Which will be the superior bracket at the end of this round, the Josie Miller bracket or the Catherine Bellamy bracket? We shall soon find out as William Powell and Myrna Loy are pitted against a couple who has been taking down every opponent in their wake, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. Should be a very interesting match and best of luck to all involved!
This is the match that will take place on Monty’s blog later today…
When Rosalind Russell was told she was going to be William Powell’s leading lady in the 1935 film Rendezvous, she automatically felt bad for him. “I felt self-conscious. Powell and Loy had been a hit in The Thin Man, they were an unbeatable team, so my first day on Rendezvous, I tried to apologize. ‘I know you don’t want me, you’d rather have Myrna—‘ Powell denied it. ‘I love Myrna, but I think this is good for you, and I’m glad we’re doing it together.’” (Life is a Banquet, 59).
His kindness helped her in more ways than one. It is obvious that they enjoy each other’s company in this film, and Roz does quite well in her first lead role. She adored Bill Powell as a friend and as a man—a man with many great qualities, especially in his ability to make others around him laugh and above all his gentlemanly manners.
After eight rather limited, sometimes thankless roles in films, Roz finally got her lucky chance in a lead role and opposite one of the most popular and charming actors of the day, William Powell. It was also the first time she had a significant comedy role (the only other time she delivered comedy lines was in Forsaking All Others, and she had little screen time). She does wonderfully in her first lead comedy role, which foreshadows what a great screen comedienne she would become.
Most Rosalind Russell fans are aware of what some of us call the “Roz Eyes,” which occurs when Miss Russell widens her eyes just enough to make the audience laugh, a funny reaction that she displays in many a comedy. She does it so easily that I have begun to suspect she did it involuntarily; it was just a natural reaction in comedy. She also tended to raise her right eyebrow when she thought something in the situation was a bit off or if she didn’t like what her co-star said. These are the little things—the facial expression, eccentric gestures—that become apparent when one carefully studies an actress’s work. It is just these typically Roz facial expressions that first become obvious in Rendezvous. Oh, she might have done it in earlier films, but it wasn’t as noticeable. It is these reactions that can sometimes remind one of Lucille Ball in “I Love Lucy,” another great comedienne.
Rendezvous stars William Powell (in large letters above the title, of course) and Rosalind Russell (in much smaller letters below the title, but hey, I suppose she was still getting started). These two had a very fun chemistry. Of course, it pales in comparison with the chemistry Bill had with Myrna Loy (after all, they did star in 13 film together), but it is obvious Bill and Roz liked each other and enjoyed working with one another. Bill ended up being a longtime friend of hers and even attended her wedding six years later. I have always wished they made more films together, but we can’t have everything we want. They could have had more delightful fun together. This film takes place during World War I in the year 1917 when the United States entered the war. The film concerns a group of men whose job it is to crack the code coming from the enemy so they know what their next move is. The way the code is always written is with invisible ink on ordinary documents. William Powell plays William Gordon, a master at the task, who even wrote a book about enciphering and deciphering code. Soon after Bill is introduced onscreen, Roz appears and she plays Joel Carter, a young woman who spends a lot of her time helping with charities and participating in the women’s suffrage movement.
She immediately wants a celebrated Russian singer who is attending the charity event which they are all attending. She wants him to sing at her bazaar and when a man points the singer out to her, she mistakenly thinks Bill is the man she wants. When he realizes what she wants, he plays along and even puts on a fake Russian accent. He says some bizarre things to her and kisses her up and down her arm, which makes her uncomfortable. It is in this very first scene that some of Rosalind’s comic abilities come together and surface. Oh, even if she isn’t doing all the talking, the audience notices her. It’s all in her facial expressions. More fun ensues as a friend of Joel’s convinces her to help her with the charity auction. The woman tells the participants that the person who bids the highest on a doll will be kissed by Joel.
Joel is embarrassed to do this, but she goes along with it. Soon, she sees a man with a very cumbersome beard (meaning there is just nothing on his face but hair) bidding higher and higher. She starts to get nervous until she sees Bill bidding on her. She seems to enjoy this, but isn’t laughing when Bill suddenly stops bidding at the last minute and the bearded man wins. She gives him a quick peck on the cheek and tells Bill she didn’t think he was very funny. Also at the charity auction is Nick Nieterstein (played by Cesar Romero), a man who has been jilted by Joel several times already, but is determined to have a date with her.
He is rather mysterious and we soon find out he is working for the enemy as he relays a code to a man in San Diego, who cleverly writes the code in invisible ink on a prescription medicine bottle, which is then sent on to Mexico, where a man hands it to some Germans who are hiding out in his basement.
The next day, Bill spots Joel again, this time marching in a women’s suffrage march. He notices right away that she is holding a sign which reads “I sent my sons to war, I want the vote,” which clearly does not apply to her.
He jokingly asks her if she has any grandchildren and she switches to a sign marked “I’m in the junior league, I want to vote.” Suddenly, police officers are trying to stop their march and one in particular gets into an altercation with Joel. He tries to take her sign from her and she resists him, trying to push him away. Bill tries to come to her rescue, but when he throws a punch, the cop avoids it and Joel gets it full in the eye. Later, she softens toward Bill and is enjoying his company, but has a date with Nieterstein. She tells him she can’t possibly break a date with him again, but after Bill persuades her to kiss him goodbye at the train station before he goes off to war, she changes her mind. She looks back at Nieterstein sitting alone in the restaurant and quips, “He isn’t a bad chap. I don’t know why I treat him this way.” However, when she gives Bill a few kisses goodbye, she watches a train go and yells out, “Your train is gone!” Bill quickly explains to her that a train is gone. She realizes he’s taken advantage of her and runs off. He chases her down and they spend the entire afternoon and evening together.
He is ordered to work for the war department in Washington, D.C. so they can make use of his decoding skills. He is furious that he has to work at a desk because all he wanted to do was go to war in Europe. He eventually figures out that the Assistant Secretary of War has a niece named Joel Carter and this is when the tables are turned. In the beginning, Bill was chasing Joel all over town, but once this happens, he is so angry that he doesn’t want anything to do with her. So what does she do? She starts chasing him just like a puppy dog. She knows he loves her and simply will not give up. I liked seeing the woman chase the man for once and it was very amusing the scrapes she got him in over the course of the film. At one point, she puts sleeping pills in his coffee because he has stayed up all night trying to decipher a secret code. After drinking the coffee, he ingests some powder that keeps one awake. When Joel finds out what he’s done, she calls out for a stomach pump. He orders her off the premises because he thinks she is ruining his life.
A very important scene in the comedy of this film is when an enemy spy named Olivia comes into the picture (played by the lovely Binnie Barnes, who 30 years later would make The Trouble with Angels and Where Angels Go… Trouble Follows! with Roz). Joel, not always the sharpest crayon in the box, does not realize that Bill is not in the least bit interested in Olivia. He only wants to try to get some information from her. However, she does a funny bit when she pretends to be a matron to help Olivia off with her clothes. There was no way she would allow Bill to do it himself, after all. All eyes are on Roz in this scene. Just watch the way she handles the clothing and the shoes as she takes each article from her. Also, the way she walks back and forth is just funny. She ends it all with a hilarious line to Bill, “She’s bow-legged.” After she brings Olivia some new clothes to try on (an absolutely hideous outfit Joel purposely picked out), Olivia says, “Lt. Gordon is charming, don’t you think so?” to which Joel replies, “Well, of course I only met him with my clothes on,” giving her a withering gaze.
Joel, completely fueled by her jealousy of Olivia, gets herself into trouble by showing up at her hotel room. She is soon bound and gagged and Bill has to save her. He pushes her down as the room is riddled with bullets. Once the Department of Justice has saved them from harm, Joel crazily starts saying, “He hit me over the head with a hammer!” without realizing Bill saved her life. The film ends charmingly when once again, she is kissing Bill (now her husband) goodbye at the train station as he goes off to war for real this time. However, he is once again ordered to sit behind a desk.
He stares at Joel knowingly and he starts chasing her through the station. The first time they did this, she was running away from his intentions; this time, it was just cute. This wasn’t exactly the comedy role Roz was known for, but she is rather adorable, charming, and her comic abilities are not to be missed.
“My word, I thought, a ten- or eleven-year-old having that bright red polish put on, and suddenly the hood of the dryer went back and the child stood up and it was Jean. She was probably twenty-three at the time, but without any makeup and no eyebrows, she looked exactly like a little kid,” Rosalind Russell wrote of her Reckless co-star, Jean Harlow. Russell and Harlow became friends in the short time they knew each other, but Rosalind was often called upon to get Jean out of jams, such as dragging her out of bars before she got herself into real trouble. Rosalind described Jean as a very sad girl, and it was certainly devastating to all when her life was suddenly taken from her at the tender age of 26.
When Roz made Reckless with Jean Harlow, it was the year 1935 and she was still stuck in rather limited supporting roles. However, she got to work with two great stars in this one—Jean Harlow and William Powell. These two were in love with each other at the time and Jean was very excited to finally make a film with her beloved. Unfortunately, this film is a bit of a clunker and wasn’t the success they wanted it to be. Also along for the ride is Franchot Tone, who, unlike his usual characters, is a boozing jerk in this one. The actor was not very charismatic, but he got the job done.
The true star of Reckless is clearly Jean Harlow. She plays Mona, a singer and dancer who was a thorough professional, but sometimes got herself into trouble. Ned, played by William Powell, is an old friend of the family’s and is often called upon to help Mona out.
He is a sports promoter and as Mona’s grandmother (May Robson) says, Ned is “like a great big brother to Mona.” After Mona is jailed for reckless (just like the title) driving, he gets her out in time for a benefit performance, but he fixes it so she has to return to jail after she is done. The benefit is for a faux group called SAML (Society for the Admiration of Mona Leslie). Bob Harrison (Franchot Tone), drunk as all get out, has rented the entire theater just so Mona can perform for him. This movie gets its name from the song sung by Mona called “Reckless,” which is the first song she sings, and then reprises in the final scene. Jean Harlow’s singing is dubbed and she clearly does not do her own dancing, either. This is apparent because when Jean dances, you can only see the top half of her body, and then when the dancing legs are shown, it is filmed from such a distance, it could be anyone’s uncle in a platinum blonde wig.
Next we get to the story of how Ned has been in love with Mona for a while, but she never takes him seriously as anyone but a “great big brother,” so he does not know how to tell her.
At one point, he gets up the nerve to finally tell her that he loves her and wants to marry her, but feels foolish when he sees that Mona has fallen asleep during his heartfelt speech. He decides to forget the whole thing, thinking he dodged a bullet. However, even with this in mind, he buys a ring for Mona and plans to give it to her, but changes his mind when he realizes Mona has fallen in love with Bob. Soon after this, Mona and Bob suddenly elope while quite tipsy. Ned becomes so distraught by the news that he goes into a downward drunken spiral that night. Even Bob, who was there at the wedding, does not seem to realize what he has done and seems to regret it immediately. Mona has no regrets because she loves Bob very much. They are overwhelmed with telegrams that morning, two of them standing out. One is from Jo Mercer, his former fiancée, who says it’s all right with her. The other is a very disapproving one from his father who wants to talk to him right away. And so they go to Harrison, the town named after Bob’s father and where he grew up. His father, played by Henry Stephenson, is very ashamed of his son for marrying a “showgirl” when he has the family name and reputation to think of. Meanwhile, Mona ends up by a river and meets a girl who is fishing there. The girl teaches her how to cast, but Mona laments that she is better at “fishing for jobs.”
The girl says her name is Jo Mercer (Rosalind Russell) and Mona immediately realizes who she is. Jo does not seem to blame Mona at all for breaking her engagement, but Bob instead. After all, Mona didn’t know Jo existed before they got married. Soon after, everyone (Ned, Mona, Bob, Jo, and some other friends) are at the horse races and Jo announces that she is getting married. She also makes sure to glance over at Bob to gauge his reaction. Naturally, he looks rather upset. At Jo’s wedding, Bob proceeds to get smashing drunk and Jo confronts him about his behavior. At first, she jokes about how she felt she was “getting on in years” and decided to marry the first man who came along. This joking manner quickly turns to anger when she feels he is insulting his wife, Mona. Mona happens to be walking by when he tells Jo that Mona “trapped” him into marriage, keeping him away from the girl he really loves (Jo).
This is heartbreaking for Mona and although she is coerced into putting on a show for everyone, she has tears in her eyes as she sings and dances.
What happens next is tragic. Bob doesn’t feel he can live with himself any longer and shoots himself in his bedroom. This opens up a horrific scandal for Mona, as she is pregnant and subsequently gives birth to an adorable baby boy. Mr. Harrison, Bob’s father, tries to gain custody of the child by alleging that it is Mona’s fault that his son is dead and that Mona is an unfit mother, being a “show person.” He does not get her child, but in the end, she gives a performance to revive her sagging career caused by the bad publicity. Although Jo is there fully supporting her like a friend would do, once Mona starts singing, people in the audience start hissing, booing, and trying to disrupt her performance.
No longer able to stand it, Mona shouts at them, “How dare you! How do you dare?” In a moving speech, she tells them that what happened is no more her fault than anyone else’s, that Bob was a sad man always drowning himself in sorrow, and that the audience should not be rude and interrupt her performance. As she sings her signature song, Ned proposes to her again. As everyone applauds, she takes his hand, signifying “yes” to him.
Rosalind does not even appear in the film until almost 50 minutes after it starts. And since the movie is a bit bland, it is a long wait for any Roz fan. I try to console myself with the fact that I am watching two great stars in their prime—Jean Harlow and William Powell—but the movie falls flat. However, there is something that makes Roz stand out in this film, and that is her costumes, particularly her wedding dress.
It is a beautiful creation by Adrian and it flows gorgeously behind her as she walks down the aisle. It is nice to see a real life couple in a movie in which they end up together, but it is a shame that it wasn’t very well executed and has a mediocre script. I give the film 3 stars out of 5.