of a feminist than her mother is—at least for now. While Mary goes off to Bermuda with her mother to get away from her husband, her friends, and the rumors, Sylvia and Edith stroll over to Black’s to get a peek at Crystal for the first time.
As Sylvia and Edith look around the shop, they know right away which one is Crystal as soon as they see her. Played by Joan Crawford, this man-eater has only one thing on her mind—getting herself out of this job as she uses her wiles on Stephen more and more. When Stephen calls her up at the shop, even though she has that tough kind of voice, as soon as she speaks on the phone, her tone has turned to such a sugary sweet one, working on getting sympathy from Stephen. This is a very funny bit because Virginia Grey (whose only scene is this one) is a co-worker of hers and the whole time she’s on the phone, she’s wisecracking about everything she says. As soon as Crystal hangs up, she declares: “Can you beat him? He almost stood me up for his wife!” But before she can leave to meet him, she has to go attend to some customers who asked for her by name—Sylvia and Edith, of course.
As Crystal waits on them, Sylvia keeps looking her up and down and when Crystal mentions that “so many men” come into the shop that there would be no way that she’d remember someone named Stephen Haines, she responds, “I shouldn’t think you’d let that disturb you.” Crystal is getting fed up with Sylvia obviously (disguised as subtly) mentioning Mary’s name, trying to pry her for details. As Sylvia and Edith leave, Crystal “mistakenly” calls her Mrs. Prowler. Sylvia glares at her and corrects her: “Fowler!” She is convinced Crystal said it on purpose and declares she will have her fired and will go to management immediately. Suddenly, she and Edith fall into a cart headfirst that has come their way.
Mary and some of her friends go to a fashion show at a posh clothing store and Sylvia is looking as wild and crazy as ever—large hat sticking straight up into the air, a very strange, ill-fitting dress, snapping her chewing gum loudly, and knitting while talking a mile a minute. It has been said that Norma Shearer was rather annoyed by Rosalind’s loud gum chewing, which was something she only did when she was working on a set and nowhere else. However, the director liked this part being added to Sylvia’s character so he let her keep chewing while the cameras rolled. This scene includes a color fashion show sequence which is about five minutes long. It is gorgeous to see the outfits and models in color—some outfits that were outrageous, some beautiful—although it adds nothing to the plot.
It is after this fashion show that we see another complicated relationship of Sylvia’s—with the model named Princess Mara (Suzanne Kaaren)—causing Sylvia to snap at her, “I may not be a model, lamb, but nobody disputes how I wear clothes!” after Princess Mara insinuates that Sylvia’s husband flirts with her. As Princess Mara walks away, Sylvia shouts hilariously, “Did you get her innuendo?!” They all discover that Crystal has also come to the shop and Mary sees her for the first time. It makes her feel sick to see her and she immediately goes to a dressing room to try on a dress. It is obvious Stephen is “buying” Crystal because she is buying everything in sight, despite being just a perfume salesgirl.
Suddenly, Sylvia calls outside Mary’s dressing room: “Yoo-hoo! May I come in?” Before Mary can respond, she bursts into her dressing room and tells her to go in and confront Crystal. She says she doesn’t want Mary to be made a fool of, but Mary’s faux friend only wants to start some trouble to satisfy her incredible thirst for gossip. She keeps getting into Mary’s face about the situation, buzzing around her like a bee, even at one point appearing behind Mary and showing up three times in the three-sided mirror so there are four Sylvias.
After Sylvia mentions that Crystal was spending time with Mary’s daughter, Mary stomps over to Crystal’s dressing room and confronts her, telling her to stop seeing her husband and especially her daughter. They have a very heated verbal confrontation, which ends with Crystal saying to Mary, “Thanks for the tip, but whenever I wear something that doesn’t please Stephen, I take it off.”
The next day, Sylvia, whose mouth never gets a rest for a second, is doing some leg lifts with her exercise instructor. She does several of these lifts until she lies on her back and proclaims: “Ohhh, I am simply exhausted!” Sylvia, are your legs exhausted or just your mouth? Next, her instructor has her crawling up the wall slowly with her feet. Sylvia says to her, “The way you say that makes me feel like vermin.” The instructor replies, “That shouldn’t be too much effort… I mean, crawling up the wall.” Even after Peggy comes in late, they don’t actually get very much exercise done at all.
What is mostly apparent are the wisecracks going back and forth between Sylvia and the instructor, such as Sylvia mentioning that most of her friends exit a room horizontally. Sylvia has other things on her mind when Edith bursts in, having some more juicy dirt. Sylvia would much rather exercise her mouth muscles than any muscles in her body. She informs her instructor she is done and when the instructor objects, Sylvia asks her, “Look, whose carcass is this, yours or mine?” The instructor responds, “Yours, but I’m paid to exercise it.” “You talk like a horse trainer,” Sylvia says. “Well, Mrs. Fowler, you’re getting warm,” says the instructor, ending the conversation. Edith tells Sylvia that she accidentally told Dolly Dupuyster (Hedda Hopper, in a role similar to the woman herself), a gossip columnist, that when Mary confronted Crystal in her dressing room, she socked her.
It was something Sylvia told her, even though it never happened. Edith wonders how Sylvia will fix this and Sylvia gets up, saying, “Well, I’ll just tell them you were lying! Oh, let the story ride. It’ll all be forgotten in the morning. Remember the awful things they printed about what’s her name before she jumped out that window? See, I can’t even remember her name, so who cares, Edith?”
Before you know it, Mary is getting a divorce from Stephen because the story is all out in the open about her confrontation with Crystal. She prepares to catch a train to Reno as her husband’s secretary comes over to get her to sign some papers. This is Ruth Hussey in a very small, insignificant role. She would be noticed a lot more the next year in her turn as Liz in The Philadelphia Story. Peggy, who has also had a falling out with her husband, Johnny, is also on the train with Mary to Reno. She cries the whole time, not really wanting to divorce him. Mary doesn’t want to divorce Stephen, either, but she tries not to let it show.
It is on the train that we meet a few other colorful characters—the ever poetic, much-married Countess De Lave (Mary Boland) and Miriam Aarons (Paulette Goddard), a younger woman who has a sarcastic wit. It becomes the Countess De Lave’s trademark catchphrase to declare “Oh, l’amour, l’amour!” everywhere she goes. She is in love with love, but she always picks the wrong man, now getting divorced from her fourth husband. At the ranch for the divorcing women in Reno, the proprietor is Lucy, played by the always funny Marjorie Main.
Miriam tells the Countess that she has been having an affair with Howard Fowler, who is Sylvia’s husband. Barely before she has let this little secret out, Sylvia has shown up at the ranch (“Who the heck is paging l’amour?”), ready to divorce Howard.
This is probably the most famous and well-known scene of this delightful movie. Edith has sent Sylvia a letter with the latest gossip, as well as a clipping from a column naming Miriam Aarons as the woman Howard left Sylvia for. Miriam quickly backs away and gets on her horse to take a ride. Sylvia runs over to her, grabbing the reins.
Forming her mouth into a big “O” and staring at her with those widened brown eyes, Sylvia starts to call her a name when Miriam fires back: “Don’t you call me names, you Park Avenue playgirl! I know a lot more words than you do!” Sylvia pulls Miriam off the horse and just as Miriam is about to hit her, Sylvia screams, “Don’t you dare strike me! I’ve got glasses on!” “Well, now you don’t!” Miriam takes the glasses off and hits her. Sylvia makes the most outrageous face and Rosalind breaks that rule that tells you that you cannot look straight into the camera.
However, she does it anyway and it is priceless. Sylvia pulls Miriam’s hair and pulls down her skirt. Horrified, Peggy exclaims, “Oh, Sylvia!” It is funny how Miriam, who is a good four inches or so shorter than Sylvia, is a much better fighter than Sylvia. Sylvia is clumsy and even accidentally strikes the horse. Just when it looks like Sylvia is beat, she lifts her head and sees Miriam’s leg right in front of her. Licking her lips like she’s about to eat something delicious, she sinks her teeth into her leg.
Miriam shrieks and hops away from the scene. Sylvia is not done with her crazy antics. As Mary helps her up off the ground, Sylvia starts wailing like a child and screaming hysterically, “I hate you! I hate you! I hate everybody! I hate everybody!” while breaking every single dish and object within her reach. She can’t be calmed down and Lucy carries her away, shouting, “Mrs. Fowler, you’ve got the high-sterics!”
Miriam calls Mary a coward for “deserting” Stephen when it’s obvious he doesn’t love Crystal the way he loves Mary. Suddenly, Mary is very happy to finally receive a phone call from Stephen. Unfortunately, it is only to inform her that he has just married Crystal. She breaks down into fits of tears, not believing this is really happening. It is also on this trip that the Countess has already found a new man, a man with a southern drawl named Buck Winston. In general, he sounds like a loser, but the Countess is smitten. Some time passes and by this time, the Countess has married once again—to Buck.
Crystal has become bored with her life as Stephen’s wife and has initiated an affair with Buck Winston. Sylvia also shows herself to be as disloyal as can be. She is not friends with Mary anymore and is now on Crystal’s side. She bursts in on Crystal while she is taking a bath. She shouts her usual “Yoo-hoo! May I come in?” but come in she does. Sylvia soon learns about Crystal’s affair with Buck Winston, whom she calls “the chambermaid’s delight.” She picks up the phone before Crystal does and it’s Buck. She snorts and cackles in loud laughter, telling her he didn’t say anything: “Not a thing, not a single thing, he was singing!” and she goes on to mimic his strange yodeling.
This all culminates in the last few scenes. At a happening club, a bunch of the ladies have gathered, including Crystal and Sylvia. Most have learned that Sylvia has been seeing a therapist and is absolutely ga-ga over him, even though the therapist, Dr. Sylvester, just wants to laugh at her absurdity. After Mary has heard from her daughter that Stephen really doesn’t love Crystal after all, she excitedly gets up to go to the party, too. When her mother asks her where she’s going, she laughs and proclaims: “I’ve had two years to grow claws, Mother!” She dramatically holds up her manicured hands. “Jungle Red!”
In the large powder room, some women have gathered there to touch up their makeup. This scene includes a walk-on appearance by Barbara Pepper, who was famous for her role as Doris Ziffel in the 1960s sitcom Green Acres. She has one line, but it’s a good one. After telling her friend that her boyfriend wants to stay with his wife for Easter, she tells her she had asked him, “What do they expect you to do, lay an egg?” And just like that, she’s gone.
Mary has arrived and she is on a mission to get back at both Sylvia and Crystal. Sylvia enters the room with Crystal, arms around each other like they are the best of pals. As they are leaving, Mary subtly mentions Dr. Sylvester’s name and Sylvia walks right into a wall, she’s so interested. She pretends to leave and then comes back in, talking in a small, sweet voice as if she’s so innocent: “Hello, Mary.” As Mary tells her that the doctor grew a long beard so that Sylvia couldn’t see him laughing at her, Sylvia asks her where she got her information. “From Crystal!” Sylvia attacks: “Why, the rotten little… I’ll—I’ll slit her throat!”
As the news of Crystal’s affair with Buck Winston has been let out in the open downstairs and upstairs, Crystal is on her way up to see Sylvia. Three of the smallest women in the room grab Sylvia (it looks awkward, but it’s funny!) and push her into a closet, locking it. Crystal comes in, looking for her. Someone opens the door and Sylvia screams, spilling out of the closet, many pieces of clothing stuck to her. Sylvia blames it on Mary for getting the secret out of her, which is not hard to do.
It only takes a minute before Crystal finds out Buck isn’t rolling in dough because the Countess is financing him. It also doesn’t take long for Sylvia to once again switch sides and be at odds with Crystal. Crystal sighs and says, “Well, I guess it’s back to the perfume counter for me,” and delivers one of the most iconic lines: “Oh by the way, there’s a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society–outside of a kennel.”
The film ends with Stephen arriving at the club (unseen, of course, because there are no men in the movie) and Mary running toward him, arms open for him to take. This ending irks me because she is running back to a man who cheated on her and she could at least demand an apology or something for all the pain he has caused her. But I suppose that’s just the way it was sometimes with marriage and infidelity in those days.
A wave of loud, unrestrained laughter crashes through the conversation. The tall, slim young woman possessing black curls and sparkling dark eyes leans back in her chair against the door behind her. She continues to laugh and the man and woman in the other room go silent. The blonde woman asks, “Who’s that?” The dark-haired man, dressed in a silk robe, replies as he gets up, “That’s my wife. She’s delirious.” Who are the people in this scene? Why, it’s none other than Rosalind Russell, Robert Montgomery, and Joan Marsh playing the characters of Garda, Joel, and Bobby in a scene from Fast and Loose (1939). This is only one of many comical exchanges between Rosalind Russell’s and Robert Montgomery’s characters in this comedy, the last time they were paired together.
I think of it as being the end of an era because although when people think of classic film couples, they do not think “Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell,” they are a fun, free-wheeling film couple that are always a joy to watch onscreen. Fast and Loose is filled with cute little romantic gestures and actions between the two stars with plenty of whimsical lines to entertain the audience with. It’s something to watch when you want to forget your worries for a little less than an hour and a half and lose yourself in the world of the goofy Robert Montgomery-Rosalind Russell team.
When the film opens, we (the audience) see a sign on an apartment door that reads “Milkman please leave one quart of aspirin tablets” and as the camera pans inside the apartment, there is another note tacked onto the telephone, which reads “Dear Telephone: One peep out of you and we will cancel all agreements.” The only thing we can gather from this is that the people living here are sleeping and refuse to be disturbed. Unfortunately, the telephone pays no attention to their threatening note and starts to ring.
In the bedroom, clothes are strewn all over the floor and sleeping in twin beds (as was the custom of films, especially comedies, of the day) are a married man and woman named Joel and Garda. It doesn’t take long for Garda to be shaken awake by the sound of the telephone’s racket. She repeatedly calls out to Joel, but he doesn’t wake up. She feels on the ground for a walking stick and pokes Joel in the side, informing him that the telephone is ringing. He retorts, “Well, what did you expect it to do, sing?” She makes a face at him and says, “I do all the work around here while you lie in—“ She pauses to answer the telephone. “Hello?” They find out that it’s Mr. Oates (Etienne Girardot), an extremely absent-minded rich old man who wants to talk business with Joel. Joel is a rare book dealer and Garda also works with him. This opening gives us a glimpse into what kind of a relationship they share—wisecracks before they’re fully awake? Oh, yes!
As they get up to get ready to go to the office, they stand up a little wobbly because they had a huge party last night. Joel asks, “What’d we have to eat last night, fried carpets?” And Garda says shakily, “I feel like I swallowed a jam session—jitterbugs and all.” When they arrive at the office, they walk straight through the door at the same time, but there isn’t enough room for both of them. Garda shoots him a dirty look and he lets her go first. Although his primary occupation is rare book dealer, Joel sometimes plays detective when the books in question get stolen, as they sometimes do. Garda hates it when this happens because he always gets into trouble. When Mr. Oates arrives, and he’s a delightful character, he calls Garda “Joel” and to prove to him that she’s Mrs. Sloane, she lifts her skirt a tiny bit and says, “Look!” He looks down and replies, “Oh, so you are, so you are!” As soon as he sits down, they all stare at each other in silence, and the scatterbrained old man says, “Well, what did you want?” even though he was the one who called them.
When he gets his mind on things, he informs them that Mr. Nicholas Torrent has a very rare Shakespeare manuscript and intends to sell it because he’s having financial difficulties. Oates wants to buy the manuscript and would like to use Joel’s services to do so. One of the running gags in this movie is Mr. Oates losing his train of thought and relying on Joel or Garda to finish his sentences for him. An example: Oates says, “Leave no stone, uh… no stone…” Garda finishes for him: “Unturned.”
Joel and Garda are excited to have a new client because they are having money troubles themselves. As they discuss telephoning an old buddy of his, Phil Sergeant (Anthony Allan), to get an invitation to the Torrent house, Garda sits on his lap. It is adorable when they do these cute little things and one of the reasons why I love this movie. For me, it’s not so much the plot, but the wonderful relationship between Joel and Garda. Joel decides to visit his friend, Dave Hilliard (Alan Dinehart), who is the Torrents’ lawyer. As he lays his head on a pillow on Garda’s lap, she ties a tiny little ribbon in his hair without his knowledge. He leaves and before he does, they “kiss” at each other, which is another thing they continuously do throughout the movie.
When Joel arrives at Dave’s office and takes off his hat, Dave can’t stop laughing at the little bow in his hair (and neither can I!). Joel says, “Oh, one of my wife’s little tricks. Cute, isn’t she?” Dave agrees to get Joel an invitation to the Torrent home if he will do a little searching for him because he thinks there are underhanded goings-on over there. Joel and Garda stay at the Torrent house as guests and as soon as they get there, Joel goes off to discuss business, immediately leaving Garda out (as usual). Vincent Charlton (Reginald Owen, who also had a role in Trouble for Two, also starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell) is also there. He is the Torrents’ broker and is a close friend of the family. More members of the family come down and Joel meets them: Christina, Torrent’s daughter (Jo Ann Sayers) and Gerald, Torrent’s son (Tom Collins). That night at dinner, Vincent has joined them and directs this at Joel: “Mr. Sloane, your face has been bother me all through dinner.”
Garda can’t help but interject: “Think of me, living with it for two years, Mr. Charlton!” Later that night as Garda and Joel get ready for bed, they look out the window and discover that Christina and their pal, Phil Sergeant, are a couple and seem to be very much in love. They separate before going inside so nobody thinks they were out there together. Garda smiles and says, “Aw, I think that’s cute. Remember when we used to do things like that to fool my family?” Joel comes back with the eye-rolling reply: “Don’t be ridiculous. Your family practically threw you at my head!” which causes Garda to almost choke on the water she’s drinking. They soon hear a crash downstairs and as Joel runs down to investigate it, Garda sighs and starts blowing air into a circular pool floatie, the same type that Joel had to sit on the last time he went investigating after being shot in the backside.
There seems to have been an altercation between Wilkes (Ian Wolfe), the man who takes care of the Torrent library, and Charlton downstairs. When Joel returns to his bedroom, he lies down in his bed and immediately jumps up, giving his wife a dirty look as he tosses the pool floatie he found in his bed. He then listens to an argument in Gerald’s bedroom, which ends with Torrent (Ralph Morgan) slapping his son’s face.
The next morning, Joel leaves the house before Garda wakes up to check up on a tough girl named Bobby, whom he learns is having some kind of romantic relationship with Gerald. In order to get into Bobby’s room, he pretends to be Gerald Torrent. Not long after he is allowed in to talk to her, police come in and arrest them both. Torrent has been murdered back at the house and Joel was gone around the time it happened. Eventually, they are let go, but the police bring Joel back to the house, handcuffed to Bobby, which leaves Garda suspicious, naturally.
She immediately takes him by the hand and leads him into their bedroom, where she slams the door angrily. She glares at him and starts yelling at him, as any wife would after her husband came home suspiciously handcuffed to another woman. He tries to explain himself, but she only says, “Sure you did… ‘suga’!” which is an imitation of what Bobby had said a few minutes ago. He insists that he was only there to get more information on her for the case. She gives in and puts her arms around him, smiling. When someone knocks on the door, Garda calls out, “Go away!” Joel says, “Nobody home!” And Garda ends with “Come back later!”
As people start coming in and out of their bedroom to talk to Joel, Garda simply remarks that she’s “so used to excitement, I could go right on sleeping if a Cavalry regiment rode into the room.” During another one of these interviews, Joel doesn’t want Garda in the room. It is a bit reminiscent of The Thin Man movies where the iconic Nick Charles would try his best to get his wife, Nora Charles, out of the room when he’s doing his “detective stuff.” Joel says to Garda, “You got to go and see about the car.” Garda says, “I guess so. What car?” He replies, “Any car.” Barely a minute has passed before Garda is back, declaring, “I’ve seen about the car!” Annoyed, Joel says, “What car?”
Knowing a man named Nolan (Sidney Blackmer), who is also involved with Bobby, may be a suspect, he decides to ask Garda out to his place called Nolan’s. He playfully twirls his finger in her hair, leaving it a big mess, which is both cute and rather funny. Once they are there, Nolan has a couple of his men kidnap Garda and keep her in another room while he talks to Joel. Before he can do anything, however, Joel grabs Nolan’s gun and says matter-of-factly, “Now I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to call up and instruct those men to let my wife go. She’s to phone me from outside. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, Mr. Nolan, but to save my wife any discomfort, I would cheerfully kill a dozen guys like you.” Cue the “awwww” from all the ladies in the audience!
As Joel drives Garda home, she starts making up outrageous stories about how the men tortured her by lighting matches to her feet and so on. Suddenly, a man driving a car next to them runs them off the road and they crash into a bed of hay. Feeling delirious, Garda smiles and says, “This must be heaven.” When Joel intends to call for a cab, she says, “Awww, and leave all this swell hay?” When they get back to the house, they both have black eyes and are alleviating them with raw steaks. Garda becomes very hungry and wants to cook the steak, but it is late. When she hilariously tries to light a match to the steak in order to cook it and it doesn’t work, she pouts. Soon, Garda is found downstairs hiding something behind her back. The inspector who has been hired for the case, Forbes (Donald Douglas), demands to know what she is hiding. She slowly pulls out a chicken leg, telling him, “It’s a chicken leg… I was hungry.”
Joel reaches back as if to hit her. She makes a face at him and swings the suit of armor’s arm in front of her. Suddenly, the piece of armor falls off, revealing a real arm underneath it. She screams and they find out there has been another murder—it is Wilkes’ body in the suit.
Even though Garda has warned Joel not to see that Bobby girl again, he does and after he has a talk with her, she playfully sprays him with her perfume in order to make his wife jealous. When he comes back to the house, he knows he will be in big trouble. He walks around the room in circles, constantly backing away from Garda in order to avoid her.
She wants to kiss him because she missed him, but he keeps backing away. Eventually, he finds himself backed up against the door and as she puts her arms around him, she smells the perfume and glares at him, calling him an “unspeakable toad.” However, the inspector suddenly calls for him and he is saved from his wife’s wrath.
A man named Stockton (so many characters to try to keep up with!) has a Shakespeare manuscript that has been sold to him, but he is not sure who it was. There is the confusion over who has the genuine manuscript and who has the fake. Joel, who can tell these things right away, is called in to do this, finding a fake planted in Gerald’s room.
Another situation calls for him to leave Garda at home, not wanting her in any trouble. He asks Oates to keep an eye on her for him. They sit in silence and Garda looks at Oates. She suggests that they play ventriloquist and pats her lap. He looks at her, confused, saying, “Huh?” She replies, “Skip it, Charlie.” The next day, Joel insists on talking to Bobby again, but Garda sits in the other room, listening to them, which is where the “my wife is delirious” line comes in. Joel feels like he’s so close to figuring it out, but he’s not.
Just when it seems like all hope is lost, Charlton comes into Joel’s office, hugging the fake manuscript tightly to his chest. Joel is suspicious of the way he is handling it and discovers he has the real one and was the one who committed the murders. They get into a violent scuffle and Joel tosses his gun to Garda just in case. Watch her brilliant reaction to watching their fight: the way her eyes widen so comically and she makes those faces she would soon become famous for. In order to save Joel from getting hurt, she tries to shoot Charlton, but accidentally shoots Joel instead—yes, in the backside again!
The Citadel, a film released in 1938, marked a few important events. First of all, it was the last time Rosalind Russell would play a British woman. After this film, she only played Americans (with the exception of the Russian Jewish mama in A Majority of One), but still with her very unique way of speaking. Secondly, the premiere of The Citadel in London was the first time Frederick Brisson, her future husband, caught a glimpse of her. He said he and his friend stretched their necks, trying, in a glimmer of hope, to see a real, live movie star.
Neither of them had any idea they would fall in love and be married just 3 years later. When Rosalind arrived in London to film this British movie, she was not exactly welcome. Everyone in the cast (Robert Donat, Ralph Richardson, Rex Harrison, and so on) were British, except for the female star (Roz) and the director (King Vidor). The film revolved around the miners in a Welsh mining town, and so the labor unions were in an uproar about the main actress and director not being authentically British.
She gave a good performance with several opportunities to turn on the waterworks, but being a doctor’s wife is clearly not where Roz excels, and the showstopper is Robert Donat, who was nominated for an Oscar for this role.
Robert Donat plays Andrew Manson, a young doctor eager to start his first job. He has been hired as the assistant doctor in Dr. Page’s practice.
Dr. Page (Basil Gill) is a very ill, old man who is confined to his bed, allowing his wife to take over everything. Andrew will be doing all the work at his practice because Dr. Page is simply unable to do anything. Andrew will be staying at their house while he works for Dr. Page, but he immediately gets a glimpse of what his life away from work will be like with the domineering, cruel Mrs. Page (Dilys Davies).
Mrs. Page does not pay Andrew well for his hard work. She does not feel she has to treat him as well as he deserves because this is his first job and he shouldn’t expect much. She also starves him by giving him a very small amount of food at mealtimes, while giving herself large quantities of food. He enjoys his work anyway, even though he comes up against some obstacles and disappointments along the way.
One day, when he is examining a young boy with measles at the boy’s apartment, his mother tells Andrew that her other son is at school because it’s so hard to do her housework with both boys there all day. Andrew is outraged that the schoolteacher, Miss Barlow, has allowed this because the boy should be in quarantine. The mother assures him that Miss Barlow simply wanted to help out. He hurries over to the local school and first meets Miss Barlow, first name Christine, face to face. He calls her out immediately in front of her class and he finds that Christine (Rosalind Russell) is a feisty, stubborn young woman not willing to back down so easily. She yells back at him, “Does it occur to you that I’m the mistress of this class? It’s my word that counts!”
He threatens to report her and she replies, “Well, then you better report me.” She asks her class to say goodbye and thank you to him, and as he leaves, she shoots him a withering look to show her dissatisfaction. That night, he tries over and over again to write out a letter to report Christine, but he can’t finish it.
Soon after this, he delivers a stillborn baby and one can tell he is heartbroken over this bad reflection on him as a doctor. Just when he’s given in to defeat, he quickly gets some warm water in a basin and rubs the child desperately, giving him air into his tiny lungs until suddenly, the newborn baby has been given life, as everyone witnesses by the baby’s cries. Andrew smiles, immensely proud of himself for saving his first life. Nothing can shake the feeling of such elation as he walks away from the happy family.
Another doctor named Denny (Ralph Richardson) befriends Andrew and they start to notice a pattern in the deaths from typhoid in town. Denny discovers that a large number of people were being stricken with typhoid because of the dirty, tainted water in the sewers. So what do they do? They make their own dynamite, throw it down into the sewers, and blow it up. They have done something very illegal, but necessary to prevent a complete typhoid epidemic.
The next morning, Andrew sees Christine for the second time. She has come into his office to get a sore throat checked out, and it is obvious that although they were quite angry with each other in their first meeting, they seem rather fascinated with each other this time. Christine gushes about how wonderful it was that he saved a baby’s life. He thanks her, but acts like he doesn’t much care for anything she says. He tells her to sit down while he examines her throat.
This scene will show anyone that despite the dramatic proponents of this film, Roz has a way of being funny anyway. She makes comical faces as she opens her mouth wide and says “ah” and coughs a few times for him. As he writes out a prescription for her and she leaves his office, they discover they have a mutual friend in Denny and Christine seems vaguely eager about riding bicycles with Andrew, but doesn’t ask him. She finally leaves and they both seems happy to have seen each other again.
That same night, happy with his second meeting with Christine, he goes home only to have Hurricane Mrs. Page rip him a new one. He get into a very loud verbal argument and he starts insulting her, saying he’s fed up with her keeping portions of his salary from him and starving him to death. She fires him and he does one better: he quits and walks out as she continues screaming at him! Suddenly finding himself without a job, he hears about a mining town in Wales looking for a new doctor to treat the folks there. He interviews for the job in a room that includes the miners, who get a chance to ask the doctor questions and learn more about him. The man sitting next to him shooting him questions is named Owen and he is none other than Emlyn Williams, the one who wrote the plays Night Must Fall (1935) and The Corn is Green (1938), the latter made into a movie starring Bette Davis in 1945.
Andrew seems like a good fit until they ask him if he’s a family man. The job comes with a large house and they only want a married doctor. He quickly says he is engaged to be married, which is a bold-faced lie. They accept him, but if he turns up without a wife, he will be in big trouble. He sees Christine riding her bicycle in the street and he walks alongside her, striking up a conversation. He informs her of the new job he has, but he mentions that he doesn’t really have it until he has a wife. As they stop in front of her house, she says she hopes she can fix his problem and she goes into her house. He suddenly blurts out, “You wouldn’t marry me, would you?”
As she sticks her head out of the upstairs window, she bursts into unrestrained laughter at the thought. She sees he is serious and although she loves being a teacher, for some reason or other (and still snickering), she agrees to marry him so he can have the job. Soon, they arrive in the Welsh mining town where he will be the doctor. They install themselves in their new house and not long after they have become settled, there is a cave-in at the mines and Andrew is hard at work underground, saving lives and helping the gravely injured. Christine rushes toward him, crying and so relieved to see him alive. This is the first of several occasions in which Christine has cause to burst into tears.
While working in the mining town, Andrew starts to notice a tremendous outbreak among the miners of tuberculosis. After some initial research, Andrew figures out that they are getting it from the silica found in the coal down in the mines. Since nobody is willing to start searching for a cure or treatment for the disease, Andrew and Christine set up a lab in their home, using the treasured microscope Denny gave him. When Andrew isn’t working in town, he is doing experiments in their secret lab while Christine assists him. They test their findings on guinea pigs. Now, I am not sure if what they were testing was humane toward animals, but I am sure no animals were harmed during production of the film. You don’t even see the actual guinea pigs, although in my most recent viewing of the film, I noticed Rosalind Russell calls one of the guinea pigs “Clara,” something she tended to do in her films.
She mentioned the name “Clara” a few times throughout her career in different ways as an homage to her sister Clara and probably also to her mother, who was also named Clara. One day, all hope is shattered when a group of men break into Andrew and Christine’s home when Christine is home alone. Through her abundant tears, she tells Andrew that the men just burst in, broke all their slides and samples, and took the guinea pigs.
It was after this fiasco that Andrew and Christine got themselves out and moved to a bigger city, where Andrew opens up his own medical practice. They live in a tiny apartment and Andrew has a lot of trouble getting patients and so they are living hand to mouth at this point. Even so, Christine doesn’t mind the struggles at all. She loves all the locals, especially an Italian woman named Mrs. Orlando (Mary Clare) who runs an Italian restaurant in town, which she and Andrew consider to be the best food. She and her young daughter Anna are very kind and hospitable and they all become friendly.
One day, Andrew is called over for an “emergency” at a store. He finds a young woman named Toppy LeRoy (Penelope Dudley Ward) lying on the floor, screaming and obviously throwing a temper tantrum. He finds it quite distasteful for a grown woman to throw a temper tantrum in public like that and he promptly slaps her face a few times. This brings her out of it, at least. This is how Andrew suddenly becomes immersed in the lives of the spoiled rich. He meets an old classmate of his, Dr. Lawford (Rex Harrison in a very early role) in an elevator and he asks him to come over to the hospital with him. It becomes apparent that these doctors are mainly concerned with large salaries and benefits of serving the rich and famous and not with curing people or saving lives.
It isn’t long before Andrew becomes one of them and starts bringing home expensive presents for Christine, like some beautiful furs. When Christine sees things in the mail like checks made out to Andrew just for being present at operations without even doing anything, she becomes suspicious. She can see Andrew is not the same man she married and is more enamored with money than anything else. The next day, they have a beautiful picnic on a hill and she starts telling Andrew that she doesn’t want to have a rich lifestyle and she misses their old life. She explains, “Remember the way we used to talk about life? It was an attack on the unknown, an assault uphill, as though you had to take some citadel you couldn’t see but you knew was there.” After they meet up with Denny, whom they haven’t seen in a long time, he tells Andrew about his new idea of taking only small amounts of money from patients (what they can afford), so they can still receive the care they deserve.
Andrew turns him down for the partnership and Denny can see the change in him as well. Although Denny was doing well with his sobriety, he suddenly goes off on a bender and in his drunken stupor, he gets hit by a car right in front of Andrew and Christine’s apartment. They both rush to the hospital and Andrew assists in the operation to save Denny’s life. However, the doctor performing the operation is one of those catering to the rich and famous and obviously does not try very hard to save Denny’s life. Denny is gone and that’s life—that’s his philosophy.
Andrew tells him that “that wasn’t surgery, it was murder” and heartbroken that he has just lost his best friend, takes a very long, mind-numbing walk through town, thinking about the tragic circumstances that have just struck his life. He thinks about who he has become and who he used to be. He realizes he is a sliver of a shadow of the man he used to be and promises himself he will do better.
After his despairing walk, he remembers that Mrs. Orlando told him about her daughter’s hospitalization for an illness of her lungs and although he ignored her then, he will not ignore her now. He heads for the hospital and although it’s highly unethical, he snatches her from her hospital bed and making sure Mrs. Orlando tells the doctor that she is dissatisfied with his care, takes her out of there. It isn’t long before Anna is well and dancing just like she used to.
The film ends with a very powerful scene in which there is a hearing at the English Medical Union for Andrew’s unethical medical practices and for his helping an American man with the tuberculosis cure, a non-medical man who shouldn’t be allowed to do anything. Although the union shoots Andrew down for his infamous conduct, Andrew says he is proud of his conduct because although “doctors have to live, they have a responsibility to mankind, too.”