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Claudette Colbert was a major dramatic star at her home studio of Paramount when she made It Happened One Night (1934) at Columbia, then still considered a Poverty Row studio. In spite of misgivings about the studio, she agreed to the film because she wanted to work with Clark Gable, and because she earned $50,000 for just four weeks' work. The result was one of her biggest hits, an Oscar®, and a new direction for her career, into screwball comedy. After such positive results, Colbert was happy to return to Columbia the following year for another comedy, She Married Her Boss (1935), directed by Gregory La Cava.
Colbert plays Julia, an extremely efficient secretary to department store tycoon, played by Melvyn Douglas. She is offered a job in Paris, but turns it down because she's secretly in love with her boss. But he believes she's going, so he marries her to prevent her leaving. Now all Julia has to do is whip her husband's chaotic home life into shape just as she did his business, and make him realize that he needs her to be more than just an "office wife."
La Cava had just directed Colbert in the drama Private Worlds (1935), and he was even more adept at directing comedy. The style of his comedies--brisk pace, overlapping dialogue, and improvisation--became elements of the newly-emerging screwball genre. (He later directed one of the great screwball classics, 1936's My Man Godfrey.) Actors liked working with La Cava because his approach encouraged fresh, spontaneous performances. Colbert and co-star Melvyn Douglas both had expert comic timing, and La Cava surrounded them with a superb supporting cast, from delightfully bratty child actress Edith Fellows to silent screen veteran Clara Kimball Young.
In an interview for Lawrence J. Quirk's biography of Colbert, Douglas recalled that La Cava said he had a secret weapon against Columbia's low-budget production methods: "Colbert is our biggest asset--she's a walking production value in herself, and since so much of it will center on her, I'm not worrying." Douglas agreed, saying, "The woman was positively miraculous, and full of delightful surprises. And sexy. too!" Douglas was concerned that the elegant Colbert might balk at doing a key drunk scene in She Married Her Boss, but "when it came time for us to do a real knock-down, drag-out drunk episode, Claudette was the most delicious, gorgeous drunk you ever saw. Her timing was perfect. She had all the nuances just right, never overplayed. And Gregory La Cava didn't have to do a thing, just turn on the camera and let 'er rip...Claudette had both instinct and technique in everything she did and a wonderful spontaneity as a bonus."
Supporting actress Katharine Alexander, who played Douglas's snooty sister, also praised Colbert's camaraderie with her fellow actors: "Claudette had a wonderful way with the supporting players...in her restrained, ladylike way, she was very democratic, very relaxed, very giving with her co-players."
Production Code officials raised questions over the wedding night scene in She Married Her Boss in which Colbert remains "unkissed," but since the scene remained in the film, the problem was apparently resolved to the censors' satisfaction.
Noting that Columbia had struck cinematic gold with a clichd genre, the bus film, in It Happened One Night, New York Times critic Andre Sennwald noted, "Once again, the lively Columbia studios renew their gift for refreshing tired materials....Now the studio stakes out the venerable "Office Wife" theme with eagerness and faith, and erects a merry romantic comedy on the ruins....She Married Her Boss has irresistible comic dash, and it is briskly preformed by Claudette Colbert, Melvyn Douglas, Michael Bartlett and a superbly impish little girl named Edith Fellows."
She Married Her Boss was a hit, and over the next decade Paramount cast Colbert in some of its most sparkling comedies, including Midnight (1939) and The Palm Beach Story (1942). Douglas, who had signed a one-picture deal with Columbia, found himself shackled to a seven-year contract when the studio picked up his option. Fortunately, one of his first films under that contract was the screwball gem, Theodora Goes Wild (1936), opposite Irene Dunne. And thanks to various loanouts, including one to Paramount for another film with Colbert, I Met Him in Paris (1937), Douglas ended up co-starring opposite many of Hollywood's most glamorous female stars.
Director: Gregory La Cava
Screenplay: Thyra Samter Winslow (story); Sidney Buchman; Gregory La Cava (uncredited)
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Film Editing: Richard Cahoon
Cast: Claudette Colbert (Julia Scott), Melvyn Douglas (Richard Barclay), Michael Bartlett (Leonard 'Lennie' Rogers), Raymond Walburn (Franklin), Jean Dixon (Martha Pryor), Katharine Alexander (Gertrude Barclay), Edith Fellows (Annabel Barclay), Clara Kimball Young (Parsons), Grace Hale (Agnes Mayo), Charles Arnt (Victor Jessup).
by Margarita Landazuri