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BThe 1937 newspaper drama The Women Men Marry seems a strange match with MGM, Hollywood's house of glamour. The plot appears to be torn between two posts. On the one hand, it's a romantic drama about a reporter whose wife is having an affair with the boss. On the other, it's a hard-hitting mystery in which the reporter and his female partner investigate a fake religious cult. Where Warner Bros. would have run with the news angle to turn this into a hard-hitting action romance, MGM emphasized the romantic plot, a tale of forbidden love they sold as "The Script They Dared Hollywood to Make." Still, as even a low-budget MGM film, the picture had more than its share of style, with the lead assigned to George Murphy, their one male star who would have been most at home at Warner Bros. And they gave him a fascinating supporting cast, with an antagonist and two leading ladies who never got their due in Hollywood.
Murphy never got the breaks MGM gave its two top dancing stars, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Where they played a major role shaping their musical vehicles and spent little time on filler projects in between, Murphy was shoved into one film after another, spending more time in low-budget flicks than big screen musicals. The Women Men Marry was assigned to him just as he had finished one of his best films, Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937). Part of the problem may have been that he really wasn't a typical MGM lead when he arrived there in the '30s. Unlike the studio's top stars then -- Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery and Franchot Tone -- he wasn't believable as either a sex symbol or a society playboy. Nor did he have the acting chops of a Spencer Tracy, who got first crack on the kind of salt-of-the-earth roles that fit Murphy best. Yet he always delivered what the studio asked of him, creating a gallery of amiable hoofers, reporters, cops and military men.
His two leading ladies in The Women Men Marry got even fewer breaks than he did. Josephine Hutchinson, who played Murphy's adoring partner, was an established stage actress when she arrived in Hollywood on tour with Eva Le Galliene's Civic Repertory Theatre. She had created the title role in the Civic Repertory Theatre's production of Alice in Wonderland, supported Le Galliene in an array of classic plays and even took some leads that normally would have gone to the company's star-manager. In Los Angeles, she rotated performances as Alice with Nora in A Doll's House, using the latter for her Warner Bros. screen test. The studio signed her and then did little with her. When she arrived, Kay Frances was Warner's top dramatic star. Within a year, Bette Davis had moved into that position. Hutchinson's best role was as Paul Muni's wife in The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936). With few comparable roles planned for her, she left when her contract ended. She clearly had the looks and the talent for stardom but it never happened, even though you can see her immense appeal in the scene in The Women Men Marry where she tells off Murphy's wife and boss; it still resonates today. Within a few years, however, she moved into mother roles, supporting bigger but often less talented female stars.
Claire Dodd, cast as Murphy's faithless wife, was a former Ziegfeld girl and protge of Darryl F. Zanuck, though his friendship never got her the breaks she deserved. She was too smart to play dumb blondes and specialized in playing other women, which usually meant the larger, if not always more interesting roles that went to bigger stars like Bette Davis in Ex-Wife (1935) and Irene Dunne in Roberta (1935). Perhaps her most distinctive role was as Della Street in Warner's The Case of the Velvet Claws (1936), the only adaption of the Erle Stanley Garner novels in which the devoted secretary gets to marry Perry Mason (Warren William). After a few more years of thankless roles, Dodd retired in 1942 to marry and raise four children.
Sidney Blackmer, the boss who sends Murphy undercover so he won't notice his wife's cheating, is best remembered today as coven leader Roman Castevet in Rosemary's Baby (1968), but he had a long career on stage and screen during which he played Teddy Roosevelt seven times. After a decade on Broadway, he joined the caravan of stage actors journeying to Hollywood when talking pictures arrived, specializing in urbane villains, most memorably as Big Boy, Edward G. Robinson's gangster mentor in Little Caesar (1931). Blackmer moved between Broadway and Hollywood in the '30s and '40s, never winning the kind of studio backing that might have pushed him into higher profile roles. He scored his biggest hit in 1950 when he starred as Shirley Booth's alcoholic husband in William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba, for which he won a Tony Award. But that and another great stage role, Boss Finley in Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth, went to other actors when the plays were filmed.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Women Men Marry is the similarity of its romantic triangle to a better-remembered film, Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde (1931). Both involve a rough hewn reporter trapped in a marriage to a beautiful, faithless woman while his adoring co-worker waits for him to break free. Beyond the obvious fact that Platinum Blonde has been rescued from the vaults by historians and critics eager to study its director's earlier career, something about its cast has made it live in the memory in a way The Women Men Marry never could. Perhaps it's the mystique of leading man Robert Williams, whose promising career was cut short when he died shortly after finishing the film. Or maybe it's the fact that both leading ladies, faithless wife Jean Harlow and doting friend Loretta Young, were on the road to stardom. Yet Hutchinson clearly matches Young's performance, possibly even outdoing her when it's time to fight for her man, and Dodd is a much better actress than the young Harlow. Their performances alone would suggest that The Women Men Marry is worth a second look, if only as a fascinating might-have-been, an assemblage of stars just waiting to happen who never really broke through.
Producer: Michael Fessier
Director: Errol Taggart
Screenplay: Donald Henderson Clarke, James Edward Grant, Harry Ruskin
Based on a story by Matt Taylor
Cinematography: Lester White
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Score: Edward Ward
Cast: George Murphy (Bill Raeburn), Josephine Hutchinson (Jane Carson), Claire Dodd (Claire Raeburn), Sidney Blackmer (Walter Wiley), Cliff Edwards (Jerry Little), Peggy Ryan (Mary Jane), Helen Jerome Eddy (Sister Martin), Toby Wing (Sugar).
by Frank Miller