Hands Across The Table

Hands Across The Table

****

Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney

No modern romcom would risk starting with a heroine so unsympathetic as Carole Lombard's brittle manicurist Reggie, who is determined to marry for money and escape a penny-pinching life. She means it, too: of one potential rich husband, she says: "I tried really hard until I found out he was engaged and then I even tried a little after that."

But, of course, she's not too good at it. It's only after she finds out that supposed target Fred MacMurray is actually a feckless playboy, set on selling himself to the highest lady bidder, that she can relax and be natural around him. So natural, in fact, that she lets him move in for a while to escape a jam, leading to a chummy flatshare between the two self-confessed 'heels'.

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Mitchell Leisen's film is a sassy classic with heart. Lombard, though not able to use her full comic talents here, makes her character completely believable as a cynic and a romantic all at once. MacMurray is irresistible as the playful fool Ted, first seen playing hopscotch, who's so much fun to be around, and Ralph Bellamy is his usual loveable self as the rich, wheelchair-using man who loves Reggie (did he ever get the girl?).

And the film is surprisingly sexy. While the beautiful Lombard remains buttoned up throughout in a succession of flouncy blouses, MacMurray - so stolid in other roles and later the ultimate suited executive in The Apartment - seems to be continually stripping off, removing his trousers in one scene, his shirt in another, all contrasting his physical virility with Bellamy's elegant, sexless millionaire.

The crucial night when the two leads try to fight their attraction for each other is a masterpiece of yearning, all shadows and angles, as they prowl their separate rooms and the fire escape desperately trying to resist a pull that's decidedly sexual. Only later did Hollywood romances become coy: here, it's quite clear why the couple are drawn together. This section is stunningly photographed and as memorable in its own way as the 'walls of Jerico' scene from It Happened One Night.

And though it's certainly a comic romp, there's a certain strain of melancholy beneath the film. Without giving away the ending, which is naturally a happy one, there's a sense that perhaps the obstacles between them - lack of money, loss of prospects, Ted's likely inability to hold down work ("You must have friends that could give you a job," says Reggie. "That'd be a fine friend who'd give you a job. No friend of mine better try that on me," he replies) - may not be simply overcome by love. What Reggie fears becoming, a bitter, tired, prematurely aged and over-worked woman like her mother, may still come to pass. It's an unusually realistic strain for a romantic comedy. Oh, but the chemistry between the pair will charm you, like them, into believing that there's no better choice.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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Hands Across The Table packshot
Romcom about a manicurist aiming to marry for money. Showing as part of the 2006 EIFF's Mitchell Leisen retrospective.
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Director: Mitchell Leisen

Writer: Norman Krasna

Starring: Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy, Astrid Allwyn, Ruth Donnelly, Marie Prevost

Year: 1935

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Festivals:

EIFF 2006

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