IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK was a delightful treat, an example of '30s romantic comedy at its best.
It's the Depression, of course, and jobs are hard to come by. Joan (Jean Arthur) is scanning the want ads on a park bench when a rather dejected man, Jim (Herbert Marshall), sits down next to her. She assumes that, like her, he is badly in need of a job, and suggests that they answer an ad together for a husband and wife to act as butler and cook. He accepts, and before you know it they're working for a somewhat shady character (Leo Carrillo) who has a gourmet appetite and a nosy righthand man (Lionel Stander).
In truth, Jim is a millionaire who was down in the dumps about both his career and his engagement to a bossy woman from a "good family" (Frieda Inescort, who played Caroline Bingley in the Olivier-Garson PRIDE AND PREJUDICE). Meeting pretty, talented Joan has added some needed sparkle to Jim's life, and this being a '30s romantic comedy, you can probably figure out how things end up.
Within the framework of a standard Depression-era comedy about the rich and the hired help, the film felt fresh and original. The Leo Carrillo character, in particular, was fun and unpredictable. One wouldn't necessarily think of Marshall as the leading man in a comedy, but he was wonderful and had excellent chemistry with Arthur. The last couple scenes had me laughing out loud.
The film is 72 minutes long. I'm generally a fan of short, fast-paced movies but I actually wished this film were a bit longer to further develop the Marshall-Arthur relationship.
The movie was directed by William A. Seiter.
IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK is not available on DVD or video. It can be seen on TCM. Click here to indicate interest in a DVD release or to request that TCM schedule the movie.
This film is definitely worth watching for.
August 2009 Update: IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK is now available on DVD in the Icons of Screwball Comedy Volume I.