Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Hard to Get (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Dick Powell and Olivia de Havilland star in HARD TO GET (1938), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Bill (Powell) and Margaret (de Havilland) "meet cute" when she leaves home in a hurry in a servant's car and runs low on gas. She fills up at Bill's motor court gas station, but when she wants to charge the gas to her Park Avenue address, Bill thinks she's trying to stiff him and puts her to work cleaning the motor court rooms to pay off the bill.

Margaret concocts an elaborate plan to get back at Bill, but this being a romantic comedy, it doesn't take long before her plans backfire and she falls in love with him. It gets mighty complicated, however, starting with the fact that Bill thinks she works as a lady's maid.

Bill, meanwhile, is determined to sell a plan for a national chain of gas stations and motor courts to Margaret's father (Charles Winninger) and his friend (Thurston Hall); the men treat it as a joke, initially stringing him along as part of Margaret's scheme, but Bill won't give up.

HARD TO GET is a mixed bag. It has some moments which are absolute jewels, chief among them Powell introducing Warren and Mercer's "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby." This was one of a number of now-standards which Powell introduced in the '30s, a list which also includes "I'll String Along With You," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," and "I Only Have Eyes for You."

There are also some delightfully funny scenes, such as Margaret's maid Hattie (Penny Singleton) trading places with her for an elegant dinner with Bill and Margaret's father. Both Hattie and Margaret are out of their element hosting and serving the dinner!

On the down side, Winninger and Melville Cooper, as his valet, have way too much screen time; scenes developing the Bill-Margaret romance were sacrificed in favor of scenes with Winninger, Cooper, and Hall, all of which go on far, far too long.

Bonita Granville's disappearance after the first scene, not to return until the finale, was also a disappointment! Bonita makes every movie better; that same year she was a lot of fun as Constance Bennett's sister in MERRILY WE LIVE (1938), which I reviewed in 2007 and just rewatched earlier this year. This movie would have been much stronger with less Winninger and Cooper, as well as more Powell, de Havilland, and Granville.

Rosella Towne has multiple scenes as a secretary, and Warner Bros. stalwart John Ridgely also has a fair amount of screen time. Also in the cast are Isabel Jeans, Grady Sutton, Allen Jenkins, Granville Bates, and Nella Walker.

HARD TO GET was directed by Ray Enright and filmed by Charles Rosher. It runs 82 minutes.

Some viewers may want to be forewarned that Powell sings "Sonny Boy" in blackface during a party scene.

The Warner Archive DVD print is acceptable although a bit rougher than we've been fortunate to have from many Archive releases; in particular, the nighttime scene which introduces "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" is pretty dark. The sound quality is fine.

The disc includes the trailer.

For an earlier take on this film, please visit my 2010 review.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


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