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.


Over the next three weeks, Regi has become Allen's regular manicurist and his appearance has gotten noticeably better. Because they have been seeing each other so often, Allen's nails are immaculate so he invites Regi to stay for tea instead. Their conversation turns to money and Regi admits that her family's poverty seemed to ruin her parents' marriage, therefore love is not a priority for her. You can tell that Allen hopes to change her mind, but she is absolutely clueless and tells Allen he is her best
friend. Well, this probably won't end well... especially when Regi bumps into handsome Fred MacMurray in the hallway. Immediately we see the differences in Regi's potential love interests. While Allen is (understandably) a touch gloomy and incredibly mature, Ted is fun-loving and still has some growing up to do -- I mean, he's playing hopscotch on the checkered floor when we're first introduced to him. Whereas Regi was able to establish an easy rapport with
Allen within seconds, she gives Ted the cold shoulder.

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 search for a wealthy husband, her boss informs her that Theodore Drew III is headed down. When she realizes it's the man from the hallway, she isn't thrilled but
a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. Her nerves soon get the better of her and her hands can't stop shaking, causing her to cut Ted repeatedly. Luckily, he has a sense of humor about it: "Stabbed in the cuticle. What a way to die." By the end of the appointment, only a few fingers are unhurt, but Ted surprises Regi by asking her out to dinner tonight before he has to leave town for a trip.

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?

That night, Regi starts to lose hope when Ted is over an hour late. Nona and her boyfriend try to cheer her up, but nothing works until Ted finally appears, making Regi nervous all over again. However, instead of shaky hands, she develops hiccups that won't go away. 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.

The next morning, Ted is still asleep when Regi leaves for work and her appointment with Allen. They talk about how her evening with Ted went and Allen is able to tell her about Ted's heiress fiancée Vivian (Astrid Allwyn), having read all about it in the newspapers. I can't imagine that this conversation is fun for either of the participants. 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 the guy (William Demarest!), Ted has Regi hide in her bedroom and then opens the door, still in his underwear and smoking his pipe. Pretending to be Regi's husband, Ted freaks out at the prospect of his "wife" cheating on him and marches to her room where they have a screaming match as they silently giggle. (I love it when Regi yells "I'll tell my mother on you!" and Ted snaps
back "I'll tell my father on you!") It doesn't take much more than that for the man to make his getaway. With that done, Regi finally gets some answers about what Ted's deal is. The biggest revelation? He's broke. His family used to have money, but the crash of 1929 took care of that. The trip he was supposed to take to Bermuda came from his future father-in-law as an engagement present, and unfortunately, all of Ted's clothes were on the boat that he missed last night. "The only job for
me is to marry somebody with money," he confesses to Regi. 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 scene is that the whole time, Ted is lounging around with no pants on and Regi doesn't even care. This film isn't a pre-Code, so it surprises me a little bit that the Hays Office didn't
have a problem with this. Hands Across the Table is more risqué than I was expecting the first time I saw it. Although it's clear that Ted and Regi don't sleep together while living together, there are some simmering moments, such as Ted singing a snippet of the song "The Morning After" to Regi at one point. From what I can tell, the Hays Office didn't seem to have any objections over any inch of the material at all.

Anyway, back to the movie. It hasn't taken long for Ted and Regi to get comfortable sharing the same space. He picks her up from work in a taxi during a torrential downpour, having pawned his overcoat to pay for the taxi and their dinner (he may have ruined the meal he was making for them). At home, Regi receives flowers and a sweet card from Allen. Ted doesn't understand why she isn't after the wealthy man, but she explains that Allen is her best friend. 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 nose to give her voice a nasally quality. Throughout the conversation, Ted barely speaks two words to Vivian, thanks to Regi's constant interruptions and their fits of laughter, forcing Ted to hang up. Annoyed, Vivian calls a real operator and finds out that the call was from New York, not Bermuda. While shooting this scene, Lombard and MacMurray
were having so much fun that their merriment was genuine. Director Mitchell Leisen recalled that "When they finished the take, Carole and Fred collapsed on the floor in laughter; they laughed until they couldn't laugh any more. It wasn't in the script, but I made sure the cameras kept turning and I used it in the picture. It is so hard to make actors laugh naturally -- I wasn't about to throw that bit out."

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 the lamp is. It sounds innocent, but there's also a quick look on Regi's face that hints at her attraction towards Ted. 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.

When Ted calls for her to come tuck him in again, she hesitantly obliges. She obliges again when he asks to give her a farewell kiss. It's an exquisite close-up, one that demonstrates that this film is definitely a Carole Lombard vehicle because as Regi pulls away from the kiss, the camera stays on her to capture what her character is feeling. 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.

He hasn't given up on Regi, though. Instead, he has gone to Vivian's house, presumably to break things off with her. The butler informs him, however, that Vivian is staying at the Savoy Carlton. Uh-oh. 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 precious for this to happen to you.

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 Ted tells her the news about Vivian, they finally come together. 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.














































With love,
Michaela

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This is my contribution to the Carole Lombard: the Profane Angel Blogathon. You can find the other great tributes here.

Comments

  1. Michaela, thanks for introducing me to yet another terrific film! I haven't seen this one yet, but I know I'll love it. Both Fred M and Carole L look fabulous here! The screengrabs you've posted are gorgeous.

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    1. Thanks! I think you'd enjoy it a lot. It certainly looks beautiful all throughout.

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  2. This is also my favorite of Lombard and McMurray's films together. It is so charming and this is a great review of a lesser known film!

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  3. Love this film so much, though I have to completely agree with you about Bellamy's character. It does seem like it is because he is in a wheelchair that they do not consider him a potential love interest, which always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable at the end, despite how much I love the rest of the film. Great review! I think this might be my favorite Carole Lombard performance, actually. :)

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    1. Thanks! It might be my favorite Lombard performance too. I know a lot of people love her more manic roles, but they can be too over-the-top for me.

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    2. Yes, I know what you mean. When I first saw My Man Godfrey, I thought I must not really like Carole Lombard movies. But then I saw some of her other films and realized she could be really wonderful!

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  4. I've seen only Swing High, Swing Low with the duo. I'll look for Hands Across the Table - besides having an interesting plot, it's your favorite of the Lombard-MacMurray partnership, and that's a recommendation in itself!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    Replies
    1. Well, thank you! I hope you enjoy it when you do get to see it!

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  5. I've had this movie for a while now but haven't watched it because I felt that if I did I would need to write a post on it. Now that I've had this Blogathon I guess I don't need to ;)

    I laughed at that death by cuticle stabbing line. I can hear MacMurray saying it in my mind.

    That's funny about all the stuff the Hays code left in! Maybe they were all too busy wishing they were MacMurray!!

    The only movie I've seen with the two of them is True Confession, which I loved. I know I'll like this one.

    Thanks so much for participating with this great film!!! Sorry it took me so long to read it, it's been a crazy week :)

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    Replies
    1. I would love to know why the Code didn't touch this film. Maybe they were focusing on other films that they thought were too racy during this time...? Who knows.

      I've seen True Confession, but it didn't grab me the way this film does. I enjoy Carole Lombard the most when she is more down to Earth, which I know is not the popular opinion with her fans. To each his own, I guess.

      How intriguing -- I'll shoot you an email right now!

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  6. Fabulous post and screenshots! I love this movie so much.

    "Once a heel, always a heel."
    "That's our slogan." :,)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Simoa! There are a lot of great quotes in this film. Fred MacMurray had an outstanding way of delivering lines, too. We all know Carole could do it, but I think it's sometimes forgotten that Fred could too.

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