Lombard and MacMurray fall head over heels in... Hands Across the Table (1935)
Crafted around the comedic talents of Carole Lombard, Hands Across the Table is a charming romantic comedy that contains a trio of sensitive, fabulous performances from Lombard, Fred MacMurray, and Ralph Bellamy. This film marked the first pairing of Carole and Fred, although she originally wanted Cary Grant (scheduling conflicts made it impossible). Lombard had heard of MacMurray before, but not as an actor -- she knew him from his saxophone playing in nightclubs! The duo would make three more films together: The Princess Comes Across (1936), Swing High, Swing Low (1937), and True Confession (1937). Personally, this is my favorite of their pictures.
Regi Allen (Lombard) and her friend Nona (Marie Prevost) are practically pushed out of the busy city subway as they make their way to their jobs at the ritzy Savoy Carlton Hotel, where they work as manicurists. Upon arrival, Regi is informed that room 1502 needs her; knowing that that suite is particularly pricey, Regi asks her boss if the occupant is married. You see, our heroine has one goal in life: marry rich.
It looks like she may get her wish when she meets Mr. Room 1502, Allen Macklyn (Ralph Bellamy) -- they immediately hit it off, although Regi does hesitate at first when she realizes that Allen is in a wheelchair. Noticing a picture of a dashing pilot, Regi asks if it's Allen's brother, but he replies that it was actually him. He used to fly, hinting that it was a plane crash that put him in the wheelchair. Things have clearly been depressing for Allen ever since. On her way out, Regi is told by Allen's butler that it's been a long time since he has heard his employer laugh like that.
Intrigued by the beautiful manicurist, Ted makes an appointment for the salon. (Side note: I love that back then men weren't afraid to get manicures. Nowadays, it's considered too "feminine." Ugh.) Aware of Regi's
Looking at her bank register, Regi figures she has just enough to doll herself up for the evening. Cue the montage of her getting her hair done, buying a new dress and hat, and longingly staring at a huge diamond ring in a shop window. Her bank account may have dwindled, but what's $50 when you're about to strike it rich, right?
At dinner, Regi starts to notice that her date is just a little off. He orders onion soup for the both of them (not exactly the best date food) and prescribes a weird cure for her hiccups that winds up making them look completely foolish in front of the other patrons -- and it doesn't even work! Instead, it gives Ted the hiccups, too! You can watch the scene here.
As the evening progresses, the couple becomes slightly tipsy as they hop from place to place. In my favorite part of this sequence, they try to get into one particular nightclub and are told that their clothes are too informal. Right away, they start unbuttoning and removing their clothes until they are let in.
By the end of the evening, Ted is certifiably drunk. During the taxi ride back to Regi's, she lets him know that once he is back from his trip, he can call her up. The dope chooses this moment to let it slip that he's actually getting married after his vacation. Disappointed, Regi is further dismayed when the taxi stops at her building and she finds that Ted has passed out. The driver helps her drag the big lug to her apartment, where she lets him sleep it off on her couch.
Later, Regi comes home to discover Ted is still there; he also has no pants on, having taken them off to iron them. Before he can really explain why he has not left, there comes a knock on the door, which Regi says is her date for tonight. Deciding to have a little fun with
With that done, Regi finally gets some answers about what Ted's deal is. The biggest revelation? He's broke.
When she reveals that she has the same intention, Ted gets an idea: why can't he crash at her place until his Bermuda vacation is supposed to be over? After all, they're two-of-a-kind. Regi doesn't say yes, but she doesn't turn it down either. What's great about this
Suddenly, Ted realizes that he is supposed to be in Bermuda and he hasn't called Vivian once. He has Regi pretend to be the phone operator, so she pinches her
That night, neither Regi nor Ted can sleep, so much so that Ted falls right off his bed from tossing and turning. Regi hears it and treats the cut he got with iodine. She then tucks him back into bed (cuter than it sounds) and they go to sleep. The lighting here is so superb -- well done, cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff! Carole looks absolutely luminous, as she frequently does, and Fred is downright dreamy. Just look at his curly hair and how the shadows from raindrops on the windows fall on his arms. Sigh.
Back at the hotel, Allen is excitedly preparing to propose to Regi, unaware that at that moment, she is laying under the stars on her roof with Ted as part of their last night together. As they slowly head towards a kiss, there comes a knock at the door.
To help perpetuate the lie that Ted went to Bermuda, Regi arranged to borrow a heat lamp from the salon to give him a tan. This is another moment that skirted by the censors -- Regi has Ted remove his shirt, including his undershirt, and when he lies under the lamp on his stomach, she touches his bare back to feel how hot
Her feelings become more apparent when Ted chatters on about how much fun he has had, yet he is still going through with marrying Vivian. Unable to handle it, Regi tells him she is going to bed and practically runs out of the room.
Back in their separate rooms, the two of them stay up all night, relentlessly smoking. (I get emphysema just from watching this scene. So much smoke.) Just as he is about to sleep, Ted notices Regi out on the roof.
After thinking it over, Ted has decided to completely give in to his feelings for Regi and they embrace (with some marvelous lighting making them look amazing). But Regi quickly comes back to reality and insists that because they are poor, they would grow to resent one another, especially because Ted would have to finally get a job. She rushes back to her room and Ted quietly leaves the apartment.
Over at the hotel, Vivian has ordered a manicure up in her room. It doesn't take long for her to confront Regi rather aggressively, revealing that she hired detectives to figure out why Ted lied about Bermuda. Her accusations of Regi trying to steal Ted send Regi out of the room in tears. When she goes to Allen's for his usual appointment, he holds her as she tearfully admits that she fell for Ted. Allen, you are much too
In Vivian's room, she pounces on Ted much like she did Regi. He states that he has changed and he actually wants to earn a living. Vivian calmly wishes him luck, but I doubt she means it. Back at Allen's, Regi dries her tears and goes to fix her hair while Allen prepares to propose to her.
Just then, Ted appears, having learned from the salon where Regi is. He excitedly talks about marrying Regi and getting a job, but when Regi enters, they immediately start bickering. However, when
She kisses Allen on the cheek and they happily exit, leaving Allen laughing. The startled look his trusty butler gives him is the same one I have every time I watch this movie. How could he be so merry about this? I guess the film wants us to believe that Regi restored him to his old self and he's genuinely happy for them, but I find it a little hard to process.
Our film isn't quite over yet, though! On the city bus, Regi and Ted argue over getting married right away (Regi) or getting lunch (Ted). He suggests they flip a coin, and if it stands on edge, the first thing he'll do is look for a job. When the coin flies off the bus, they search the street for it, causing a major traffic jam. Crawling under a car, they discover the coin... on edge.
As you could probably tell, I find Allen to be a total sweetheart. Ralph Bellamy does a superb job and although it's another role where he loses the leading lady, Allen is much more intelligent and complex than the characters from, say, The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday. I love Fred MacMurray and Ted isn't a bad guy by any means, but a part of me always hopes that Regi ends up with Allen. I wish the screenplay had treated his character slightly differently. If it had kept Regi and Allen as strictly great friends, that would've been cool. Seeing a caring, platonic friendship between a man and a woman is always wonderful. However, since the film wants there to be a romantic element, it would have been nice if Regi and/or Ted noticed Allen's feelings for Regi. I would feel more resolution with his subplot if that had happened, but instead I just feel like pitying him. You have to wonder if Allen's disability is the reason why he doesn't get the girl. It's an ugly thought, but there it is.
At this point in his career, MacMurray was not yet the accomplished comedic actor we know he was. Throughout filming, he was unsure of how to play his character and he constantly needed the guidance of director Leisen and Lombard. They obviously did a fantastic job with Fred because his performance is a delight. It's really nice to hear that Lombard put so much effort into helping him. She was a bigger star than him and the film was already all hers, but she made it more successful for everyone involved by giving 110% on and off the screen. Out of all of the performances in the film, hers is the best. I prefer Lombard when she is quieter and less frantic, and Hands Across the Table definitely fits the bill.
This is my contribution to the Carole Lombard: the Profane Angel Blogathon. You can find the other great tributes here.