' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: No Man Of Her Own (1932)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday's Old Fashioned: No Man Of Her Own (1932)

Libraries are not necessarily noted for their erotica but there is a scene in “No Man Of Her Own” (1932) that smashes this theory to smithereens. Babe Stewart (Clark Gable), brand new in town, has chosen, almost upon disembarking from the bus, to court the comely Connie Randall (Carole Lombard). Well, court, perhaps, is not the proper term. Perhaps we should say……he pursues her in the manner of a dapper cruise missile. He essentially stalks her to the library, fakes a fuss about wanting to check out a book, makes like he’s interested in some book on a top shelf all so Connie can climb her trusty step-ladder so Babe can check her out, and then he swoops in……right into a close-up on the two of them. He’s looking right at her with that Gable-y smile and she’s looking right back at him, a little more hesitant but unable to tear her eyes away from his. It’s like a 1932 version of Fassbender’s tractor beam stare at the lady on the subway in “Shame.” And director Wesley Ruggles holds the shot and keeps holding it. And you get this lump in your throat and you don’t want them to fall in love or even make love – no, you want them to pick up where Sienna Miller & Daniel Craig left off in “Layer Cake” right before poor Daniel got kidnapped.

Alas, this is the high point of “No Man Of Her Own.”

Recently on his site And So It Begins, Alex Withrow listed his ten biggest movie pet peeves. One of them was, in his words, Falling In Love After Having Sex Once. It’s a fair point, of course, but, hey, at least characters these days get to have sex! Clark & Carole fall in love after kissing twice. Whoops! My mistake again! Falling in love isn’t even the right way to put it – they get married after kissing twice. Of course, they only agree to marry by the whim of a coin flip.

See, Babe’s a gambling man, the sorta gambling man who likes his gambles to be sure things, which is why he chooses to “gamble” in the form of grifts. He and a few devious associates stage fake card games with clients who assume the card games are real so they can take the patsy for all he’s worth. Ah, but the requisite cop is, as he must be, wise to Babe’s scheme and looking to nab him. So, Babe decides to follow the advice Aubrey Plaza would relay many years later in “Safety Not Guaranteed”: “There’s no sense in nonsense, especially when the heat’s hot.”

He high-tails it outta the Big City (Manhattan) for the Small Town (Glendale) which is where we catch up with Connie telling her folks with whom she still unfortunately resides about how nothing ever happens where she is and how she’ll run off with the first handsome salesman she meets. Which, of course, she does. Babe mis-represents what he is, not so much who he is, neglecting to tell Connie of his card hustling and posing as a well-to-do businessman. Always a good idea to start off lying to the woman to whom you propose and so once they wed and move back to Manhattan it isn’t long before Connie is able to deduce that something is amiss at these nightly poker games Babe and his cohorts are always winning. Will Connie still love Babe tomorrow? Will Babe make a play for the straight life? Will he be able to handle it?

Eventually Gable and Lombarde would be married in order to become one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples until her tragic death in 1942. At the time “No Man Of Her Own” was filmed, however, they not only had never appeared on the screen together (and would never appear on it together again) they were both married to someone else – he to Rhea Langham, she to William Powell. The off screen flirtations would come later, though perhaps there were already burgeoning signs on this production. The Internet is awash in stories of, post-production, Lombarde presenting Gable with a ten pound ham bearing his photo and him presenting her a pair of ballerina slippers with a note saying “To A Real Primadonna.”

I love these stories. I do. A Ham & A Primadonna. The fact they were willing to tease each other this way – even if we did not know they would go on to become husband & wife – suggests a rapport and while in certain moments that rapport shines through, too often “No Man Of Her Own feels disconnected from its dizzying premise. Late in the film, for example, Babe decides to employ a con in an effort to re-woo Connie but its handling and presentation moves at a snail’s pace compared to other screwball comedies for which these two were well known. This leaves it feeling, strangely, like a staid modern day rom com despite being released during the Hoover Administration.

The rest of the film just never quite re-captures the crackle of that eye-to-eye showdown in the bibliotheca. I suppose it’s nice that Babe and Connie get to live happily ever after but the movie in which they are featured might have been better off if it was just a one night stand.

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