Friday, January 08, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Amazing Mr. Williams (1939)

Maxine Carroll (Joan Blondell) is engaged to THE AMAZING MR. WILLIAMS, otherwise known as homicide detective Kenny Williams (Melvyn Douglas). Kenny always gets his man, but he's so devoted to his job that Maxine wonders about the wisdom of marrying Kenny. Then she gets a chance to work on a murder case herself...

The movie is only mildly amusing but is worth watching for Douglas and Blondell, who have nice chemistry. Douglas and Blondell also worked together on THERE'S ALWAYS A WOMAN (1938), about husband and wife detectives Bill and Sally Riordan, but their relationship as the engaged detectives in THE AMAZING MR. WILLIAMS is more romantic and less confrontational, although Maxine is constantly exasperated by Kenny standing her up due to his work -- even on their wedding day!

THERE'S ALWAYS A WOMAN was followed by a sequel starring Douglas, THERE'S THAT WOMAN AGAIN (1939), with Virginia Bruce replacing Blondell; it's rather curious that Douglas and Blondell were instead teamed up in THE AMAZING MR. WILLIAMS, a different detective film, the very same year as the release of the sequel to their original project. It would be interesting to know why Blondell's role was recast in THERE'S THAT WOMAN AGAIN; indeed, it seems as though with a little tweaking the plot of THE AMAZING MR. WILLIAMS could have featured the Riordan characters.

To really complicate matters, consider the fact that aside from his Blondell movies for Columbia, in 1938 Douglas also started a completely different husband-wife detective series at MGM, FAST COMPANY (1938); the roles played by Douglas and Florence Rice were recast in 1939 with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell and later Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern. It seems multiple studios were looking for a magical "Nick and Nora" combination in 1939-39!

Douglas and Blondell were also teamed in GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS (1939); all three Douglas-Blondell films in 1938-39 were directed by Alexander Hall.

Ruth Donnelly, who is always fun to watch, plays Maxine's coworker and roommate. Clarence Kolb, Edward Brophy, Donald MacBride, Don Beddoe, and Jonathan Hale are also in the cast. Don't blink and you can clearly spot a young Robert Sterling as an elevator boy; I love those types of fun movie moments.

This film was shot in black and white and runs 80 minutes. The pacing is a bit sluggish and it feels a little longer; fewer scenes of Kenny and his coworkers arguing with each other would have been welcome.

THE AMAZING MR. WILLIAMS has not had a video or DVD release, but can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. It looks as though at one point it may have been available for online streaming at Amazon but it's currently listed as unavailable.


Blogger Moira Finnie said...

Thanks for introducing me to a movie that I've barely heard of, Laura.

I suspect that various studios kept trying to fit Joan Blondell's round screen persona into a square hole far too small for her talent, but the thought of her with Melvyn Douglas had not really occurred to me as a likely one. For the sake of Blondell's considerable talent, I am glad that she didn't find herself on a series treadmill in the movies.

Who knows? If she'd been successful in the programmers, we might never have had her performances in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" and "Nightmare Alley".

Thanks for bringing my attention to this movie. I love a good mystery. Come to think of it, I even love a just okay mystery.
All the best,


3:22 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your note, Moira! I highly recommend taking a look at Joan and Melvyn in GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS, which I reviewed several days after THE AMAZING MR. WILLIAMS. Though not a mystery, it was quite delightful!

I think Blondell's casting as Aunt Sissy in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN was absolutely perfect -- along that lines of Clark Gable in GWTW, in that it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY is still on my "to watch" list.

Have a great weekend,

8:48 AM  

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