Friday, March 26, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Hard to Get (1938)

HARD TO GET is a pleasant though not particularly distinguished screwball romance about a silly heiress (Olivia de Havilland) and a gas station attendant (Dick Powell). The film is most notable for Powell's introduction of the Warren-Mercer standard "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," crooned to de Havilland while they are boating.

Wealthy Margaret Richards (de Havilland) drives off from home in a huff and finds herself with an empty gas tank and no purse. She has the tank filled at a motor court gas station, asking attendant Bill Davis to charge the gas to her father's address. Bill thinks Margaret's a deadbeat and, to her outrage, he makes her clean the 10 motor court rooms to pay for the gas she had put in her car.

Margaret decides to return the next day and pretend to apologize to Bill, thinking she'll get to know him and find a way to get back at him. They go to dinner, and Bill ends up thinking she's the maid at her family's mansion...and Margaret realizes Bill's really a nice guy...and on it goes in fairly typical romantic comedy style.

A large section of the plot focuses on Bill's attempt to sell his plans for a national chain of gas stations and motor courts to Margaret's father (Charles Winninger) and her father's friend (Thurston Hall). This angle goes on way too long and detracts from the developing romance, which plays second fiddle to Bill's business dreams.

I was also rather surprised that Bonita Granville and Isabel Jeans, who play de Havilland's sister and mother, disappear after the opening sequence and don't return until the movie's final scene. Granville is billed fifth, yet she's on screen far less time than actors billed much lower in the credits. I wish the movie had focused more on Powell, de Havilland, and the rest of her family. A dinner party scene where de Havilland trades places with the real maid (Penny Singleton) is amusing; more scenes like that would have been welcome.

On the other hand, did we really need to watch Charles Winninger and Melville Cooper unbelievably ride a beam up 40 stories high at a construction site to meet with Bill on business? The construction site scene alone sucked up a lot of time, without much purpose as far as driving the plot forward. That part of the story could have been told much more concisely. I think Winninger and Cooper had as much screen time together as Powell and de Havilland!

"You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" is one of a number of Harry Warren standards introduced by Dick Powell in the '30s. Other Warren titles which originated in Powell films include "I'll String Along With You" from TWENTY MILLION SWEETHEARTS (1934), "I Only Have Eyes For You" from DAMES (1934), and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" from ON THE AVENUE (1937).

The supporting cast also includes Grady Sutton, Allen Jenkins, John Ridgely, and Nella Walker, who's turned up in a couple other films I've watched in the last few days.

HARD TO GET was directed by Ray Enright. It runs 82 minutes.

This movie is available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive. It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

The trailer is here.

June 2017 Update: My review of the Warner Archive DVD may be found here.


Blogger la peregrina said...

It couldn't have been a total bust, Allen Jenkins is in it. ;)

6:24 AM  
Blogger Sally said...

It's too bad the romance takes a backseat in plot. I just watched "Four's A Crowd" and really liked de Havilland in comedy. Have you seen her in any other comedies that you'd recommend?

3:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Sally,

I particularly liked Olivia in the light romantic comedy PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943), costarring Bob Cummings. Jack Carson and Jane Wyman have very good supporting roles (it was this part that led to Wyman being cast in THE LOST WEEKEND).

RAFFLES (1939) isn't quite a comedy, but it has a witty script. My only quibble was it was a bit too short.

MY LOVE CAME BACK (1940) is a pleasant romantic comedy -- nothing special but I enjoyed it. It costars Jeffrey Lynn and Jane Wyman.


Best wishes,

3:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S. I've heard good things about IT'S LOVE I'M AFTER, a comedy with Olivia, Bette Davis, and Leslie Howard. Patric Knowles from FOUR'S A CROWD is in it too. I have a Warner Archive DVD which I'm looking forward to seeing for the first time.

Best wishes,

3:31 PM  
Blogger Biograph Consulting said...

Reviews like yours entice more viewers for these 30's cinematic romps--so thanks! This film is so typical of the rich-vs.not-so-rich themes running through the period, which perhaps reflects the difficulty much of the audience was having in achieving success after a debilitating depression--which might explain the extended business with getting kicked out of the same office time after time. Also, while not a fan of blackface, I thought Powell's parody of the hammy Jolson delivery was spot on and certainly not an endorsement of minstrelsy--and if you imagine how the final scenes around business construction, commonplace in NYC at the time, might have looked on a giant screen to the average audience not used to CGI, they probably got some gasps and good laughs. And it was an absolute delight to see the magnificent Olivia in gentle comic form--almost anything she did was worth watching an hour or two!

1:10 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks very much for your comments on this fun if somewhat flawed film -- it's always great to get another perspective, and I enjoyed your thoughts on how the movie may have struck viewing audiences at the time it came out.

Best wishes,

4:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older