Yippee! 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”. Throughout 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. She 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. He 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.
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. By 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 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. As 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. Finally, 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. The 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.
However, 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. She 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. Rico 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