Hands Across the Table (1935)

Directed by Mitchell Leisen

I’ve just watched Hands Across the Table (1935), yet another of the six films in the Carole Lombard: The Glamour Collection and it is nothing less than fantastic. I loved it. (Note: this was written April 11, 2006.)

It’s a wonderful romantic comedy.

Unlike the previous two films where Lombard was really playing second fiddle to lead male actors (William Powell and Bing Crosby), this is clearly Carole’s film augmented by a great and spirited performance from a young Fred MacMurray.

Thematically and structurally the story is pretty conventional (though maybe not so conventional in 1935, but certainly in terms of today). A young woman who has grown up poor, scrimps to save as a manicurist, believes she absolutely must marry for money – love is nonsense, money is the only intelligent choice.

She meets a man she believes has money. This notion is quickly dissuaded as she learns that not only does he not have money but he’s just as she is – angling for a marriage that will pay the bills.

If you’re at all familiar with films you can guess how this plays out.

The script’s originality is not the issue here, though. It’s a conventional plot. What makes this such a marvelous film are the performances and the cinematic execution, especially in 1935 terms. This film just moves. It totally engages and completely delights.

There are several great moments in it – most with between Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray but also those with Ralph Bellamy (who again plays a nice guy who ends up losing but we feel okay with that – hmm).

I’m particularly thinking of the scenes with Lombard and the drunken MacMurray. And, later, the scenes between the same two the night before they are to go their separate ways and, finally, Carole’s crying jag in Bellamy’s room.

Ultimately, what I liked so much about this film has nothing to do with originality. It has everything to do with execution. There are fine supporting performances to buttress the great performances we get from the leads – Lombard, MacMurray and Bellamy. The pacing is crisp and the sets and lighting are excellent, particularly in some of the more serious scenes.

The film is also fun for some of the sexual aspects that get through … There’s a certain amount of suggestion and innuendo that, had the film been made a few years later, I don’t believe would have made it to the final cut.

I’ve watched three of the six films in the set Carole Lombard: The Glamour Collection and, thus far, while I’ve enjoyed them all, this is easily the best. If you like romantic comedies, or you like Carole Lombard or both, this is highly recommended.

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