Banned in Australia, Ireland, and by the Catholic Legion of Decency, This Thing Called Love is a fun romantic comedy with innuendos a-plenty. Although any mention of sex in this film is only implied (and it is implied quite a bit), such implications were enough to cause the ban. It is interesting to think that both Australia and Ireland’s censors were more conservative compared to the United States in 1940 than they are today. Today, most people would agree it is the complete opposite.
This Thing Called Love also marked the first time Rosalind Russell would star opposite Melvyn Douglas, one of my favorite actors. He was a little on the underrated side and not one of the most conventionally handsome types, but he was always bursting with exuberant charm and his most wonderful asset was his voice. I have always loved that voice of his and he was always a good match for many popular leading ladies of the time, appearing in many comedies with the likes of Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne, Gloria Swanson, Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur, Mary Astor, and Joan Blondell. He always had fantastic chemistry with all of his leading ladies. There must have been something about him that made him easy to get along with and work with. This was the sixth comedy in a row for Roz (although No Time for Comedy is also part drama) and it was clear what a bright comedienne she was. She was becoming known for comedy and perfectly showed off her flair for it.
Tice Collins, played by Melvyn Douglas, is on a ship sailing from South America (Peru, to be exact) back to New York City. He has had one woman on his mind during his trip and is excited to get back to her. Also on the boat with him is a successful banker named Julio Diestro (Lee J. Cobb), and his wife and children. Tice is trying to get a large business loan ($1 million) to finance a new mine (he’s an engineer) and has been busy trying to charm Diestro into getting him that loan. Meanwhile, back in the Big Apple, Ann (Rosalind Russell) is trying to win over her bosses at the insurance company where she works as a statistician. She wants them to finance a project she is planning. She has written a book called The Practical Plan for Marriage and her idea is that after couples get married, they should live together in name only. This means they shouldn’t consummate their marriage for three months. Couples need to get to know each other better before they bring sex into it. She believes that this idea needs to be tested to see if it works and her soon-to-be husband, Tice, has no idea he will be the guinea pig in her experiment.
When Ann goes to the docks to meet Tice, it is obvious how smitten they are with each other. They don’t even speak when they see each other. They kiss and kiss for what seems a long time, while Tice’s lawyer, Harry (Allyn Joslyn) and his secretary, Charlotte (Binnie Barnes) stand right next to them. Of course, they are so wrapped up in each other that they don’t even hear Harry and Charlotte attempting to talk to them. Tice and Ann have been separated from each other for six months, but it is soon revealed that they only knew each other on the boat for one week when they fell in love and decided to get married. Ann’s sister Ruth (Leona Maricle) is getting divorced just as Ann is about to marry. Predictably, when Ann whispers her plan in Tice’s ear, he yelps, “WHAT?! YOU’RE CRAZY!” As she gets up to leave the courtroom where they came to watch the divorce proceedings, Tice whimpers like a hurt puppy before following her out. Ann explains to him that she isn’t sure their marriage will work because they fell too hard too fast.
The next day, Tice decides to discuss Ann’s plan with Harry. Harry and his wife Florence (Gloria Dickson) are cause for a lot of friction in this story. They are constantly bickering and insulting each other. In fact, they fight so much that there are about five or six dents in their bedroom door where Florence throws a shoe at him as he closes the door. Harry thinks Ann’s plan is silly and she will soon forget it as long as Tice turns on the charm for her after they’re married.
So they get married. On their wedding night, they both get dressed up to have dinner together downstairs in their new house. As Ann gets ready, Tice gets ready… to ply her with champagne and whichever tricks he may have up his sleeve to seduce her. When she comes down, they embrace and kiss each other. As he holds her, he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and salutes. Even though the objective is for Tice to charm Ann into the bedroom, there is a moment where Ann kisses him and immediately wants to kiss him again, but he actually turns away, almost as if he’s playing hard to get for a brief moment. They start drinking champagne, something that Ann thoroughly enjoys. As Tice continuously refills her glass, she remarks that she can “drink quarts and quarts of it [champagne] and it never affects me one way or another.” She spies a little statuette on the table and he explains that it is the Aztec god of plenty, a fertility god that will “ensure abundant crops and offspring.” She makes with the big eyes and turns away from him, changing the subject.
Tice’s next technique is to play the song that was playing when they first met. She immediately recognizes it and with goo-goo eyes, she starts to dance with him as they reminisce about that night. She starts complaining about it being too warm and Tice suggests that they go upstairs because it’s much cooler up there. She refuses, but he doesn’t give up. He slyly turns on the heater so it won’t cool down as she opens the window. The champagne begins to make her act silly and when the phone rings, she makes herself comfortable on the couch and answers with a shrill, very relaxed “Hellooooo!” She half listens to her colleague talk about a business proposition, saying things like “They’re just putting in these perfectly looooooooooooooovely safety belts.” After Tice unplugs the phone, Ann grins at him and tells him the place is “sooooooooooo nice.” Ann is just about to crack as Tice starts kissing her from her temple down her face and neck, but then she catches sight of the pamphlet about her plan. She comes to her senses, gets up, and bids Tice good night, but not before she takes the groom off their wedding cake, bringing him with her.
Tice grumbles and stares at his reflection in the mirror, saying sarcastically, “You’re irresistible! You’ve got charm!” Not long after this, Diestro comes over to their house for dinner, not sure he wants to give Tice the loan because he isn’t the family man he was hoping for. Harry and Charlotte mistakenly lead Diestro to believe that Ann is pregnant (which of course would be impossible) and so they will start their family very soon. When Tice is let in on this secret, they all desperately do their best to conceal the news of Ann’s alleged pregnancy from Ann herself. Ann arrives home and literally jumps with all the gusto she could muster into the living room, which shocks the Diestros, not wishing to see a pregnant woman acting like that. That part always makes me laugh because seriously, who does that? Only Rosalind Russell, of course. At dinner, Tice constantly changes the subject away from babies or anything related to them and Ann starts to think he’s insane. He, Harry, and Charlotte change the subject to football, to sluices (water channel controlled at its head by a gate, from Wikipedia), to the world’s fair, then they all stand up and toast three times—to South America, to the United States, and to both Americas! In a final ditch effort to steer the conversation, Tice breaks into song, singing “America the Beautiful” until everyone in the room is singing along, including Ann, who is shooting Tice a dirty look.
Tice calls his own phone from the extension upstairs and as he gets Ann’s boss, Gordon Daniels (Paul McGrath), on the phone, he informs him that his office is on fire in order to clear out the house. As Ann is giving the Diestros a tour of the house, she catches them in the act as she watches Harry splashing in the bathtub, pretending to be putting out the “fire.” She then discovers that Tice has invited the Diestros to stay for the weekend, which means he gave up his bedroom for them. Oh, what a sacrifice he made! I guess that means he has to stay in Ann’s room this weekend. Meanwhile, Harry’s wife Florence finds Charlotte outside doing some work. They get into an argument, which culminates in Florence literally tearing the black dress (which was a cause for friction between her husband and herself) off Charlotte’s back. Ann plays cards with the Diestros and keeps dropping hints about what a bad idea it was for them to leave their children at their hotel. When she mentions that she had a friend get lost in the hotel for days, Mrs. Diestro can’t stand it any longer and insists they go back to the hotel. They go outside and there is an awkward moment as Ann finds her husband draping a towel around Charlotte.
Now that the Diestros aren’t staying, Tice tries again and this time, he helps Florence and Harry make up, inviting them to stay for the weekend. However, before the now happy couple enters Tice’s bedroom, Ann takes Harry aside and lets him know that Florence called him some names in front of other people. “It was something awfully silly. I think it was, um… chowderhead.” Harry snaps at Florence: “When are you gonna learn to shut that flannel mouth of yours?” They start bickering again and leave. Tice is angry that his plans didn’t come to fruition and goes to take a swim with Charlotte. When some neighbors come walking by, Charlotte tells Tice they need to hide in the nearby bush because she doesn’t want to get into trouble with another wife. Unfortunately, as the neighbors remark, what they just jumped into was poison oak.
In the last half hour of the film enters “Sexy Rosalind.” She wears a total of four nightgowns or negligées in this span of time. I wonder how she liked to parade around in nightgowns because it was not something she usually did in films. It is a very interesting change for her and she does it very well (for people who don’t think Roz can pull “sexy” off). The next morning when Ann finds Tice’s bed hasn’t been slept in, she decides once and for all to forget her plan and have a real marriage. Of course, by this time, Tice has decided to play hard to get. When Ann calls him up at the club and mentions that if a man claims he has a wife and really hasn’t one, that would be insurance fraud, she purrs into the phone, “Wellll, I don’t want you to go to jail.” When Tice arrives home, he finds Ann trying to be as sexy as possible for him. He tries to put the flowers he brought in some water, but he can’t ignore Ann. He drops the flowers and reaches out to kiss her, but the telephone rings. Tice has started scratching himself and as Charlotte tells him on the phone, he finds out why. They both have poison oak and he will come down with it badly very soon. He turns to Ann and they start drinking champagne. She says, “You know, one sip of this and I don’t remember a thing,” a statement very different from the one earlier in the film.
Tice takes her wedding ring off her finger and throws it into the fireplace. He puts another on her finger and tells her it’s the real one since now they will start a real marriage. Trying to keep the conversation with Charlotte from his wife, he tells her it was Harry. She keeps wanting to get close to him, so he asks her to dance instead. They start dancing, but he has the urge to scratch. He starts doing a funny sort of “rumba” dance, but is really just rubbing himself against the post behind him to scratch that itch, while making bizarre jerking movements. He has the operator call him and pretends he is on the phone with a friend named “Shorty” in Cheyenne. He has to go out of town right away to Cheyenne and immediately leaves Ann hanging. Ann responds, “I don’t get it.” Then she turns to the camera, as if she is talking to us. “Do you?”
Sometime later, Ann’s boss, Gordon, completely drunk, has driven her home from a business dinner. He passes out and Ann lets him sleep it off in Tice’s bedroom. Tice suddenly comes home the next morning, surprising her. As he takes Ann into his arms, over Tice’s shoulder she sees Arno (Sig Arno), the butler, go into the other bedroom. She tries her best to keep Tice out of his own bedroom. Unfortunately, as Arno tries to get Gordon out, they both fall down the stairs and make a racket. Tice sees Gordon in his pajamas and shoots Ann an angry look. She tries to explain what happened, but he won’t listen to her. He is in trouble, too, because she sees the label on his cowboy hat and it was made in New York City. Then medicine for poison oak falls out of his coat pocket. She begins to realize that he never went to Cheyenne after all and he has poison oak, which she knows Charlotte also has. She lifts up his shirt and he slaps her hand away. They do this over and over until she glares at him and says, “Did he [his friend Shorty] give you his spots, too?” He replies, “They’re birthmarks!” “Whose birthmarks—Charlotte Campbell’s?”
Just as Ann is about to board plane for Reno, she hears Tice has gone a little nuts and is selling his mine for much less than it’s worth. She asks her brother-in-law, who is a psychiatrist, to get him out of the meeting and take him home. “You gotta get him out of there, even if you have to put him in a straitjacket!” Which is exactly what he does, and Tice is stuck at home in one. At the last minute, Ann changes her mind and runs back home. When she can’t find Tice anywhere, she sobs, knowing she’s lost him. But when the phone rings and she hears Tice on the extension, she gets excited and grabs the fertility god from downstairs. She slowly puts the statuette on the dresser in Tice’s room and he knows what this means.