Friday, April 16, 2021

NO MAN OF HER OWN (Wesley Ruggles, 1932)


Connie Randall’s book-smarts clash with Jerry Stewart’s crook-smarts in this delightful drama that doesn’t despoil the heroine and allows the roguish anti-hero to earn his final chance. Wesley Ruggle’s direction is top-notch and Leo Tover’s photography frames the characters in interesting compositions: from the opening crane shot in an apartment which slowly advances to a medium close-up of the flirty Dorothy Mackaill, to the extreme high-angle shots of the library as Carole Lombard stalks her prey Clarke Gable (or is it vice versa?) It has a neat opening credit sequence: the main characters are superimposed on playing cards as the film begins with a seemingly innocuous poker game but which is quickly revealed to be the grift that Jerry runs.

Clark Gable as the aforementioned scoundrel Jerry “Babe” Stewart is a walking one-night stand; women just always say yes to his tawdry advances. Until chance takes him to small town Glendale where he meets small town yet large minded librarian Connie Randall (Carole Lombard). She’s no pushover though she’s smitten with his good looks and charm. The love story is about chance and fortune (both good and bad) and embracing opportunity when it arrives. Stewart lives by a coin-flip yet his grift is the illusion of chance in the rigged poker games. What’s refreshing in this romance is that Connie is genuinely a good woman who wants her husband Stewart (decided by a coin flip!) to become a better man: she sees beneath his faux persona and encourages the honest and hard working spirit that remains occluded to himself. The spark between the lovers (thus the actors) jolts the film with energy yet isn’t overcooked. Connie never threatens her husband to change and he never encourages her to become part of his criminal activities. We want them to remain together though the story continues to pull them apart. Will random chance once again be on their side?

There are some great Pre-Code moments. Carole Lombard on a step-ladder as we see a slender bare calf extended like an erection from low-angle as Gable amusingly ogles her gams, Lombard naked in the shower as she laughs and squirms while Gable (now hubby) intrudes (we actually see her breast and nipple, how Pre-Code!). To be fair, we get a naked Clark Gable in the shower and see both his nipples! Lombard also undresses to her undergarments and wears a see-through dress leaving very little to our wicked imagination. It’s just so wonderful to see characters behave so naturally and without self-conscious shame in a movie!

Jerry Stewart’s final scam is one of good intentions as he turns himself in for a 90 day stretch but convinces Connie he’s actually in South America for a poker game. But she’s just too fucking smart and the joke is on him! As the film fades out with his incessant chattering about the trip Connie looks on lovingly as she knows the truth. Sometime, the road to bliss IS paved with good intentions.

Final Grade: (B+)