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Third Finger, Left Hand

Third Finger, Left Hand(1940)

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teaser Third Finger, Left Hand (1940)

By 1940, Myrna Loy was one of Hollywood's top box office attractions. After a long apprenticeship playing oriental vamps and assorted bad girls, Loy had been playing the Perfect Wife for half a dozen years, not only in the enormously popular Thin Man series with William Powell, but also opposite such major stars as Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. In 1936, movie exhibitors selected Loy and Gable as the King and Queen of Hollywood, the year's box office champions.

With that kind of success, MGM was glad to keep on typecasting Loy as the onscreen Mrs. William Powell, and to leave the Career Woman roles to Rosalind Russell. Third Finger, Left Hand (1940) is one of Loy's rare forays into the boss-lady-tamed-by-love genre so popular in the late 1930's and 40's. Loy plays a fashion magazine editor (in tailored suits, of course) who invents an absentee husband to ward off amorous business associates and jealous wives. Enter charming artist Melvyn Douglas, who discovers Loy's ruse, calls her bluff, and sets off a chain of romantic screwball complications. In her autobiography, Loy noted that Third Finger, Left Hand was not her usual style, and credited Douglas for making it work. "In most of my pictures I complemented the male character, who usually carried the story. This often meant that my roles were subordinate, but that's the way I wanted it...Melvyn Douglas helped me through that one. I adored him."

Third Finger, Left Hand was the first time Loy and Douglas had worked together, but they were both active in liberal politics, and were good friends. In her autobiography, Loy recalled that it was during the making of this film that Douglas and his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas, along with several others in Hollywood, began to be smeared by the label of "Communist" by right-wing politicians. Douglas had been appointed a lieutenant colonel in the California National Guard, and "certain factions of the American Legion" objected, because the Douglases, like many liberals, had contributed to the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War. Helen Gahagan Douglas would later be elected to Congress, and be defeated by Richard Nixon when she ran for the Senate in 1950, at the height of the Communist witch hunts. "I knew Mel and Helen very well in the old days, and supported her later when she opposed Nixon....We all fought the good fight together," Loy writes. Douglas and Loy would co-star again in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948).

Loy was also fighting more personal battles during the making of Third Finger, Left Hand. Her marriage to producer Arthur Hornblow was rocky, and she would leave him shortly after the film opened. They divorced the following year. The movies' perfect wife married and divorced four times in real life, but there were no scandals surrounding the breakups. Loy managed the ups and downs of her private life with her characteristic dignity, tact and grace.

Reviews for Third Finger, Left Hand ranged from negative ("forced and artificial") to lukewarm ("diverting entertainment"). It appeared that neither audiences nor critics wanted to see Loy as a career woman, even if she did get her man at the fadeout. After this film, Loy went back to her favorite movie husband, William Powell, for two more films, then devoted herself to war work. It was only after the war that she had the opportunity to play a perfect wife with depth and substance, as well as charm and sophistication. As the sympathetic spouse of a returning soldier in The Best Years of Our Lives, (1946) Loy gave one of the best performances of her career.

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Producer: John W. Considine, Jr.
Screenplay: Lionel Houser
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Editor: Elmo Veron
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Music: David Snell
Principal Cast: Myrna Loy (Margot Sherwood Merrick), Melvyn Douglas (Jeff Thompson), Lee Bowman (Philip Booth), Bonita Granville (Vicky Sherwood), Raymond Walburn (Mark Sherwood), Felix Bressart (August Winkel), Donald Meek (Mr. Flandrin).
BW-97m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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