Tonight I made the trip up to Westwood for the UCLA film series Harlow Before the Code. On tonight's schedule: HOLD YOUR MAN (1933), costarring Clark Gable, and RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932) with Chester Morris. It was a wonderful evening of pre-Code goodness!
HOLD YOUR MAN is a simply terrific film. It's got it all: snappy dialogue, comedy, romance, and a marvelous emotional climax. I think I must have smiled through most of the movie.
This being a film from the pre-Code era, some of the dialogue is quite suggestive, yet obscure enough to sail right over the heads of younger viewers. An unexpected pregnancy is also discussed at length, in a way that would no longer be possible once enforcement of the Code began in earnest in mid-1934.
Gable plays Eddie Hall, who's struggling through the Depression running small-time cons. He and Harlow's Ruby Adams "meet cute" when he's on the run from the police and barges into her apartment, where she's in a bubble bath. Ruby isn't too disconcerted by the intrusion, and as time goes on she finds herself mooning over Eddie instead of her very kind, steadily employed boyfriend Al (Stuart Erwin).
Eddie's plot to milk one of Ruby's many admirers for money goes awry when he can't stand Ruby being involved; Eddie socks the guy for touching Ruby, and then drags a willing Ruby off to get a marriage license. When they return to the apartment building, they're shocked to discover the man Eddie hit died. Eddie escapes from the police, but Ruby is arrested as an accessory and sent to a reformatory for two years.
Here the plot takes a rather interesting and unexpected detour depicting Ruby's life in the reform school. Ruby is cooperative and makes friends with fellow inmates, but she agonizes over missing Eddie and the knowledge that she's carrying his child. Eddie's on the run, but when he discovers that Ruby is in the family way, his reaction is both romantic and touching.
It goes without saying that Harlow and Gable have tons of chemistry, and the power of their film personas is really brought home seeing them on the silver screen, blown up to 35 millimeter. It's fun trying to imagine what it must have been like to be a filmgoer roundabout 1933, perhaps seeing Gable for the first time; his charisma simply pours off the screen. He's always got a twinkle in his eye, he's capable of deep emotion, and, yeah, he's sexy as all get-out. There, I said it.
As for Harlow, she has a great way with dialogue, and she also manages to make her character sympathetic and touching beneath the tough exterior. She is quite moving at times, whether admiring her marriage license or attempting to play the hand she's been dealt when she's in the reformatory. She's also touching in a scene where she has an opportunity to take an easy way out of her situation but nobly refuses to do it, for multiple reasons.
It's interesting to note that the reformatory population is multi-ethnic, and one of Ruby's best friends is beautiful Lily Mae (Theresa Harris), a black girl who's a pastor's daughter. (Some of Harris's credits are listed in my post on the 1949 film AND BABY MAKES THREE.) The pastor, played by George Reed, plays a key role in the film. It was refreshing to see black actors in this era in such significant and unstereotypical roles. Apparently there was an alternate version shot for Southern theaters with a white actor, Henry B. Walthall, playing a pastor instead.
The cast also includes Dorothy Burgess, Muriel Kirkland, Inez Courtney, Elizabeth Patterson, and Louise Beavers.
HOLD YOUR MAN was directed by Sam Wood from a screenplay by Anita Loos. The cinematographer was Hal Rosson. The running time is 87 minutes.
Harlow's costumes were by Adrian. An overly fussy dress she wore with bows all over the sleeves was true to the character, but I kept wishing I could rip all those bows off, the dress would have looked so much better!
HOLD YOUR MAN is available on VHS. It has not been released on DVD.
There has been a boxed set of Harlow films in the works for some years now, and it was originally planned for release on the centennial of her birth, which was earlier this year. I suspect there must be a debate about whether to release the films in a regular retail boxed set, as was originally planned, or to release them from the Warner Archive. Since some recent Archive releases have included extras, hopefully anything prepared for the boxed set would be included if the films have to be released in that format. (Update: HOLD YOUR MAN is now available from the Warner Archive.)
HOLD YOUR MAN can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.
The movie was preceded by Mark Vieira and Darrell Rooney signing their book HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD: THE BLONDE BOMBSHELL IN THE GLAMOUR CAPITAL, 1928-1937. My copy is still on the way from Amazon, but from what I've seen thus far, it looks superb. Vieira also wrote the outstanding HOLLYWOOD DREAMS MADE REAL: IRVING THALBERG AND THE RISE OF MGM. Vieira (at left in the photo) and Rooney (right) also provided very enjoyable introductions to the films. The theater, incidentally, was very close to sold out.
Related posts: CRY DANGER (1951) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation; THE CRUSADES (1935) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation; PURSUED (1947) at UCLA.