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In the 1940s, Rosalind Russell was cast in ten comedies playing, as film historian Jeanine Basinger has put it, "nightmare career women" who usually end up learning they're incomplete if they don't marry. These were movies like His Girl Friday (1940), This Thing Called Love (1940), What a Woman! (1943), She Wouldn't Say Yes (1945) and Tell It to the Judge (1949).
Russell herself looked back on these movies with a kind of amused disdain: "I played - I think it was 23 career women. I've been every kind of executive and I've owned everything - factories and advertising agencies and pharmaceutical houses... The script always called for a leading lady somewhere in the 30s, tall, brittle, not too sexy. My wardrobe had a set pattern: a tan suit, a gray suit, a beige suit, and then a negligee for the seventh reel, near the end, when I would admit to my best friend on the telephone what I really wanted was to become a dear little housewife."
In Tell It to the Judge, Russell's ex-husband Robert Cummings tries to win her back, but Russell, an attorney, is initially much more focused on becoming a federal judge. Russell biographer Bernard Dick has written that the actress was not very interested in this picture, and during filming "she went on autopilot, relying on technique alone." He points out, however, that at least she looks quite glamorous in her Jean Louis costumes. As for the ending, Dick writes, "if taken seriously, [it] would have caused women in the professions to abandon their jobs and become homemakers."
"The frightening thing about those pictures," Russell once said, "was that the public loved them, and they all made money." A big irony is that Russell herself managed to have a career and a marriage, both very successful.
Even though the ending is something of a lame product of its time, that doesn't mean that the 99% of the movie up to that point is bad. Jeanine Basinger writes of these Rosalind Russell movies: "They present the battle of the sexes in a way that both men and women can enjoy. Russell puts men down, her anger serving the needs of comedy yet connecting to something real in viewers, but then she repents."
In a supporting role here is actor Gig Young, who had recently left Warner Brothers and taken a couple of freelance assignments for MGM and Republic before signing a contract with Columbia. According to Young's biographer George Eells, Harry Cohn promised him a starring role in The Loves of Carmen (1948) opposite Rita Hayworth if he first played a "weakling husband" in Lust for Gold (1949). Young went along with this, only to find himself eventually forced into the far less glamorous Tell It to the Judge, while Glenn Ford got The Loves of Carmen. "In retaliation," writes Eells, "he went on suspension and eventually broke his contract with Columbia, knowing full well that he risked the insecurity of a finished career."
In fact, three Oscar® nominations for Best Supporting Actor lay in his future, and he would win the award for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969). Marring his life, however, were alcoholism, impotence, four marriages (including one to Elizabeth Montgomery) and ultimately murder; he shot his fourth wife, Kim Schmidt, to death before committing suicide in 1978.
Producer: Buddy Adler
Director: Norman Foster
Screenplay: Nat Perrin, Devery Freeman (story), Roland Kibbee
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Film Editing: Charles Nelson
Art Direction: Carl Anderson
Music: Werner R. Heymann
Cast: Rosalind Russell (Marsha Meredith), Robert Cummings (Pete Webb), Gig Young (Alexander Darvac), Marie McDonald (Ginger Simmons), Harry Davenport (Judge MacKenzie Meredith), Fay Baker (Valerie Hobson).
by Jeremy Arnold
Jeanine Basinger, A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960
Bernard Dick, Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell
George Eells, Final Gig: The Man Behind the Murder