In The Feminine Touch, Rosalind Russell plays a character with a lower IQ than her usual character. Although she is a great actress and I think she can do anything she puts her mind to, I find it difficult to believe she could ever really be this dense. Roz simply belongs in smart, witty roles. She was intelligent and funny as hell in real life and so she really sparkles in similar roles. However, in spite of this dumb character (not to mention the smart Kay Francis character that I am almost jealous of because Roz wasn’t her), it is a very funny movie. If you like the silly, the sometimes ridiculous, or even physical comedy, please do watch it! Rosalind was simply gorgeous in this movie as well. I loved her outfits and hats, even if she was saying things like “Oh, I wouldn’t inhibit you, even if I was sure what that meant” while wearing them. She exhibits physical comedy here and there and it is enjoyable just for that. She gets great support from her co-stars Don Ameche, Kay Francis and Van Heflin. It was directed by W. S. “Woody” Van Dyke, who also directed four of The Thin Man movies.
John Hathaway (Don Ameche) is an intelligent professor at Digby College, a college that is full of goof-offs much more interested in football than in academics. This, naturally, infuriates him so he enjoys making jokes about his students’ lack of smarts and their beards. All of them have beards (it’s a mens’ college) because if their football team doesn’t beat the rival team at Laurel College, they will not shave. There is one stupid student in particular named “Rubber Legs” Ryan (Gordon Jones, the same actor who plays “Wreck” in My Sister Eileen the very next year) that John likes to pick on. John catches him carving his wife Julie’s initials in his desk surrounded by a heart. He obviously has a crush on Julie and John has no problem with this.
When John has to stay late to talk to the dean of the college and Rubber Legs overhears this, he drives to the train station to pick up Julie, who had been on vacation. Dean Hutchinson (Grant Mitchell) informs John that he must give Rubber Legs an examination and if he fails, he won’t be able to play on the football team and that is obviously dire news for a college like Digby. John says that he’ll try to give him a test that is “one syllable, no writing, and short.” Meanwhile, as Rubber Legs is driving Julie Hathaway (Rosalind Russell) home, he tries his own methods of making a pass at her. When he puts his arm around her as he says, “Aw, heck, I don’t need no practice,” she immediately pulls his arm away while retorting “Aw, heck… neither do I.”
When Julie arrives home, John is already home, clacking away at the typewriter. He has been working on a book for many months now called Jealousy and All Its Aspects and Universal Applications, a title that Julie always gets wrong, even though she is married to the author. They are happy to see each other again, but it doesn’t take long before conflict arises. John doesn’t believe jealousy exists in happy marriages, including his own. However, from Julie’s perspective, she feels he should be jealous and is not flattered when he isn’t. This comes out when he mentions that Rubber Legs is smitten with Julie, but he didn’t do anything to Rubber Legs out of anger. He does not feel a bit jealous and Julie is insulted.
She pretends that she had been dancing every night back home (visiting her mother) and keeps bringing up the name of Bob Jordan, the man she was engaged to before she met John. Of course, John has no recollection of Bob Jordan, which irritates her. She tells him that Bob is jealous of John and would kill him if he met him. She yells out, “He’s jealous because he loves me!” Bob replies, “The one has nothing to do with the other. If you go back far enough, you’ll see we all lived in trees and threw coconuts at each other” and there is no need to go back to those times. This infuriates her and tells him she wants to beat him and throw coconuts at him. She tries to hit him, but hilariously misses as she sinks to the floor awkwardly. This is just a taste of the physical comedy I mentioned earlier, something I think Rosalind was quite adept at.
The next day, John gives Rubber Legs the aforementioned examination. It is really dumbed down for him (which in reality is unfair, but it’s obvious John is beginning to hate his job there). After asking him a few questions like “What do you see on this table?” and “What is this?” while holding up a simple object, Rubber legs complains “I got a headache!” “Somebody kick you in the head?” John asks. “No, I got it from thinking. Thinking always gives me a headache,” Rubber Legs replies. “That’s from using muscles you’ve never used before,” John jokes (but not really). When the dean backs up Rubber Legs by saying he shouldn’t have to take the exam because his head hurts, John goes into a rant and ends up quitting the college. So he and Julie move to New York City to pursue his dream…
John has hopes of publishing his book and has his draft ready to show to the publishing houses. As they have breakfast, ready to tackle the Elliott Morgan Publishing House, it is obvious that while John has book smarts, he doesn’t have street smarts or common sense. For example, Julie always has to tell him when he should drink his coffee because if she doesn’t, he’ll burn his mouth every time. Every. Single. Time. At the Elliott Morgan Publishing House, we first meet Nellie Woods (Kay Francis), a no-nonsense, tell-‘em-like-it-is, very smart woman who works there.
It isn’t long before the audience gathers that she runs the entire company and Elliott doesn’t do much of anything. Something I always giggle at is the fact that Kay Francis stands a bit taller than Rosalind does. It is not common to see another actress in a film taller than Roz and I love it! Julie doesn’t have a very high opinion of Nellie when she first meets her. She feels insecure about her own intelligence compared to Nellie’s and seems jealous that Nellie will be talking to her husband alone. After they go into her office, we meet the infamous Elliott Morgan (Van Heflin), who has been locked into his office by Nellie. He persuades Julie, who is the only one in the waiting room, to let him out and she does. As soon as she sees Julie, he is quite taken with her. He is very neurotic, always complaining of having psychological ailments. When the four of them are in the same room again, they talk about going outside and Elliott says, “I’m allergic to grass.” And Nellie replies, “And fresh air… and me.” Julie can tell Nellie is in love with Elliott, in spite of his lack of attention to her. But they already fight like married people.
Later that night, they all attend a literary “tea” given at Elliott’s apartment. It’s not really a tea though. His apartment is filled to the brim with crazy, neurotic writers who are all drunk. When Julie meets Freddie Bond (Sidney Blackmer), Elliott’s lawyer, for the first time, he exclaims, “You’re the loveliest sight I’ve ever seen!” John replies, “I’m John Hathaway and this is my wife.” “You never told me you were married,” says Freddie. Julie scoffs and says, “That’s silly. I’ve never seen you before in my life.” Then they meet Shelley Mason (Henry Daniell), who is quite a character as well. He has a completely deadpan expression on his face at all times and describes himself as “the most distinguished but hated critic in America.” He tells Julie she “may look, but you mustn’t touch.”
He takes Julie to the dance floor right away after feeling she is fascinated by him and wants them to be together. Meanwhile, Elliott tells John that he is very attracted to Julie and has this compulsion to take wives away from their husbands. John is nonchalant about it and tells Elliott that he should pursue Julie because he knows that Julie would never be attracted to him. Elliott sports a beard and Julie hates beards. So Elliott does just that—he gets Julie alone and starts a conversation with her. She, however, is very distracted by seeing Nellie and her husband together. She describes herself as “not very clever and sort of ‘unmental,’” which is still something I can’t wrap my brain around because it’s Rosalind Russell! But no matter. The four of them go to a nightclub afterwards and while John and Elliott seem contented as the singer sings a song called “Jealous,” Nellie glares at Elliott and Julie frowns, finding Nellie to have too much in common with John. The lyrics reflect exactly what the ladies are feeling.
Nellie and John start spending a lot of days together working on the book. Meanwhile, Elliott takes Julie to all the important places in New York City. He hopes to eventually seduce her, but she has no interest in him whatsoever. “Julie, you’re inhibiting me,” Elliott tells her on the top of the Statue of Liberty. Even though she doesn’t know what that means, she’s sure she wouldn’t do it. When Julie comes home, she is shocked to find John drinking champagne with Nellie, his arm around her. Nellie looks just as shocked as Julie does, but John is ecstatic, not realizing he’s done anything wrong. He knows who he is in love with and he bears no jealousy and doesn’t think Julie should either. After Nellie leaves the room, Julie makes John sit next to her and put his arm around her. “Two people in love?” she asks John.
“If ever there were two!” he says. She furrows her brow and lowers her voice, saying, “And what would you think if you found Elliott and I in this position?” “Not what you’re thinking,” he replies. She angrily retorts, “Why not?” He is very calm and collected about it. She informs him she does not want to be rational. “That’s right. You want to throw coconuts,” he says. She starts to cry (kind of reminds me of the way Lucy cries in I Love Lucy) and yells out: “It always winds up like this, with me feeling like a rat!” “I don’t want you feeling like a rat,” says John. Julie responds, “But I am a rat!” They make up, but she still isn’t sure she can act the way John does.
The next day, John introduces Julie to the infamous New York City subway. After all, Julie comes from a “hick town” and doesn’t know anything about it. He calls the people rushing back and forth the “subway dwellers” and even spots what he calls a “subway snake,” a masher who bothers women, using the line with a thick New York accent, “Say, ain’t I seen you somewheres before?” He tells Julie that if it happens to her, she should just look at him and say, “Lay off, bub, or I’ll call the cop!” Even though she is sure she would pop him one, he says this is the way to go. On the subway, they have a few laughs by repeating the subway masher scene to each other, but unfortunately, there is a cop on the subway and he ends up dragging John away, even as they both try to explain they are married.
Julie immediately goes over to Elliott’s place to get some help. He had been expecting her that evening anyway because he had hinted to her that he wanted her to come. She just wants help in getting John out of jail and nothing else. In order to get her to stay, he pretends to call up Freddie Bond for his aid. Nellie, knowing that Julie is at Elliott’s apartment, calls all of her friends and tells them to come over to Elliott’s right away. It’s a “come as you are” party, so it isn’t long before people start invading Elliott’s apartment, dressed in their pajamas or party clothes if they had been out all night. When Julie sees Freddie come in, drunk as usual, she figures out that Elliott never called him at all. So she leaves in a huff.
That night, Julie has a dream that John and Elliott fight over her, literally (with fists). This dream sequence is particularly beautiful because of the lovely, flowing gown Roz wears in it and a crown atop her head. The dream itself is silly, but she looks beautiful. Julie wakes up, disappointed, when she realizes the fight never happened. Julie decides to test John’s affection by going off to Elliott’s cabin on an island somewhere off New York. As Julie reads a bit of John’s book, she struggles with a few of the words. She asks him what “malefic” and “deleterious” mean. He tells her that they mean “evil, bad.” Then she asks him if he thinks she is malefic or deleterious. “You couldn’t be if you wanted to be.” She smiles and responds, “Oh, you’re sweet!” She quietly slips out of the apartment with an overnight bag packed, having told him she is going apartment hunting. As soon as she is gone, it is obvious that John will always need her around as he promptly burns his mouth on his coffee. (doy!)
Meanwhile, on the island, Elliott wants nothing to do with Julie because he had made up with Nellie the night before and decided they would marry soon. Nellie comes over to the Hathaways’ apartment that day, all sunshine and flowers, happily humming because Elliott said he needed her. When a telegram is delivered, she reads it and all happiness is sucked out of her. Julie has gone to Elliott’s island and Nellie thinks she and John should go there right away before something happens. As usual, John thinks there’s nothing to worry about, feeling no jealousy at all. Julie arrives at Elliott’s cabin during a storm and lets herself in. She goes into the bathroom without him knowing she’s there. When she starts humming “Jealousy,” he thinks it’s the radio and tries to turn it off. He sees that doesn’t work and realizes someone is in his bathroom. He is furious that she is there and wants her to leave, but she refuses. When the lights go out due to the storm, Julie tries to light a lantern, but it catches fire and singes Elliott’s face. He is now irate and locks himself in his bedroom.
John and Nellie arrive the next morning and Julie is ecstatic to see him. But when he says that her being there is “not important,” she has had it. John lets Elliott know he doesn’t want him to publish his book and tells Julie they are going. She refuses to go with him, so he grabs her arm and literally drags her outside. When they get to the lake at the end of the property, he accidentally falls in and ends up with a bad cold the next day. Julie tells him that she’s leaving him as he lies in bed, sick as a dog. She thinks they don’t belong together. “I can’t think all the time. Your love is something I don’t understand. It’s got too many syllables for me… or something.” Like she had said earlier, her love “can’t even read.” Before she leaves, she instructs him on how to tell when his coffee is okay to drink. John is very sad to see her go, but he becomes angry when Elliott strolls in, clean shaven. Knowing that Julie could go for him without a beard, he wants to beat him up, his jealousy finally surfacing.
A very silly sequence follows as John chases Elliott around and around a tree outside. Unfortunately, John, in his bare feet, keeps stepping on pine cones and hopping up and down in pain. They get into a fistfight, punching each other’s fists in the process. Eventually, they end up both passed out. As each woman rushes to her man, they insult the other man until both ladies get angry. Then it’s their turn to fight, pushing each other, slapping each other, and pulling each other’s hair. The poor boat captain gets in the middle of it… literally!
It ends with the foursome walking out of a building. A man yells out to Julie, “Hello, sugar!” so John, finally letting himself be jealous, runs back after him, intending to punch him. He comes back with a black eye of his own. What a bad fighter he is! Julie smiles with glee and kisses him on the cheek. All is well as long as everyone is jealous!
IMDB page for The Feminine Touch