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Rosalind Russell was at the peak of her career in the late 1930s. Films like the suspenseful Night Must Fall (1937) which co-starred Robert Montgomery and the Oscar® nominated The Citadel (1938) with Robert Donat had been highly successful. It seems surprising, in retrospect, that MGM would put its star in a film like Fast and Loose (1939) as a follow-up.
Bernard F. Dick in his biography of Rosalind Russell, Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell wrote, "One of two films she made that year [1938-1939] was Fast and Loose the final pairing of Rosalind and Robert Montgomery. The success of the Thin Man films, coupled with complaints from exhibitors that they appeared too infrequently, prompted MGM to create a spin-off with the same premise, but a different gimmick: a husband and wife team of amateur sleuths, with the husband as a rare books dealer who moves in a world of first editions and priceless manuscripts. The "Fast" series so called because "Fast" appeared in each title (Fast Company , Fast and Loose, and Fast and Furious ) lacked the production values of the Thin Man films as well as the star power of William Powell and Myrna Loy; the Fast films were the equivalent of B movies, and not especially memorable ones at that. Unlike the Thin Man series, in which William Powell and Myrna Loy played Nick and Nora Charles in all six films, each of the Fast films had different co-stars: Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice in Fast Company, Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in Fast and Loose, and Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern in Fast and Furious (1939). What the series needed, and got, was sophistication never to the degree to which Powell and Loy supplied it, but in a diluted form. Fast and Loose belonged to Robert Montgomery, who triumphed over an intricately plotted script about the theft of a Shakespeare manuscript. Although he solves the case by using Sherlockian deduction, Rosalind ends up accidentally shooting him in the butt while he is fighting it out with the murderer. Although Rosalind played the quick-with-a-quip heroine gamely, she was given little to do, particularly in the film's midsection, during which she virtually disappeared."
The resemblance to the Thin Man films did not go unnoticed by the critics. Time Magazine's review in February 1939, noted: "Fast and Loose (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) might be described as one of The Thin Man's wilder oats...Creator of these bookish detectives is tall, goggled Scenarist Harry Kurnitz, longtime mystery writer for pulp magazines, who writes under the false-whiskery pen name of Marco Page and the influence of Dashiell Hammett. His characters first appeared last spring in a spade-calling mystery novel, Fast Company, in which the main victim was poetically conked with a bust of Dante. ...In Fast and Loose, Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell show up as the likeliest pretenders to the places of William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man tradition. For Fast and Loose, author Kurnitz whipped up a few new fits and starts."
The New York Times' review by Frank Nugent observed "the pictures have much in common: a sense of humor, a facile style, genial performances and just enough puzzlement to keep us from suspecting the least suspicious member of the cast." A continuity error did not go unnoticed. In one scene, Joan Marsh is given a black eye but the scene was apparently shot on different days with the makeup man forgetting to reapply it because the black eye disappears and reappears in the same sequence. "We still keep wondering, though, about Miss Marsh's chameleon-like black eye. It was almost more of a puzzle than the Shakespeare folio...The comedy is jauntily paced, and profits as much from its writing as it has from the deft light-comedy playing of Mr. Montgomery and Miss Russell in the nuisance roles, of Reginald Owen, Etienne Girardot, Ian Wolfe, Sidney Blackmer and Ralph Morgan and others in the suspect-victim group."
It's doubtful that Rosalind Russell gave her 'nuisance role' in Fast and Loose a second thought the moment she left the sound stage, because her next assignment that year was The Women (1939).
Producer: Frederick Stephani
Director: Edwin L. Marin
Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Film Editing: Elmo Veron
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Robert Montgomery (Joel Sloane), Rosalind Russell (Garda Sloane), Reginald Owen (Vincent Charlton), Ralph Morgan (Nicholas Torrent), Etienne Girardot (Christopher Oates), Alan Dinehart (David Z. Hilliard).
BW-80m. Closed captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
Time Magazine Feb 27,1939
Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell by Bernard F. Dick
The New York Times: The Screen; Passing Judgments on Criterion's 'Fast and Loose,' the Paramount's 'Never Say Die,' and Others by Frank Nugent, March 9, 1939