Saturday, April 26, 2014

Three Stars in Films About Class

Jean Arthur, If You Could Only Cook

"If You Could Only Cook" (1935) was a new film for me.  Jean Arthur is out of work; she meets Herbert Marshall while sitting on a park bench going through the want ads.  She mistakes him for someone also looking for a job, but he's really an auto magnate.  She finds an ad looking for a married cook and butler couple, and intrigued, he agrees to pretend to be her husband so she can get the job. 

Jean Arthur, "If You Could Only Cook," 1935.
There's comedy in the fact that he's wealthy, and pretending to be a butler; and the fact the guy they work for is actually a mobster.  As in many of these comedies there are a few cliched complications that would be easily solved if the characters just talked to each other.  When he shows her some of his drawings of experimental cars, she tries to get him a job at a rival auto company, who immediately recognize the drawings and arrest her for theft!  And Marshall also keeps secret his pending marriage to a boring socialite.  Eventually it takes the meddling of the mobster they work for to force them together. 

Ultimately this isn't really a movie about class; there is little commentary on the reasons for Arthur's plight, or how poorly the down and out are treated.  It's interesting, though, that the mobster is accepted as a member of the upper class, despite his criminal background.  Old money, new money, it doesn't really matter in America in the 1930s.  As long as you had it!

Carol Lombard, My Man Godfrey

Carol Lombard "My Man Godfrey," 1936.
I love how Carol Lombard is something of a mess in "My Man Godfrey" (1936) trying to prove herself to her more sophisticated sister.  It's clear she has the bigger heart, but she also has misconceptions about why people suffer and what they need to get out of "Skid Row."  I'm glad she gets reunited with William Powell at the end of the film and she gets to see that "forgotten men" just want to work - they just need the opportunity to do so.

Comparing this role to what she did in films like "To Be or Not To Be" we can see what a great actress she was, especially in comedies.

Katherine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story

Katherine Hepburn, "The Philadelphia Story," 1940.

I was aiming for Tracy Lord, Goddess in this sketch from "The Philadelphia Story" (1940).  She's so perfect as a representative of the upper class who needs to see that flaws in people aren't a sign of a flawed soul, a common misconception among those who were born to comfort.  

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