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This cute comedy featuring vintage car enthusiasts and their female companions that put up with them will make you chuckle. It gets the gender divide just right. Husband and wives will recognize each other's foibles lovingly and amusingly portrayed. Maybe you'll be like me and eye your spouse when the featured couple's antics turn familiar. This is not a movie for cynics or starry-eyed romantics. The flights of car fancy are grounded in universal relationship reality.
Norma Shearer may have turned down the role of Susan because she thought the role aging (She couldn't admit to being old enough to have a teenaged daughter), but she would have shown better instincts for avoiding such an unlikeable character in order to protect her screen persona.
Joan Crawford shows no such compunction. She throws herself into the role, and at times she appears to be playing Norma Shearer playing Susan. If you've seen Norma Shearer playing the fast-talking, scatterbrained heroine of Noel Coward's Private Lives, you'll know what I mean.
Susan is a nasty piece of work. A socialite, she follows every new fad, always eager for a new experience and never once thinking of the shattered family she left behind. She joins a movement and claims to have found God, and in the name of her new calling, she plays with her friends' lives. She zeroes in on their weaknesses and indiscretions and then confronts them to confess their sins to their peers.
Susan herself is guilty of spiritual bypass. The only sin she'll confess is touching up her hair, but she's neglected her daughter and let her husband (Fredric March) slide into alcoholism with nary an effort to save him. She's too busy focusing on herself and "saving" others.
It's only when March's Barrie strikes a deal with Susan that she deigns to spend any time with her family. If Barrie cannot stay sober while Susan lives with them for the summer, then he finally will grant her the divorce she's been haranguing him for. Over the season, he hopes to win back his wife and give his daughter a mother, while Susan awaits his relapse.
Frankly it's hard to see why Barrie still carries a torch for Susan, even if she's Crawford during her glamorous period, but it's easy to see how badly their socially inept daughter Blossom needs her mother. Rita Quigley's Blossom is heartbreaking in how easily she lights up and then gives up whenever Mother's momentary attention is withdrawn. It's for her sake you'll wish for Barrie to win his wager.
Jean Harlow was always at her best uttering Anita Loos's dialogue. The plot may be "conventional" pre-code, but Loos packs the script with memorable lines, giving Harlow's fast-talking dame and Clark Cable's crooked smiling con man a chance to shine, and their onscreen chemistry doesn't hurt the picture either. Many of the supporting actresses in the reformatory scenes make a distinct impression. Those characters almost make hanging out in a reformatory fun.
Out of the few Wheeler and Woolsey films I have seen so far, I would rank this as one of the best. Even though there's only a basic plot, the movie works as a whole film and doesn't feel like just a sequence of vignettes, a danger of films featuring vaudevillians. It's family friendly fare featuring Spanky McFarland (who mostly smiles and smashes glass), but every so often an innuendo almost slips by. Mary Carlisle looks lovely and shines in a song sequence set on a swing. Wheeler and Woolsey seem as relaxed as their personas will allow on screen and their rapport is apparent.