1935: The First Full Year Under The Draconian Production Code (Post One)

Welcome to another Film Friday! Today we’re launching a new series on films released in 1935, the first full year in which Hollywood studios were forced to adhere to the Production Code, which became official in the summer of 1934. The pictures we’ll be looking at over this next month or two are not connected by performers, but rather by their common bond to the censoring of creativity. To kick off the series, we’re beginning with a little known comedy, The Goose And The Gander (1935).

 

The Goose And The Gander (1935)

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An ex-wife schemes to expose her former husband’s philandering new wife.

Starring Kay Francis, George Brent, Genevieve Tobin, John Eldridge, Claire Dodd, Ralph Forbes, and Helen Lowell. Story and screenplay by Charles Kenyon. Directed by Alfred E. Green.

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This virtually unknown comedy is a delight, principally because its 65-minute running time allows for a fast paced plot that never bothers to slow down or allows itself to be padded with unnecessary material. The cast, truthfully composed of largely forgotten minor stars, is able, and the script is pretty funny — surprisingly adult, even — for a 1935 film. Here is the plot as provided by TCM. See if you can follow it.

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Georgiana is curious when she overhears Betty Summers plan to run away from her husband for the weekend with Bob McNear. She is even more interested when she learns that Betty was the woman who stole her husband, Ralph Summers. Planning a little revenge, she invites Ralph to visit her the next day at her Aunt Julia’s cabin in the mountains near Santa Barbara. She obtains the licence plate numbers of both Bob’s and Betty’s cars and leaves them with the attendants at a gas station near the cabin. When they see Bob’s car, the attendants claim they are out of gas and send Bob and Betty to Georgiana’s cabin. Because she wants them to be there when Ralph arrives, she announces that her gas is locked up until morning and they will have to stay the night.

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Things become even more complicated when another couple, Lawrence and Connie Thurston, arrive in Betty’s car. They are jewel thieves and have stolen Betty’s car for their getaway. When Georgiana recognizes the car, Connie pretends to be the second Mrs. Summers. Lawrence hides the jewels in Aunt Julia’s bedroom. When she finds them, Georgiana realizes who Lawrence and Connie are. The next day, as she tries to keep the jewels from the thieves, Georgiana spends a lot of time talking with Bob, and he asks her to marry him. She refuses, claiming that she is still in love with Ralph and intends to get him back. Meanwhile Ralph, and his brother Arthur arrive at the cabin and Lawrence locks them up. The police eventually show up and are thoroughly confused when Georgiana tries to explain everything that has happened. Realizing that she is in love with Bob, Georgiana no longer wants revenge on Betty and invents a story that will convince Ralph that Betty did nothing wrong. With the way cleared, Georgiana and Bob get married.

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As you can see, the plot is almost a cookie cutter example of the farcical comedy that helped to usher in the age of screwball comedy, which emerged around this time. What’s most shocking is that two of the lead characters — Brent and Tobin — are involved in a scandalous affair without any moral repercussions. In this regard, the whole plot hinges on sex, as Francis’s character hopes to expose their affair to her ex-husband. Of course, it’s really all tame, but there is evidence that this picture began development before the enforcement of the code, when sex in pictures was more than common! Another common element are the jewel thieves. (American entertainment has always seemed to have a fixation on jewel thieves.) But despite their rather routine and ordinary inclusion, the jewel thieves allow for hijinks beyond the obligatory romantic entanglements. So their presence is appreciated.

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The real star of the picture, who gets top billing, is Kay Francis. If you haven’t heard of her, I’m not surprised. Though she was once one of Warner Brothers’ top leading ladies — from about ’32 to ’37 — her only picture that seems to have any sort of longevity is Lubitsch’s Trouble In Paradise (1932). Francis’s relative obscurity is certainly due to her lack of distinction. And this isn’t to say she’s an inferior actress, because the truth is quite the opposite — Francis makes motivated and believable choices. But they’re always without the flare of Joan Crawford or the drive of Bette Davis (a then up-and-coming Warner’s girl). Francis is a pleasanter force — easy on the eyes and the ears. Her beauty is unconventional, but she’s nonetheless attractive. However, there’s nothing CAPTIVATING about her like Garbo or Shearer. Of course, those ladies are exceptional. I suppose, we can put it simply and say that though Kay Francis was a star in her time, her work is decidedly “B” (well, maybe “B+”) when compared to other leading ladies of the era.

Like its star, the picture would earn the same rating. It lacks the excitement of most of the other films we’ve been watching, but that’s not a bad thing. For many of those films are more ambitious than they ought to be, allowing for imperfections that at times may jeopardize the pictures’ entertainment value. The Goose And The Gander is a smaller, self-contained affair thats only aim is to entertain for 65 minutes. And it does precisely that. It’s a tight story that’s well told. (Is Francis and Brent’s romance too speedy? Yes. But that fault is not exclusive to this picture, so the complaint is easily ignored.) This film is on DVD, but unless you’re a major Kay Francis fan, I’d recommend waiting for it to come on TV. When it does, spare the 65 minutes to watch. Since the expectations are low, you won’t be disappointed.

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Come back next Friday for another 1935 film! And tune in on Monday for the start of a whole new week on That’s Entertainment! 

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