Category Archives: Robert Benchley

Hired Wife (1940)

rosalind russell hired wife
A little boy and Rosalind Russell on the set of Hired Wife (1940)

After receiving rave reviews for her lightning fast, electric performance in the screwball comedy His Girl Friday, Rosalind Russell had established herself as one of film’s best comediennes. She was on top of the world and although she resented being “everyone’s fifteenth choice” when she was chosen for His Girl Friday, she was becoming first choice for the popular “career woman” comedies. The downside of this is that she would be typecast in the same type of role throughout the 1940s. Fortunately for movie fans, she enjoyed doing these comedies, even if she didn’t share the same ideals with her career woman counterpart. She wrote in an article in the Los Angeles Times, 1957: “It is simply to keep the goal of marriage and family always ahead of the job.” She’s speaking about the way a career woman can be happy, have a great career, and keep love in her life. Rosalind was incredibly ambitious in her career, but she was never as big a star as some others (Joan Crawford is a great example) partly because she made sacrifices to keep her home life happy and enduring. She started to freelance after she was married because she didn’t want to “belong” to the studio day and night.

rosalind russell hired wife
Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

She could pick her own films when they came her way and figure out for herself if it was a good idea to take on the project, her husband (and eventually child) always first on her mind. No matter how she felt about these career women she played, she played them damn well. From her first role as a career woman (Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday) to her next ten or so similar roles in her career, she characterized them perfectly. The careers of these women may have varied in the fields in which they worked, but the films almost always started with “My career is the only thing that matters. I don’t have time for love” to ending with “Oh, I love you, darling” as she looks at the man with doe eyes, now wearing a lacy negligee.

In her second such role, the job of her character didn’t seem so important (a secretary), but as the audience observes how fantastically she controls every facet of her boss’s life, it is obvious how important she is. Hired Wife was also the first time Rosalind Russell was teamed with Brian Aherne, and most exciting of all, it was the first time since making Craig’s Wife in 1936 that Rosalind was billed above her leading man. It is a shame that it took this long for her to get this recognition, but at last it had come! She was a star, a star on fire.

rosalind russell brian aherne hired wife
Rosalind Russell and Brian Aherne in Hired Wife (1940)

When Hired Wife commences, we first see Rosalind (as Kendal Browning) jauntily walking down the street to her job, looking free as a bird. Suddenly, the first voice you hear is coming from a friend of hers from Argentina, José. As he graciously asks her if he can “lift her” (give her a lift), she hops inside the car and you can see right away they have a fun relationship. But as the film progresses, Kendal seems to have a fun relationship with everyone, talking freely to all. As José explains that he’s lost another rich girlfriend, she asks him, “What happened, according to you?” As he tells her that she didn’t want to spoil their beautiful friendship, Kendal laughs, calling him by his full name Señor Don José Antonio de Fragoza de Briganza. He confesses that he has “catch a cold in the feet.” Kendal, who is in love with her boss, Stephen Dexter, explains that José was born with a flower in his buttonhole, but when Stephen starts feeling all romantic, usually falling for some blonde, she can’t stand to watch it. In this very first scene, it is amazing to watch Rosalind closely as she involuntarily (I am so sure of this at this point) widens and narrows her eyes in reaction to what her partner is saying. Rosalind was born to do comedy. She had been practicing it ever since she crossed her eyes as a child to get attention.

rosalind russell hired wife
Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

Kendal arrives at work and as she crosses the room to get to the back office, it is very reminiscent of the first scene of His Girl Friday. I couldn’t help but think of her newspaperwoman role as she passes everyone, saying hello, making small talk with them as she goes. As she enters her office, she passes her own secretary, a timid little man named William (Hobart Cavanaugh). Yes, Roz towers over him, as she does many of the characters actors in her films. Kendal is a bit apprehensive because it is about springtime and she knows it is around this time that Stephen starts humming the song “Juanita” and looking for a new blonde to go ga-ga over. As she goes into Stephen’s office with her pad and pencil, she first asks William if Stephen is wearing anything (meaning a flower in the buttonhole), but William just stares back at her, confused. Now we meet Stephen Dexter, played by Brian Aherne, whom I always thought was physically a great match for Roz because of his 6 feet 3 inches. His trademark characteristics include his British accent and his mustache. As the film progresses, it is wonderful to see how well Brian’s straight man persona bounces off Rosalind’s hilarious antics. Considering this is their first teaming (of four), I think they mesh together quite well. Immediately, Kendal is controlling everything Stephen does, and we, the audience, get the feeling that this is what she does every day. She tells him everything he will do today and at what time.

rosalind russell hired wife
Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

He asks her, “Then can I go home?” She replies, “Yes, after you’ve had a haircut.” She’s beaming because he’s acting like his usual self. So far, so good. Unfortunately, when he needs a pin to attach the flower to his buttonhole, she knows it’s trouble. She takes a pin from William, who is cooing over a bird on the windowsill.

William: Tweet, tweet, tweet. Tweet, tweet, tweet!

Kendal: Ah, shut up!

When Kendal comes back, Stephen is gazing at a billboard across the way with a beautiful blonde on it while humming “Juanita.” Oh, no, the time has come. For the advertising campaign for his company, Dexter Cement, Stephen suddenly has girls on his mind as he decides to change everything. He wants to use a girl in the ad, something feminine that doesn’t even seem to match his product. However, that’s what he wants. As Kendal keeps interjecting with suggestions, he ignores her and wants to find a girl right away. He wants the girl on the billboard he was staring at. He orders Kendal to find her, and Kendal is less than happy in doing so.

Stephen: (talking about the new campaign) It must be warm and it must be human.

Kendal: The cement you love to touch!

Stephen: No!


Stephen: Kendal, who is that girl?

Kendal: Well… I don’t know her name, but her face is on the canned tomatoes I use.

rosalind russell hired wife
Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

Next thing you know, Kendal is at Phyllis Walden’s (Virginia Bruce) door, wanting her for a posing job. Acting like someone who is too important to bother with anything Kendal says, she says, “Phone me sometime next week, but not before 11.” She asks if it will be a big campaign, and as Kendal looks Phyllis up and down, she responds, “I think it’ll be one of his biggest.” The hostility between Kendal and Phyllis is immediate and strong. Phyllis can tell what kind of woman Kendal is, so she secretly has lunch with Stephen the next day without Kendal’s knowledge.

Kendal: William… back to the keys!

Phyllis and Stephen like each other right away and it’s apparent that Phyllis will be Stephen’s Spring Blonde. A laugh-out-loud moment occurs when he explains to Phyllis that his secretary suggested using an elephant as a symbol of strength for his advertising campaign. “Strength doesn’t appeal to men. Now take me. I’m a man. Well, here’s a picture of you (holds out his left palm toward her) and here’s an elephant! (holds out his right palm near an overweight man at the next table, who stares at him in disbelief) Oh, sorry, I was just illustrating a point.” And the comedy doesn’t stop there. Kendal calls Phyllis up and the phone is given to her. Kendal informs her that the posing job is off, that Stephen changed his mind, and too bad. He left for Chicago this morning and there’s no way he will change his mind again. Not knowing that Stephen is sitting next to Phyllis, she has no idea she’s being laughed at. Phyllis squeezes the phone between her and Stephen so they can both listen to Kendal as she explains exactly what Stephen said to her:

rosalind russell hired wife
Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

Kendal: He said, “You call up Miss Goofy Face and tell her she can’t peddle her pan to Steve Dexter.” It’s just that women are things to him. He said, “Listen, kid, scrap that ‘girl on the bag’ idea.”

Phyllis: The cad! Are those his exact words?

Kendal: Oh, I never quote Mr. D’s exact words. I had such bitter notes from the telephone company.

In order to get back at Kendal for what she did to him, Stephen returns to the office, speaking little snippets of Kendal’s exact words on the phone: “Sorry, kid.” “Oh, I suppose they were flying to Chicago, too.” “That ‘girl on the bag’ stuff is out. She can’t peddle her pan to Steve Dexter. Eh, kid?” As soon as he utters that last line, Kendal knows exactly what’s going on and closes her eyes painfully, making a face. They get into a shouting argument, Kendal angry that he “dated her behind my back!” Finally, she gives up and says she’ll let him do whatever he wants. She doesn’t care. She leaves his office and this funny exchange happens:

rosalind russell hired wife
Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

Kendal: I won’t stop you. I’m through!

Stephen: That’s better.

Kendal: For me, not for you. Close it, butch!

Meanwhile, some men from a big company with big bucks are trying to buy Stephen out. Both companies had put a bid in on a subway job and Stephen won the bid fair and square. The bigwigs want to file an injunction and eventually bankrupt Dexter Cement. They threaten that they will tie up everything he owns and knowing they’re fighting dirty, Stephen makes a speech, proclaiming, “I’m going to be foolish and fight [you men].” As he gives this speech, it is evident how much Kendal loves him. Anyone can see it in her eyes. Later in the office, Kendal, Stephen, and his lawyer Roger Van Horn (Robert Benchley) start kicking around ideas to get out of this mess. They finally get an idea when William comes in, mentioning that his wife makes him put everything he owns in her name. They all decide Stephen has to get married right away. And who else would Stephen pick but Phyllis? Kendal is upset because she doesn’t want Stephen to marry a woman who doesn’t love him. Once Stephen marries, they will put everything he owns in his wife’s name in order to escape trouble from the opposing company.

brian aherne rosalind russell hired wife
Brian Aherne and Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

Kendal: (About marrying in New York) No use. You have to wait three days in New York.

Roger: The law says 72 hours.

Kendal: My mistake.

As Kendal objects to Stephen marrying Phyllis, he shouts out to her, “You know how to talk to a woman!” Sadly, she says, “Yes…” But immediately her face lights up, getting a bright idea: “Yes!”

Kendal (Talking about Phyllis) Well, I can’t drag her here by her phony eyelashes!

When Kendal visits Phyllis to tell her Stephen needs a wife for business purposes, she subtly hints that Stephen is basically buying her as a wife and it is purely a business arrangement. Phyllis begins to believe Kendal is making up ridiculous stories and gets angry: “Silly-looking, aren’t you?” “Uh-huh!” “Oh, I love your lies. They’re not very good, but they’re very, very funny.” She tells her she intends to marry Stephen eventually, but not now.

Phyllis: You were born to be a cop, and the only way you’ll ever get a man is by arresting him!

Once Kendal arrives at the airport without Phyllis, Roger and Stephen suddenly get the idea that Stephen should marry Kendal. They can trust her and she’s a woman. That’s all they need. When they get to South Carolina to marry, they watch a young couple in love being married before them. Kendal’s eyes fill with tears at the magical, happy scene before her, and at the same time, her tears are for her and Stephen because their marriage will be a sham—one without love on both sides.

rosalind russell hired wife
Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

Nevertheless, they do get married and when they arrive at Stephen’s house, he signs some papers that Roger has ready for him. Roger, who keeps falling asleep mumbling nonsense and snoring, is sent home by Kendal, who promises to take a taxi home. As Stephen goes into the kitchen to get Kendal and himself glasses of buttermilk, Kendal lights a cigarette, looking around the room. Suddenly, she feels the wedding ring on her left hand and frowns, wondering what she got herself into. As Stephen and Kendal sip their buttermilk, which they both loathe, they laugh and pour it into the dirt of a potted plant. Now that he is married to her, Stephen thinks they can do anything a married couple would do. He kisses her, but as he leans in close to her face again, she stops him, telling him that she is a liar and she didn’t become his wife honestly. He now knows how Kendal manipulated Phyllis and he gets angry. As she walks into the living room, she shouts, “Besides, I don’t like being kissed by a man who keeps his eyes closed!” “Well, they’re open now!” As she makes her way to the front door, he tells her she’s fired. She says, “Yes, Stephen,” turns, and leaves.

rosalind russell brian aherne hired wife
Rosalind Russell and Brian Aherne in Hired Wife (1940)

Fortunately for Kendal, she knows that Stephen can’t possibly get on without her. Predictably, he comes to her home the next morning as she hums happily, making popovers in the kitchen. They go back to the office, but not before Kendal takes a hat off the refrigerator, puts it on her head, unzips her dress to reveal a “work” dress underneath, and informs him that he’s coming with her. And he utters that repeated line: “Oh, Kendal, what am I gonna do about you?” They look in the paper for their marriage announcement, which they discover is on the sports page. Stephen plans to keep dating Phyllis in spite of his marital status and Kendal just laughs about it because he hasn’t told Phyllis yet (“She isn’t conscious before 11”) and he isn’t single (legally) anymore. Right before they arrive at work, he says to her, “I wish I could afford to strangle you.” No words are necessary. She simply smiles at him with a funny giggle in her throat. It is funny, adorable, and perfect.

Kendal: (reading the marriage announcement) Oh, the fools! Don’t they read the proof? I’m not 92!


Kendal: (talking about Stephen and Phyllis) You two are going to have cozy evening, chatting about your bachelor days.


Kendal: (talking about Phyllis) I’m sure she doesn’t read anything but the cold cream ads… IF she can read.

rosalind russell brian aherne virginia bruce hired wife
Rosalind Russell, Brian Aherne, and Virginia Bruce in Hired Wife (1940)

In the office, the employees have arranged a celebration of their marriage with flowers abound. Phyllis arrives, wanting to see Stephen. She doesn’t know about the recent marriage and when Stephen goes out to see her, he tries to hide the celebration from her. But when she sees rice come off him, she stomps into the office. Kendal sees her and for Phyllis’ benefit, she mentions Stephen as her husband twice. Another visitor comes into the office. This time it’s José, Kendal’s friend. He mistakes two men for Kendal’s new husband, even kissing Roger on the forehead, which he doesn’t seem to like. Kendal and Roger are sure the marriage will be found out to be a fake, so they decide Kendal should move in with Stephen. Roger also moves in as a sort of “chaperon” for Kendal. Kendal moves into Stephen’s bedroom and he moves in with Roger in the other bedroom. Roger plays a little ukulele and starts singing “Little Brown Jug” as Stephen moves all his clothes and things into the other bedroom. Stephen joins in at the “HA, HA, HA!” parts, which is amusing.

rosalind russell john carroll hired wife
Rosalind Russell and John Carroll in Hired Wife (1940)

The next evening, Stephen takes Phyllis out. Kendal makes sure to show up, inviting José along. They intrude on Stephen and Phyllis and sit at their table.

José: Is she a blonde?

Kendal: This year.

José: Is she a very blonde blonde?

Kendal: She’s almost invisible.

As Stephen dances with Phyllis on the dance floor, José and Kendal concoct a plan for José to seduce Phyllis to get her out of the picture. Kendal will supply all the money to José to woo her and it would be a secret between them. When Kendal and Stephen start dancing, they have to smile and keep up appearances, even though they are saying insulting things to each other. What follows is a tender, sad scene. Kendal may be all fun and games, wisecracking all day, but when she gets home at night, she cries herself to sleep. You can’t help but feel sorry for her!

rosalind russell brian aherne joan fontaine on the set hired wife
Rosalind Russell, Brian Aherne, and Joan Fontaine on the set of Hired Wife (1940)

And so the love triangle starts between Stephen, Phyllis, and José as they both battle to woo her almost every day. Meanwhile, Kendal is writing checks for all of José expenses. One night, she is doing this and Stephen comes home. She puts a check in his hand and pretends José was leaving anyway. He leaves Kendal and Stephen alone in the house.

Kendal: But José, $75 for one bird?

José: It talks.

Kendal: Well, for that amount of money, it ought to read, write, and vote.

brian aherne rosalind russell hired wife
Brian Aherne and Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

Stephen tells Kendal that the big guys backed down and he wants a divorce now. He is nice about it. He gives her a check and a plane ticket to go take a vacation. She responds by ripping them up, not intending to do anything of the sort. She likes being Mrs. Stephen Dexter. She runs out on the terrace, bangs on the table loudly, shouting “Yoo-hoooooo, yoo-hoooo!” She wakes up Roger and Stephen tells him he wants a divorce, but Kendal isn’t willing to give him one. After Roger tells him if Kendal fights, the divorce may take years, Stephen gets angry. “Oh, you like being Mrs. Stephen Dexter, eh?” He backs her straight into a bench and they fall down on it hard. He violently kisses her all over, not letting go of her. She screams, “Mother!” as if her mother could come whisking by and save her. He even knocks an earring out in the process and Stephen yells out to Roger: “How can I get rid of this woman?” “Not that way.” Roger says he will testify to an annulment, that there never really was a marriage in the first place.

rosalind russell brian aherne hired wife
Rosalind Russell and Brian Aherne in Hired Wife (1940)

Unfortunately, this doesn’t go well for Stephen. Kendal leaves that night for her home, but Roger is not aware of this. However, he does see Stephen leave their bedroom for his own that was once occupied by Kendal. As he watches him sneak in there, he assumes he’s going in there to sleep with Kendal. The next morning, Stephen is happy as a clam and Roger is very suspicious of him. Kendal comes back, running up the stairs to get her clothes. Neither of the men know she is there. She listens in on Roger’s suspicions from the upstairs window and gets an idea. She lets a handkerchief fall out of the window down into Roger’s lap and he knows something’s up. When Kendal comes down for breakfast in a nightgown, Stephen knows he’s in trouble. “I already said good night to Stevie.”

brian aherne rosalind russell hired wife
Brian Aherne and Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

The next day back at the office, Stephen and Kendal are deciding which men should be sent to different locations around the country.

Kendal: He’d be glad to get away from Denver and that little redhead.

Stephen: Oh, is she his secretary, too?

Kendal: Yeah, I see what you mean.

Kendal believes Stephen really loves her and won’t let him go.

Stephen: I promise you until I have a beard down here, I’ll never lay a hand on you… except maybe in anger.

Suddenly, Kendal is in trouble when the judge who married them in South Carolina arrives and tells them that his license expired four years ago. That means their marriage is not legal. Stephen is happy about this, but Kendal is not. After the judge leaves and Kendal realizes she’s been licked, she gets angry and before she leaves Stephen’s office, she gives his rear end a good, swift kick.

rosalind russell brian aherne hired wife
Rosalind Russell and Brian Aherne in Hired Wife (1940)

José and Phyllis arrive at the office, ready to go away to be married. José told Phyllis a tiny bit of the truth about himself, but not all. However, she does learn the truth as Roger brings in a bunch of checks made out to José. So Stephen and Phyllis try to usher José and Kendal out, knowing they both double-crossed them. Kendal tells Phyllis to just tell her two more words, pointing her two fingers at her as if to poke her eyes out. She almost does when Phyllis says emphatically: You’re pathetic!

rosalind russell hired wife
Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

When José and Kendal leave, Phyllis and Stephen suddenly have two conversations at once. Phyllis goes on and on about José, while Stephen does the same about Kendal. They suddenly realize they are with the wrong mate and go after José and Kendal. They find them on a double-decker bus and Stephen climbs on the bus, while José goes down into the car on the street. Stephen smiles at Kendal, glad to be with her.

brian aherne rosalind russell hired wife
Brian Aherne and Rosalind Russell in Hired Wife (1940)

Kendal: Darling… did you remember to put Kelly in Kansas City?

Stephen: Oh, Kendal, what am I going to do about you?!



IMDB page for Hired Wife

TCM oveview of the film

A clip from the movie:

Live, Love and Learn (1937)

rosalind russell helen vinson live love and learn
Rosalind Russell and Helen Vinson in Live, Love and Learn (1937)


robert montgomery rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

After Night Must Fall finished production, Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell were put right into another film together—a film with a completely opposite atmosphere. Unlike Night Must Fall, which is an intense, dark drama, Live, Love and Learn is a rather silly comedy, although it has its sad moments. The way Rosalind makes her first appearance in the film lets the viewer know this will be a funny movie. Montgomery plays Bob Graham and he is a struggling painter. One day, he is sitting in a beautiful countryside, contemplating how to finish his painting. All of a sudden, horses start bounding over the hill behind him and he has to duck to avoid them. There is a fox hunt going on right in the middle of the meadow and he is irate! Finally, the last horse comes jumping over the hill behind the rest, but it throws its rider. The young woman crashes right through Bob’s canvas and she is appalled when Bob seems more interested in how his painting is faring than her, who took a nasty fall.

robert montgomery rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

Her name is Julie and she and Bob are from completely different walks of life. He’s poor, she’s rich; he doesn’t always know where his next meal is coming from, she never has to worry about that; he lives in a tiny apartment, she lives in a big house. He insults her skills as a fox hunt participant and shoos her away. A few seconds later, he finds her unconscious on the grass and wonders what to do with her. Before they know it, differences aside, they are getting married. And even so, Bob is trying to talk her out of it because he knows she’s in for a bit of culture shock living with him.

rosalind russell cbs radio 1937
Rosalind Russell is doing a radio stint here in 1937, but appears to be wearing the same outfit from a scene in Live, Love and Learn!

However, all doubts are forgotten when the justice of the peace tells him to “kiss the bride” and he stares at her, dumbstruck by love. It is in this comedy that besides the sexual tension you see in Night Must Fall, Montgomery and Russell have great romantic chemistry when they get a chance to have romantic scenes. You want them to be together; they are just that cute. They start walking with all of their things to a bus to take them to Bob’s apartment.

rosalind russell behind the scenes live love and learn
Rosalind Russell retouching her makeup while her hair gets done while filming Live, Love and Learn (1937)

Julie is actually quite fascinated with Bob’s lifestyle and is excited to live like this. She feels his lifestyle is more real and not full of fake people like in her more high-class community. To show her loyalty to Bob, she throws her wallet out the window and smiles at him. They soon start walking up to his apartment building and she is wearing this hat and the fabric on the top looks like bunny ears. It’s a hat I always remember from her film wardrobe because it is both so funny and cute. “Look, bunny ears!” Bob carries his new bride over the threshold and she takes a look around the tiny apartment, which isn’t even big enough for a full kitchen or bathroom.

robert montgomery maude eburne rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery, Maude Eburne, and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

She is really taken with it and is ready to start living hand-to-mouth, as long as she is by Bob’s side. Bob’s best friend, Oscar (Robert Benchley) suddenly stumbles into the room, drunk (as Benchley often was in films) and tries to kiss Julie’s hand, but falls right on his face instead. In disbelief, Julie questions Bob and he tells her that he’ll be living here with him.

robert montgomery rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

After putting Oscar out in the hall, Jerry Crump (played by a young Mickey Rooney) comes yoo-hooing into the room, silly and hyper, and takes a good look at Bob’s new bride. Jerry is the landlady’s son and Bob tries to show him a certain technique in throwing a baseball, but ends up breaking a window. Bob wants so much to be a successful painter for Julie’s sake, and hopes to keep his word on that. The next morning, they all—Bob, Julie, and Oscar—go to the market to buy some groceries because they don’t have food. They have not paid their bill at the market and Felipe (Charles Judels), the owner, refuses to let them purchase anything.

rosalind russell helen vinson robert benchley live love and learn
Rosalind Russell, Helen Vinson, and Robert Benchley in Live, Love and Learn (1937) – pardon the watermarks from here on out!

However, trouble abounds when Julie figures out that Felipe has been overcharging Bob and Oscar for some time because they were too naïve to know any better. They immediately start protesting in front of his store, even telling passersby to tar and feather Felipe. Soon, they are bringing loads of groceries home for free. Julie’s uncle has sent her a letter and a substantial check because he doesn’t want his niece living in squalor.

robert montgomery rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in the middle of the riot in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

Although Oscar eagerly wants to spend the money, Bob takes the check and glues it to the wall, never intending to cash it. Absolutely thrilled with her husband’s decision, Julie embraces him giddily. One day, an old pal from Julie’s old crowd comes calling on her. Her name is Lily (Helen Vinson) and she wants to get a good look at Julie’s new husband—a man so special that he got her to leave her comfortable life when she “could have married anyone.”

rosalind russell robert benchley helen vinson live love and learn
Rosalind Russell, Robert Benchley, and Helen Vinson in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

After mistaking Oscar for her new husband, Bob comes home with a monkey named Misery in tow—only one of the several odd things to happen in this movie. He is having a bad day because his work was put down by some art dealers. He goes to the park with his wife to paint. This peaceful scene gets out of hand when a few Marines (Leathernecks) and then a few Navy sailors (Tars) start gathering around Bob’s canvas, giving differing opinions on what they think of it.

robert montgomery rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

The Leathernecks stick together and the Tars stick to their opposing opinion until they start fighting. All of a sudden, Bob and Julie are in the middle of a riot in the park and are blamed for starting it! They spend a night in jail and when they come home, they notice a large crowd of reporters on the stairs and sneak into their apartment.

rosalind russell robert montgomery live love and learn
Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

Refusing to talk to reporters, one reporter decides to pose as an art dealer in order to get a story on them. Naturally, Bob is excited about this, but Julie notices the man’s press pass in his hat. The man is immediately thrown out (literally). Soon, the three of them have developed a new hobby. Since the reporters keep coming in droves posing as art dealers to talk to the poor, struggling painter, they devise new and unique ways of depositing them into the hall.

robert montgomery rosalind russell robert benchley charles judels live love and learn
Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Robert Benchley, and Charles Judels in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

An important art dealer named Bawltitude (Monty Woolley in his usual grumpy, cantankerous, but hilarious role) becomes interested in Bob and visits his apartment to take a look at his work. Of course, Bob, Julie, and Oscar assume he is another reporter, so they proceed to anger him. They have stacked a large pile of books and put a pitcher of water on top of them and tell him to take a few steps backwards until the pitcher of water has poured all over his head.

rosalind russell robert montgomery live love and learn
Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

They then do the silliest thing—they cut his buttons, suspenders, and tie in half. As Oscar and Bob try to pull on his beard, which they assume is fake, Julie finds out that he is the real Bawltitude. Bob stares at Bawltitude in disbelief and Bawltitude yells at him, “Get your hands off me, you homicidal maniac!” Hard feelings are obviously put aside when before they know it, Bob’s work is being presented in a gallery by Bawltitude.

robert montgomery rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

It is at this time that Bob starts acting differently. He starts becoming more well-known and respected by the rich art buying community and Julie feels she is losing the old Bob that she fell in love with. When he buys a big, beautiful place for them to live in, Julie thinks it’s a joke and after bewildering him by yodeling in the place, then swinging her arm wondering if she could swing a cat in the place, she starts “skating” across the polished floors. (Let’s just say this is a very strange group of people!) She is saddened when she finds Bob is serious about it and is very unhappy when her old pal Lily starts attaching herself to Bob in order to build him up. Now again living the lifestyle she voluntarily left, Julie is very unhappy and only talks to Oscar, who has not changed a bit. They play games and Julie explains that when someone comes to the door, the third butler answers the door, who tells the second butler, who tells the first butler, who then informs her about it later.

robert montgomery rosalind russell robert benchley live love and learn
Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, and Robert Benchley in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

They start pretending to be high-class snobs, Julie describing herself as “so, so alive, so eccentric—I mean electric!” Meanwhile, Bob has had many jobs painting boring, stuffy dowagers. Lily brings over a new client named Mr. Palmiston. He is played by E. E. Clive, who played a large part in getting Rosalind Russell’s acting career started when she pretended to be English in order to get into his acting troupe. It was acting in this troupe that got her discovered by a Hollywood scout. He also plays small parts in two other Montgomery-Russell films, Trouble for Two (1936) and Night Must Fall (1937). He is most memorable in this film, however, because of the way he says everything in threes. When he meets people, he says, “How do you do? How do you do? How do you do?” and thanks people like this: Thank you very much, thank you very much, thank you very much. Julie doesn’t like this atmosphere very much and goes off riding: “I feel like digging my spurs into something.” She comes back with a very kind old gentleman who is an art teacher and a very promising young pupil of his.

robert montgomery rosalind russell live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Live, Love and Learn (1937)

They want to give a “Robert Graham Day” soon and have him speak. However, he decides that painting for Mr. Palmiston is more important and Julie is gravely disappointed in him and where his priorities lie. After Bob snubs the two people, Julie gets very angry with him and tells him he’s become a big fake and she can’t stand it anymore. Lily tries to get her opinion in, but Julie walks very slowly up to her and says, “Lily, darling, has anyone before told you, in an awfully ladylike manner, to keep your pretty little schnozzola out of other peoples family fights?” She paints a mustache on Bob’s portrait of one of the old matrons he is working on. Bob yells at her and ends with calling Oscar a drunken clown and orders him out of the house. Having lost the man she remembered, Julie asks for a divorce and leaves with Oscar. It is this part of the film I don’t enjoy very much. It’s all fun and games until Bob becomes someone he’s not and causes terrible marital discord.

robert montgomery rosalind russell robert benchley live love and learn poster
the poster for Live, Love and Learn

However, when Bob tires of this dull lifestyle, he goes to speak for the art teacher’s class like Julie wanted him to. She is there to listen to him and happy to have him back. She reunites with him and they decide to have some fun for the road. She and her two partners in crime go to Bawltitude’s place and bring in a portrait Bob did of Palmiston’s horse. Palmiston comes running in, his pants falling down (because they had cut his suspenders like they always do), and pleading with Bawltitude. Julie pulls her cape up over her head and growls at him like a tiger.

robert montgomery rosalind russell on the set live love and learn
Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell on the set of Live, Love and Learn (1937)

They proceed to tell him to back up, back up… until they yell “Ah, boo!” and he falls backwards right through his own painting. The three of them bellow, “And may we say we love you very much, Mr. Palmiston?” to which he replies from the ground, “Not at all, not at all, not at all!”

IMDB page for Live, Love and Learn

TCM overview of the film

A clip from the film for you all to enjoy:

China Seas (1935)

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

clark gable rosalind russell c. aubrey smith jean harlow china seas
Clark Gable, Rosalind Russell, C. Aubrey Smith, and Jean Harlow

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

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

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

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

rosalind russell china seas
Rosalind Russell

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

rosalind russell clark gable china seas
Rosalind Russell and Clark Gable

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

soo yong rosalind russell china seas
Soo Yong and Rosalind Russell

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

jean harlow wallace beery rosalind russell clark gable c. aubrey smith soo yong
Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Rosalind Russell, Clark Gable, C. Aubrey Smith, and Soo Yong

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

clark gable rosalind russell china seas
Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell

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

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

rosalind russell china seas
Rosalind Russell

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

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

clark gable jean harlow china seas
Clark Gable and Jean Harlow

IMDB page for China Seas

TCM overview of China Seas

Buy the DVD

Very nice fan made trailer for the film: