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In Hide-Out (1934), Robert Montgomery is part of a New York gang of crooks who extort money from nightclub owners by providing them with "protection." He's also a slick-talking ladies' man, as shown in a bravura opening sequence in which he hits on his girlfriend's maid, leaves them both to get into a waiting car in which there sits another blonde hottie, arrives at a nightclub where he flirts with the hatcheck girl, gets an eyeful of a sexy singer and sends his blonde hottie away, and proceeds to hit on the singer as she is performing. (It works. She agrees, between lyrics, to meet him later. Even Hugh Hefner would be impressed.)
The cops, led by detective Edward Arnold, are closing in fast, however, so Montgomery hightails it out of town to hole up on a Connecticut country farm. His worries of boredom are alleviated when he meets the farmer's sexy (yet demure) daughter, Maureen O'Sullivan. Suddenly he loves the country and wants to stay even beyond the time it takes for him to recover from a gunshot wound.
The rest of the story unfolds at the farm, as Montgomery discovers what love can be and falls under the spell of the warm family before the law catches up to him once more. (He also learns to milk a cow, feed chickens and bale hay, which are all played for big laughs.) While the picture starts out and ultimately remains a light comedy, right down to the funny closing line, it evolves into something surprisingly sweet and tender, too.Smart writing and good acting make this work. Mauri Grashin's story, which was nominated for an Oscar® (losing to Manhattan Melodrama), was turned into a screenplay by experts Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, true masters who also wrote The Thin Man (1934), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), and The Pirate (1948) among others. Here, in a comparatively minor film, they still manage to intelligently milk the fish-out-of-water situation for laughs while also serving up characters of depth and sympathy.
Montgomery does a good job in Hide-Out but somehow still comes off as a not-too-inviting screen presence - a common reaction to viewing his movies today. Jeanine Basinger, writing in The Star Machine (Knopf, 2007), addresses this question. She describes Montgomery as "one of the most successful and intelligent of the MGM male stars of the 1930s...very handsome in the drawing-room-manners mode. Loaded with charm, he knew his way around smart, sassy dialogue. Today, however, audiences find him cold. There is about him a distinct edge of disdain. His projection of smug superiority, meant to be amusing, climbs down off the screen and irritates a modern audience. He's slumming. This quality was right for his times, but now he denies the audience entrance."
Nonetheless, Montgomery capably handles the comedy and drama of his character, and he and O'Sullivan share convincing chemistry. They make us believe that a superficial city crook and a nave country girl could actually fall in love. O'Sullivan, adorable in a role originally meant for Loretta Young, had by now already played Jane opposite Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan twice, including Tarzan and His Mate (1934), which opened only four months before Hide-Out. Between the two releases she also appeared in The Thin Man - not a bad run of titles!
Stealing this picture, however, is 13-year-old Mickey Rooney. Already a Hollywood veteran, his notable performance as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) was right around the corner. Watching him in Hide-Out, one can't help but realize the kid was a natural. Rooney is asked for the most part to play an annoying little brother, constantly pestering Montgomery as he tries to make the moves on O'Sullivan. Montgomery finds creative ways to get rid of Rooney: "I'll bet you a quarter you can't run down to the turn of the road and back in five minutes," he says, and Rooney scampers away. (Five minutes later, he says, "I'll bet you 50 cents you couldn't do it again," and Rooney replies, "I'll bet I couldn't either!") Later on, in a surprising sequence involving a cooked rabbit, Rooney is required to show a more complicated set of emotions, and he nails it perfectly.
The supporting cast of Hide-Out is well worth a mention: Edward Arnold, Edward Brophy, Elizabeth Patterson, Henry Armetta and Herman Bing all make strong impressions. Patterson is especially good in her usual role of a small-town gossip or mother figure. She had already appeared in almost 40 movies since the mid-1920s, following a Broadway career. She'd later find success in television, playing Lucy's neighbor in I Love Lucy.
Producers: Hunt Stromberg and W.S. Van Dyke
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Screenplay: Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Mauri Grashin (story; screenplay contributor uncredited)
Cinematography: Ray June and Sidney Wagner
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Dr. William Axt
Film Editing: Basil Wrangell
Cast: Robert Montgomery (Jonathan 'Lucky' Wilson), Maureen O'Sullivan (Pauline Miller), Edward Arnold (Det. Lt. 'Mac' MacCarthy), Elizabeth Patterson ('Ma' Miller), Mickey Rooney (William Miller).
by Jeremy Arnold