SPOTLIGHT: Youthful Pre-Code Young (III)

Welcome to a new Film Friday and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of the beautiful Loretta Young (1913-2000), whose work we’ve never covered before here on Film Friday! So far we’ve featured Loose Ankles (1930) and Employees’ Entrance (1933). Today…

 

Grand Slam (1933)

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A hat-check girl’s skill with cards lands her a wealthy bridge champion. Starring Paul Lukas, Loretta Young, Frank McHugh, and Glenda Ferrell. Screenplay Erwin Gelsey & David Boehm. Based on the novel by B. Russell Herts. Directed by William Dieterle.

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“Peter Stanislavsky works as a waiter in a Russian restaurant to support himself and his wife Marcia while he writes a serious novel. Although he thinks the game of bridge is supremely silly, Marcia forces him to learn the game. One evening, while he is catering a party of bridge players, the hostess, Lola Starr, drafts the attractive Peter to form a fourth at her table with bridge expert Van Dorn. Peter refuses to bid according to the Van Dorn system and to everyone’s surprise wins the match. The next day, Philip, a ghost writer known as Speed, offers to write a book under Peter’s name deliniating the Stanislavsky method. To promote the book, Peter and Marcia play in a variety of tournaments. They claim that because there are no rules in the Stanislavsky method, husbands and wives have no reason to fight with each other.

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“In reality, Peter’s criticisms of Marcia’s bids cause quarrels between the two. Then when Lola asks Peter for private lessons, Marcia is convinced there is something between them, and she leaves Peter. Because he is in love with Marcia, Speed reveals that he wrote the book under Peter’s name. Peter’s waiter friends are angry because now they will lose the money they invested in the book. In order to pay them back, Peter approaches Van Dorn to propose a contest between the two of them. At the beginning of the contest, Peter is losing badly. Other players refuse to partner with Peter and it looks as though he will have to default until Marcia appears and offers to be his partner. An unbeatable team, they win the match and repair their marriage.” (This summary is brought to your courtesy of TCM.)

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Critics have often remarked about the difficulty in critiquing works of art that doesn’t strive to challenge or “affect” its audience. In other words, smile-inducing comedies inspire a different type of discussion. It’s silly to seek deeper meanings in something that doesn’t want us to find them. Of course, we could, if we really look hard enough. But when I watch a film like Grand Slam, I just want to be entertained. And at a brisk 67-minutes, the lighthearted triviality imposed by a film about bridge players and their competing “systems” is an absolute delight. Given the nature of the premise, the picture makes little demands on its audience — it’s not a weepy women’s picture that demands emotional investment nor a gritty modern flick that titillates because of its hedonism. It’s merely a simple tale meant to gives its Depression era audience approximately an hour of silly escapist entertainment. And it delivers in spades. (Pun intended.)

In addition to the wicked satire inherent in any film that would find conflict in bridge and the affect it has on marriage, the picture is most enjoyable due to its roster of well known entertainers. Our spotlighted starlet is photographed beautifully, delivers her lines with punch, and has fine chemistry with her on-screen husband, the romantic Paul Lukas, who is a much better comedian than one might expect. Meanwhile, all the supporting players lend their finely attuned chops, including the fast talking Frank McHugh and the always welcome (but under-appreciated) Glenda Farrell. In short, it’s well cast, and that’s always a key ingredient — especially in a comedy such as Grand Slam. So, if you have 67-minutes to kill, this is a charming way to spend them. This fun film is easily recommended.

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Come back next Friday for another Young Pre-Code! And tune in on Monday for the start of a whole new week of fun on That’s Entertainment! 

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