Welcome to a new Film Friday, and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of Joan Blondell (1906-1979), an iconic Warner dame known for her snappy speech and straight-shooting style. We’ve covered Illicit (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Night Nurse (1931), but haven’t even yet scratched the surface of her miraculous Pre-Code career. We’re making up for lost time, and so far we’ve featured Blonde Crazy (1931), Union Depot (1932), The Greeks Had A Word For Them [a.k.a. Three Broadway Girls] (1932), Miss Pinkerton (1932), and Three On A Match (1932), Lawyer Man (1932), Blondie Johnson (1933), and The Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933). Today…
Goodbye Again (1933)
An author’s reunion with an old flame angers the secretary who loves him. Starring Warren William, Joan Blondell, Genevieve Tobin, Hugh Herbert, Wallace Ford, Helen Chandler. From the play by George Haight and Alan Scott. Screenplay by Ben Markson. Directed by Michael Curtiz.
“Anne is secretary to Bixby, the author of many best-selling novels. On a lecture tour, he meets Julie, an old flame, who believes that she is the inspiration for the heroine of his latest novel. Having heard about Bixby all during his marriage, Julie’s husband Harvey hates him. Julie is determined to rekindle their romance, and while she entertains Bixby, Anne takes care of her outraged husband. Julie’s sister Elizabeth and her stuffy fiancé, Arthur, are aware of Julie’s intentions and are determined to prevent a scandal. After Bixby’s rendezvous with Julie, Anne arranges to meet him on the night train, where she is joined by Harvey, Elizabeth and Arthur.
“Julie is also on the train, and in order to avoid [the others] she spends the night with Bixby. When Harvey hears this he decides to sue for divorce. Even though Bixby swears nothing happened, Anne is jealous and washes her hands of the author. Bixby has no intention of marrying Julie and tries several ruses to discourage her. Finally, Anne gives in to Bixby’s pleading and tells Julie that another woman was the model for the novel’s main character. This information sends Julie back to her husband, and Bixby convinces Anne that she loves him and should take him back.” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM.)
Although I have seen this film discussed by aficionados as a precursor to the screwball comedy (which is credited as having been formed in 1934 with the releases of both Twentieth Century and It Happened One Night), they seem to be giving the picture too much credit. For without a rapid-fire pace or antics that come close to being zany, Goodbye Again is nothing more than a lighthearted Pre-Code, with nary a gaffe (nor guffaw). So, in spite of a seemingly routine premise and a forgettable script, adapted from a stage play, the film remains notable for its cast. (If you’ve been following this blog regularly, you’ll know that this is the usual course of action to take when a script lets a picture down. Unfortunately, this happens all too often.)
Warren William is our hero, and the fulcrum around which the shenanigans surround. Known for playing debonair cads, William drops his sense of danger for a more whimsical and impish persona, one that works in a Pre-Code comedy. He’s effective, and as always, a dynamite presence on the screen. The only rival scene stealer is his leading lady, our spotlighted star, Joan Blondell, who fulfills a type that we have seen her play several times in this series: the hero’s sidekick, who sticks by him as he gets involved with other women, only to win him in the end because of her unwavering loyalty. She does the part well, but one wishes that the screenplay afforded her more color. Instead, Blondell must inject her own life into the part; and as always, she does it efficiently and effervescently. Their scenes together are undoubtedly the film’s most fun, for these two pros know how to play, even with tripe.
But the supporting cast is well-armed too, especially with Genevieve Tobin (who, interestingly enough, starred in the first musical we ever covered on Musical Theatre Mondays, Cole Porter’s 1929 hit Fifty Million Frenchmen). If you’ve never seen her work, she’s a bit like a young Billie Burke — wide-eyed and charming. Her role here is to be the nuisance, and as complicators go, she’s as good as any. However, the rendering of her character, like much of the picture, is less impressive than the performance that upholds it. So, this isn’t a great Pre-Code (even though the extramarital relations are in the right vein), for the characters lack bite, and the story is unoriginal. Simple is usually better, but without the ‘it’ factor, simple is simply adequate. Recommended to William fans only.
Come back next Friday for another Blondell Pre-Code! And tune in on Monday for another forgotten musical comedy!