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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
After a two-week hiatus from the series, here I am again with the 1937 drama Night Must Fall, starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. Montgomery garnered an Oscar nomination for his performance as Danny. Although Miss Russell never received any award recognition for her performance as Olivia Grayne, she gave a fantastic performance as a character that is more complex than she looks. Night Must Fall is one of the highest rated Rosalind Russell films on IMDB, which is a rarity because it is not a comedy. But this goes to show everyone that Roz is capable of more than just comedy. She can do a wide range of different genres and do it well, too. This is a film that is based on a British play, so of course, every character is from the United Kingdom. Obviously, Montgomery and Russell were American, not British, but they both did well with their accents.
I’ve always thought Montgomery’s accent was a bit unique and strange. I am not sure what kind of accent it is, but as one of the characters, Dora, says, “He’s sort of Irish, I think.”
Robert Montgomery playing the sinister psychopath Danny who has a talent for decapitation certainly steals the show, but Olivia is a repressed, sheltered young woman with many complexities beneath her icy surface. Heading the supporting cast is the great actress Dame May Whitty.
This was the first film I saw her in and I have to admit that I found it hard to like her even as an actress after seeing it. However, my feelings softened toward her as I saw her in kinder, more sympathetic roles like in The Lady Vanishes, Mrs. Miniver, and The White Cliffs of Dover.
As the film starts, we see a dark figure in the woods doing something suspiciously in the dirt by a tree. It is very eerie as he has a large hatbox by his side and whistling the tune “Mighty Lak’ a Rose.”
The next morning, a young woman named Dora (Merle Tottenham) is bicycling to the house where she works as a maid. Her day starts off badly as the woman she works for, Mrs. Bramson, is yelling for her because she found two broken cups and saucers buried in the rose bed. Dora is a spindly, timid little thing and breaks down in tears when Mrs. Bramson fires her. She tells her that she hasn’t been feeling like herself lately because of some problems with a young man. Dora gets to keep her job, but Mrs. Bramson insists on seeing the young man and speaking to him about it.
It is during this exchange that we first see Olivia, her niece. Olivia is an unassuming young woman who wears glasses and sits on the couch, knitting. She wears sweater and skirt sets and this is all she seems to own at first. The way she carries herself, one can tell she is very repressed, frigid, and subdued. At the same time, the first impression of her aunt is that she is a very mean old lady who appears to be a hypochondriac. She complains often about her “ailments,” but complains even more often about how no one cares about them.
An inspector named Belsize (Matthew Boulton) comes by the house and informs them that a flashy, blonde woman named Mrs. Chalbrook is missing.
Olivia starts thinking about how she might be dead and in a creepy sort of way, she makes up a story about what may have happened to her and where she might be, saying, “I wonder on a very fine morning what it would be like for night to come, and I never can… it’s silly.” Olivia has a very wild imagination and it is obvious she needs it to pass her days in a gloomy house with a very mean old woman.
Danny makes his appearance at the house and he makes quite an impression, eyeing all the women in the room, a cigarette permanently dangling from his mouth.
When he first spies Olivia, she gives him a funny sideways glance, looking suspicious of him already. When Mrs. Chalbrook is mentioned because she frequented the Tallboys where he works as a pageboy, he oddly seems to remember every single little detail about her—from the size of her ankles to how her eyebrows looked. Olivia doesn’t approve of him in the slightest and walks off in a huff. Danny says to Mrs. Bramson, “She’s a fine bit of ice for hot weather, isn’t she?” What was intended to be a scolding conversation with Danny turns into something quite the opposite when he works his charm on Mrs. Bramson. She is pleased when he actually acts interested in her made-up ailments and it isn’t long before he has her under his spell and she stupidly hires him to work for her, thinking Olivia is not a suitable woman to work for her because she always forgets to give her medicine.
Olivia is treated very badly by her aunt and has no private fortune, so she cannot leave the house. As he leaves the house to take her for a walk, Olivia sees him leaving. She gives him a very knowing glare.
The next morning, Danny buys a shawl for Mrs. Bramson, telling her it had once belonged to his mother, further charming her into his trap. Olivia notices the price tag on the shawl and for some inexplicable reason, slyly takes the tag off without her knowing.
There is a young man named Justin (Alan Marshal) who is Mrs. Bramson’s lawyer and takes care of her finances. He also loves Olivia and wants desperately to take her away from this miserable life she is leading. However, she refuses to go with him because she doesn’t love him. It is obvious she does not approve of Danny when she says, “I think he is common and insolent and conceited and completely double faced.” At the same time, she is strangely attracted to him. When she notices his cap hanging in the hall, she takes the opportunity to go to his room and talk to him. She seems to be under the impression (although she would never admit it) that now that Danny has entered her life, more excitement will come her way. However, when he starts to make her feel uncomfortable, she quickly walks over the window, wanting to open it.
He beats her to it and with his arm above her and his face and body just an inch away from her, she gulps and becomes frightened, walking away as fast as she can. She tells him she doesn’t care what she looks like after he advises her that she might be better looking without her glasses.
As the days pass, it is clear that between Olivia and Danny, Mrs. Bramson prefers his company, even though she hardly knows him. The difference in her tone when she speaks to Olivia or to Danny is remarkable. She is sweet and kind to Danny and mean and harsh to Olivia. Meanwhile, Olivia has actually taken Danny’s words to heart and takes off her glasses, squints at her reflection in the mirror, and there is a flicker of a smile as she shakes her hair out and continues to look at herself in the mirror.
From then on, she doesn’t wear her glasses, so it is apparent that she cares what she looks like. More cruelty is directed at Olivia in a scene where Mrs. Bramson is trying to play a card game. Olivia is smoking a cigarette and helps her by showing her what to do. She harshly yells at her, “I saw that!” and coughs at her cigarette smoke. But when Danny smokes right near her face and tells her the same thing, Mrs. Bramson smiles and thanks him for helping, telling him his cigarette doesn’t bother her at all.
One day, Danny is fixing Mrs. Bramson’s wheelchair while whistling “Mighty Lak’ a Rose.” Olivia suddenly remembers that the mysterious figure in the wood on the night that Mrs. Chalbrook went missing was whistling this tune.
She comes to a sudden, frightening realization just who she may be dealing with here. She suggests to Dora and Mrs. Terence (the funny, wisecracking cook played by Kathleen Harrison) that they look through Danny’s things because he is not one to be trusted. They discover a photograph of Mrs. Chalbrook and their suspicion rises. They also spy a mysterious, heavy hatbox (sound familiar?) in his room and Olivia quips, “Suppose there’s something inside of it?” Mrs. Terence suddenly drops it like it just bit her. Not long after, the body of Mrs. Chalbrook is found in the woods and when a man runs inside the house to make a phone call about the discovery, he says, “The head’s missing!”
Being this close to a murder and perhaps a murderer is the final straw for Olivia and she runs off to Justin. However, as she talks with him, she realizes she still wants to stay at the house with Mrs. Bramson and Danny, even though doing such a thing is possibly a great danger. Her odd attraction to Danny keeps her from staying away. There is more evidence of this attraction when she makes tea in the middle of the night and Danny sees her in the kitchen. She is at the same time frightened of him and fascinated by him. He inches closer to her, noticing how excited she is by his presence, and although she runs away from fear, he smiles when she says his name for the first time, “Danny.”
Things get to a dangerous point when Danny decides to take a few drops of whiskey and Olivia immediately senses it.
She takes the opportunity to question him about the murder of Mrs. Chalbrook. She is very close to getting a confession from him, but he catches himself before he goes too far. He is a young man who thinks very highly of himself and likes to “act” all the time. When Inspector Belsize comes back to inspect Danny’s things because he saw Mrs. Chalbrook the night she went missing, Danny starts to freak out. He thinks he’s very close to being found out and doesn’t know what to do. Olivia has suspected something of Danny’s hatbox ever since she first saw it, and when Inspector Belsize says he wants the key to open it, she covers for Danny and tells him it is her hatbox. Even Olivia doesn’t know why she covers for an obviously dangerous man, but she can’t seem to help herself. It is now the final final straw for Olivia and she intends to go running back to Justin again, but before she leaves, she warns her aunt of the company she is keeping in the house.
Mrs. Bramson thinks she is insane and lets her go. Unfortunately, it is obvious who the insane one is when Mrs. Bramson almost scares herself to death after being left alone in the house. The way she hysterically screams and laughs simultaneously after Danny comes back is a bit frightening. But everything ends for her there when as she tells Danny what a nice, sweet man he is, he smothers her with a pillow.
Once again, Olivia comes back. She discovers that Danny has killed her aunt and will probably cause her harm as well. He walks toward her and she stares back at him, never so scared in her life. Fortunately, the police burst into the house with Justin, who protects Olivia. This is the part that always awes me as we watch Danny go through a gamut of emotions as he realizes that his perfect murder has gone awry.
He doesn’t understand why they are there. He thought he was so smart, so clever, so precise. He has a few moments of hysterical insanity as he is finally put into handcuffs and taken away. And although there were unhappy endings for most, there is a happy ending at least for Olivia, the poor young woman constantly belittled by her aunt. There is an escape for her.
Adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson short story “Suicide Club,” Trouble for Two is the first time MGM paired Rosalind Russell with Robert Montgomery. Although she had a very small role in Montgomery’s film Forsaking All Others two years earlier, it can hardly count as a co-starring venture. This 1936 film is rather bizarre and it certainly is neither Rosalind’s nor Robert’s best film. That said, it is still an entertaining little gem (and I mean little because it is very short, only 74 minutes long).
Rosalind Russell once said in a 1943 Photoplay interview that this film was her worst (so far), but I am sure she was completely disregarding the fact that she had already made The Casino Murder Case. After all, she wrote in her book that she liked to pretend Casino didn’t even exist (Life is a Banquet, 65). As with several movies before this, one of the advantages was the wardrobe. The film takes place in the 19th century, so she wore many lovely period costumes with some beautiful jewelry.
A simple star necklace is my favorite piece in the movie. Robert Montgomery had curly hair in this film, a far cry from his usually straight brown hair. He also sported a mustache, which I found took some getting used to. Roz wore her hair in cute little ringlets, which gave her a unique look.
Montgomery plays a crowned prince of the fictional Corovia. His name is Florizel and his father is the king, played by E. E. Clive. Colonel Geraldine (Frank Morgan at his usual comic best) is called upon to always keep an eye on Florizel because he sometimes thinks he can do whatever he pleases and needs to stay out of trouble.
When Florizel first makes his appearance, he is causing a ruckus in the palace with a group of friends while he stands on stilts in the middle of the room. Geraldine fetches him and brings him to his father, where they have a meeting about Florizel’s upcoming arranged nuptials to Princess Brenda of Irania.
Florizel is not keen on the idea and is amused when he discovers Princess Brenda feels the same way. She says of Florizel, “I will never buy a pig in the poke,” and has no intention of marrying him.
After the embarrassment this has caused for the royal family, the king sends his son off to London for a while (incognito, of course) with his chaperon, Geraldine. Florizel and Geraldine endure a dull boat ride to London under assumed names (Mr. Godall and Major Hammersmith, respectively).
It is there that he meets a mysterious woman with dark eyes (Rosalind Russell) who would like him to help her (“a damsel in distress”) by taking possession of some papers that she says someone wants badly from her. He keeps them and when they dock in London, he intends to return them to her but cannot find a sign of her, and what’s more—the papers are completely blank. But she has captured his attention.
The next evening, the mysterious woman finds out where Florizel is dining and follows him there. Florizel meets a man at the café who is offering an enormous amount of cream tarts to everyone he meets. Florizel asks him what it is all about and he finds out that the man intends to end his life and he is having a last bit of fun before that happens. The man’s name is Mr. Barnley and he speaks of a secret “suicide club” in town, where you “choose to die, but not at your own hands.” In this morbid “game” of sorts, once you pay an admission to the club, each member draws a card from a deck. The person who draws the ace of spades is the one who is to die, and the person who draws the ace of clubs is the executioner.
The three of them decide to go to this suicide club out of curiosity. Mystery Woman follows them there and it is revealed her name is Miss Vandeleur. She is the only woman in the club and becomes the “executioner” her first time there. She does not appear frightened about it and in fact always stares emotionless, which makes her even more of a mystery.
Mr. Barnley is the one to die and they disappear. The next morning, they find the death notice of Mr. Barnley in the paper and Florizel cannot believe she could do something like this.
Still curious, Florizel goes to the suicide club again and finds Miss Vandeleur there. This time, Florizel draws the ace of spades and once again, Miss Vandeleur draws the ace of clubs. They take a carriage ride into the woods and Florizel keeps asking her questions about herself and about what will take place.
She simply stares ahead, not allowing him to see any trace of emotion. In fact, when she informs him that he will be “torn to pieces” by lions, she says it with so much conviction and so apathetically that I find it difficult not to laugh. I’m just trying to imagine someone actually saying something so gruesome without even a line of worry in their face.
She is about to unlock the lion enclosure at the Malden Zoo when we suddenly see that she has feelings after all. She can’t do it and runs off crying. They suddenly find they are being followed by the president of the suicide club and flee to a local inn.
Florizel soon finds out Miss Vandeleur is in fact Princess Brenda when she says to him, “I refuse to buy a pig in a poke!” They laugh, but they know they are in trouble because they didn’t carry out the suicide club’s task. Florizel discovers he has been accused of treason by another Corovian, Dr. Noel.
It turns out that Dr. Noel is the president of the suicide club (Reginald Owen) and has been plotting to assassinate Florizel. Princess Brenda, who has now completed her mission of finding out if Florizel is a brave man, helps Florizel and Geraldine carry out a plan to trap Dr. Noel into a duel.
There is a magnificent fencing duel between the two, which ends in Dr. Noel falling backwards, defeated.
Florizel and Brenda get married as planned, but it is not quite the traditional arranged marriage. They have indeed fallen in love with each other and wink at each other, keeping the secret to themselves.