Directed by: Mitchell Leisen
With: Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy
This review is part of the Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini. Since I have to discuss about a picture concerning a workplace, what’s better than a beauty salon, with Carole Lombard as a manicurist?
Hands Across the Table was the first of the three screwball comedies of the popular screen duo Lombard-MacMurray, who worked together again in The Princess Comes Across (1936), Swing High, Swing Low (1937) and True confession (1937). The film is based on a story by Viña Delmar, adapted by playwright Norman Krasna, and directed by Mitchell Leisen. Produced by Paramount Pictures, it premiered on October 18, 1935, and had great success and positive reviews.
The film was a vehicle of the studio to promote Carole Lombard’s acting abilities after the successful reception of her first screwball comedy, Twentieth Century (1934); Fred MacMurray, instead, had never played a comic role and his skills were not at the best when filming began. As Leisen reported, he and Lombard had to stimulate him to “be funny” in order to create the right chemistry. “The main problem with Fred in those days was that he didn’t project much sex, aside from being very good looking”, he said.
The scene when MacMurray’s character’s talking with his fiancee and Lombard disturbs the call was reportedly the funniest to film. The two ended up in laughter, and Leisen decided to insert it in the picture, although it was not in the script.
Regi Allen (Lombard) is a hotel manicurist who loathes her job and her precarious financial condition. Born in poverty, she dreams of marrying a wealthy man and finally becoming rich. One day she has an appointment with rich ex-pilot Allen Macklyn (Bellamy), now forced on a wheelchair, and he’s immediately attracted to her even though she confesses him she’ll get married just for money.
Leaving Macklyn’s suite, she meets a strange young man playing hop-scotch in the hall. He asks her to join him, but she refuses.
That man was Theodore Drew III (MacMurray), member of a wealthy family now bankrupted cause of the Great Depression. He reserves a manicure with her and then asks her out. During the night they discover to have something in common: being nutty. Theodore shows his interest in her, but drinks too much and, on the way home, tells her he’s going to marry a girl called Vivian Snowden, heiress to a pineapple fortune. Due to his drunkenness, a disappointed Regi has to host him in her apartment and let him sleep on her sofa.
He later tells her he should be on a trip to Bermuda paid by his next father-in-law. Since his fiancee’s expecting a call, he pretends to be in Bermuda while Regi plays the telephone operator. But Vivien, suspicious, hires private investigators to know what’s happening and soon find out the truth.
In the meanwhile, Ted and Regi fall in love. During their last night together, he reveals his feelings towards her and proposes to break his engagement to marry her; Regi, instead, prefers to forget everything not to force Ted to live a humble life.
Next morning, Ted’s gone and Regi spends all her time with Macklyn in tears because she’s fallen in love despite all her plans, and involuntarily. Macklyn wanted to propose to her that morning, but gives up. Regi also has a nasty meeting with Vivian, who accuses her to be a fiancé- stealer. But, as soon as he can talk with her, Ted tells Vivien he’s going to marry Regi and leaves her. The two meet in Macklyn’s room and, after a brief quarrel, decide to stay together after all.
The final scene shows Regi and Ted on a bus and with a question: should they have lunch, get married of find a job for Ted first? Let’s toss a coin! To start their life together in the most screwball way possible, the coin falls down the bus and gets wedged in a manhole cover.
Hands Across the Table is not a perfect screwball comedy, but more a romantic comedy with some screwball moments. Here, Carole Lombard is not introduced as a nutty girl like in My Man Godfrey (1936), but more like a simple young lower-class tired of her life. Although she’s good just the same, her best scenes are the ones where her comic talent comes to light, like the one of the fake call from Bermuda, or when she tries to stop hiccoughing drinking backwards. About MacMurray, he does show a screwball attitude since his beginning as a hop-scotch champion, and he’s more screwy than Lombard (strange thing!). They’re very good together, even if I’ve preferred them in True confession, maybe because I sympathize with their characters more. However, the script is well-done and offers a handful of juicy lines for both Lombard and MacMurray, besides a series of beautiful closeups and a romantic scene in style. Also, the loyal Ralph Bellamy is the cherry on top.
Taken for granted since we’re talking about a Lombard’s vehicle, Hands Across the Table is an extremely enjoyable picture.