In HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE, it's the heart of the Depression. Manicurist Regi Allen (Carole Lombard) and down-on-his-luck playboy Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray), whose family lost its fortune in the stockmarket crash, are each determined to marry for money.
Regi has a likely prospect in a sweet wheelchair-bound millionaire (Ralph Bellamy), while Ted is engaged to a pineapple heiress (Astrid Allwyn). However, when unlikely circumstances lead to Ted boarding at Regi's apartment for a few days, the couple become close and find themselves having to choose between love and money.
This was the first of Lombard and MacMurray's four films together. (THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS, their second film, was reviewed here last year.) They have excellent chemistry together. It's been a pleasant surprise seeing some of MacMurray's earlier roles in recent months; like most people I associated him mainly with fatherly Disney and TV roles. He had more charisma as a leading man than I expected.
The movie has some interesting contrasts. There is high-spirited fun, such as Lombard impersonating a nasal-voiced long-distance telephone operator ("Bermuda calling!"), after which she and MacMurray collapse in peals of laughter. (According to one article, the director left the camera running after the scene had ended and caught the actors having some genuine laughs.) A late-night love scene between MacMurray and Lombard, before he's due to return to his fiancee, is filled with romantic longing and is superbly acted. Yet the film also has a bit of an edgy, dark tone to it, such as the scene where MacMurray and Lombard scare off one of her suitors by pretending MacMurray is beating her in the next room.
Ralph Bellamy has one of his more appealing "other man" roles in this film -- one really wishes the film had a happy ending for him as well. The supporting cast includes Ruth Donnelly and Marie Provost (who died of alcoholism just a couple years later). William Demarest, who three decades later co-starred with MacMurray in MY THREE SONS, has a small role.
HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE run 80 minutes and was directed by Mitchell Leisen, who made other memorable comedies including EASY LIVING and MIDNIGHT. Leisen's REMEMBER THE NIGHT, starring MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, was reviewed here last December.
I've always had a particular interest in Carole Lombard, who was born Jane Peters and related to the Kimberly family of Kimberly-Clark. When I was in college I had a history internship working on photo preservation at the Kimberly Crest estate in Redlands, California. I was able to identify childhood photos of Jane visiting the estate, and my identification was corroborated by a family diary. This "find" led to some local newspaper coverage and a segment in a public TV show called ON CAMPUS.
Carole & Co. is a nice site devoted to Lombard and classic movies.
HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE is available on video and DVD, as part of a 6-film Carole Lombard collection.
It can also be seen on cable as part of the library at Turner Classic Movies.