Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Cross-Country Romance (1940)

Four years after costarring in the road trip romance LOVE ON A BET (1936), Gene Raymond and Wendy Barrie teamed for another story of love on the run, CROSS-COUNTRY ROMANCE (1940). I think I might have liked CROSS-COUNTRY ROMANCE even better than the fun earlier film.

CROSS-COUNTRY ROMANCE follows the tried and true formula from IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and other movies of its type, with wealthy Diane North (Barrie) skipping out on her wedding to boring Walter (George P. Huntley).

Clad only in a slip, Diane hops into a travel trailer parked outside her mother's New York apartment, which is then driven off by Dr. Larry Smith (Raymond). Larry is heading cross-country to San Francisco, as he plans to board a ship for China where he will work with a famous doctor on a cure for leukemia.

Needless to say, Larry's a bit surprised to find a stowaway in his trailer, and when he refuses to believe his unexpected guest is the famous Diane North, Diane gives up and tells Larry her name is Maggie Jones. No one will be surprised that as Larry and Diane/Maggie travel across the United States, they fall in love.

This is a fast-moving 68-minute film filled with trailer parks, diners, and small-town cops. Sure, the movie's very derivative, and there would be similar films which followed it -- that's actually part of its charm. Sometimes a romantic road trip comedy is exactly what a viewer wants.

There are lots of fun faces scattered throughout the movie. Cliff Clark (Inspector Donovan from the later FALCON movies) plays an Omaha police chief who has one of the best moments, demonstrating his department's efficiency, and Hedda Hopper does a fine job as Diane's ditzy mother.

Billy Gilbert, Frank Sully, Tom Dugan, Dorothea Kent, Dorothy Adams, Herb Vigran, and Esther Dale all pop up. It's great fun to spot Hank Worden as the witness to Larry and Maggie's wedding, or Bess Flowers as Mrs. North's secretary.

The best actor sighting of all is saved for the end of the movie, when a ship's officer turns out to be none other than Alan Ladd!

As a side note regarding Billy Gilbert, one of the fun things at the TCM Classic Film Festival was the chance to see him in some color home movies introduced by Gilbert's sister-in-law, actress Fay McKenzie. Gilbert was married to Fay's older sister, actress Ella McKenzie, who retired when she married Billy in 1937. Billy and Ella were married until his death in 1971.

CROSS-COUNTRY ROMANCE was directed by Frank Woodruff and shot by J. Roy Hunt.

CROSS-COUNTRY ROMANCE has not had a release on DVD or VHS. Perhaps at some point it will join LOVE ON A BET and become available from the Warner Archive. In the meantime, this film is shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.


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