Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Private Number (1936)

PRIVATE NUMBER is an absorbing "upstairs, downstairs" romantic drama about a young maid (Loretta Young) who falls in love with her employers' son (Robert Taylor).

Ellen (Young) is down on her luck and out of money when she's hired as a maid by the Winfields. Ellen has to contend with the lecherous butler (Basil Rathbone) who keeps putting the moves on her, but otherwise she likes her job; Mrs. Winfield (Marjorie Gateson) is kind, and another maid, Gracie (Patsy Kelly), does her best to protect Ellen from the butler.

Mrs. Winfield takes Ellen and Gracie to the family estate in Maine for the summer, where Ellen gets to know the Winfields' son Richard (Taylor). At summer's end they secretly marry, intending to disclose the marriage to Richard's parents after he finishes his senior year of college. Matters become complicated when the butler discovers Ellen is expecting a child...

PRIVATE NUMBER is an interesting, well-done melodrama. Loretta Young is charming and exquisitely beautiful as the maid who's 17 going on 18. (In real life, Loretta was 23 when the movie came out.) The movie's plot seems almost like a pre-Code at times, calling to mind some of Young's excellent early work in films like TAXI! (1932) and MIDNIGHT MARY (1933).

Robert Taylor, on loan to Fox from MGM, was in his "young and handsome stage" and had just turned 25 when the film was released. He had recently appeared in MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935) and SMALL TOWN GIRL (1936), and CAMILLE (1936) would come out later in 1936. After his earliest films, including TIMES SQUARE LADY (1935) and SOCIETY DOCTOR (1935), Taylor's acting talent developed quickly, although his best acting work lay ahead in the '40s and '50s. He's appealing in this as the young man who loves Loretta regardless of her social station.

Rathbone is quite creepy as the nasty butler, who delights in making life as difficult as possible for his fellow servants. When Robert Taylor socks him in the jaw near the end, it's a satisfying moment indeed.

Marjorie Gateson is very good as a fairly uncliched wealthy mother type, who is open-minded and wants the best for her son. Also in the cast are Joe E. Lewis, Paul Harvey, Jane Darwell, and Paul Stanton. Look for Lynn Bari as a gambler in the scene at "Grandma's." There's also a handsome dog named Hamlet, played by Prince.

PRIVATE NUMBER was directed by Roy Del Ruth. It was attractively photographed in black and white by J. Peverell Marley, who was married to Linda Darnell for several years in the 1940s. The movie runs 80 minutes.

This film is not available on VHS or DVD, but it's been shown in the past in a beautiful print on Fox Movie Channel.


Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Oh I'd love to see this, too bad it's not available on DVD and I don't have the Fox channel. :-(

7:07 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Raquelle! It's a good movie. There are unauthorized DVDs out there available from out-of-print companies like Loving the Classics if you're interested in checking it out. :)

Best wishes,

8:23 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

Ooh, the divine Basil. I love it when he's slimy and menacing.

5:27 PM  

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