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Boy Meets Girl (1938) is a perfect example of why Warners' contract actors and directors were called The Warner Bros. Stock Company. The film marked James Cagney's eighth time working with director Lloyd Bacon (they would make nine movies total). It was also Pat O'Brien's eighth picture (out of ten) with Bacon. And for pals Cagney and O'Brien, Boy Meets Girl made for a fifth film collaboration ? the two would make nine movies together, including both stars' last feature Ragtime (1981). Also joining the group was Ralph Bellamy on his second film with both Cagney and Bacon. Because of their close working relationship, it's no wonder that Cagney, O'Brien and Bellamy became friends off-camera as well and eventually the three actors formed a social clique that also included Boy Meets Girl co-star Frank McHugh as well as Spencer Tracy and Frank Morgan; they met for dinner every Thursday and called themselves "The Boys Club."
Several Warner newcomers are also showcased in Boy Meets Girl. Ronald Reagan, who was by self-admission "a still worshiping movie fan" at this point in his career, appears as the announcer at the movie premiere. Penny Singleton, who made a few films for Warners before moving to Columbia to star in the Blondie series, plays the manicurist (she was later the voice for Jane Jetson in the animated series, The Jetsons). And Carole Landis turns up as the commissary cashier. There's also Marie Wilson, who got her start in the Laurel and Hardy vehicle Babes in Toyland (1934), as Susie.
The role of Susie was originally intended for Marion Davies. There are several accounts as to why Davies, the longtime mistress of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, did not appear in the film. Some say Hearst objected to Davies playing Susie ? a pregnant (and husbandless) waitress. Others cite the timing of Hearst pulling his financially strapped Cosmopolitan Pictures off the Warners lot. While other accounts claim Davies was displeased with casting changes (the comedy team of Olsen & Johnson were originally to have played the screenwriting team portrayed by the less comedic Cagney and O'Brien) and by the size of her role. The part of Susie was reduced even further after Davies was replaced by Marie Wilson. Regardless of the reason, Davies never made another film. Ever Since Eve (1937) would stand as her Hollywood swansong.
Boy Meets Girl was based on the hit Broadway play by Sam and Bella Spewack. The characters played by Cagney and O'Brien on film were supposedly based on real life screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. And it's been suggested Bellamy's part as Studio Supervisor was based on Fox's Darryl Zanuck. Sam and Bella Spewack would go on to great success penning the screenplay for My Favorite Wife (1940) and the book for the musical Kiss Me Kate (for which they would also win the Tony Award), but the film version of Boy Meets Girl failed to live up to its stage popularity.
Cagney for one thought the film's pacing was too fast. After screening rushes one day, he reportedly said to Bellamy, "would you tell me what I just said? I couldn't understand a word." It was evidently a moment in his career that Cagney never forgot. In his autobiography Cagney by Cagney, he discussed the filming of Boy Meets Girl. "Pat and I were harassed by the producer's insistence on more speed," recalls Cagney. "So Pat and I went mostly our own ways; we were fast when we needed to be, and let air into it as required. In a farce you've got to give the audience a chance to get their breath." Cagney also brought up Boy Mets Girl twenty-three years later when tackling another comedy, One, Two, Three (1961). This time, director Billy Wilder put Cagney's fears to rest, assuring him the pacing wouldn't be too fast at the expense of dialogue. Funnily enough, Cagney apparently never saw Boy Meets Girl until years later on TV ? and he found it much better than he remembered.
Boy Meets Girl made good use of Warners sound stages, back lots and front offices, so it's an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the studio. Also, for an inside joke, check out the marquee behind Ronald Reagan at the film premiere. The film's title is The White Rajah. This was the name of a script penned by Errol Flynn years earlier which was deemed too weak to film. Lloyd Bacon came across the script while looking for a title for Boy Meets Girl's fictional film premiere. Flynn was reportedly not amused.
Producer: Samuel Bischoff, Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Bella Spewack, Sam Spewack
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Editing: William Holmes
Music: M.K. Jerome, Jack Scholl, Harry Warren
Art Direction: Esdras Hartler
Cast: James Cagney (Robert Law), Pat O'Brien (J. Carlyle 'J.C.' Benson), Marie Wilson (Susie Seabrook), Penny Singleton (Peggie), Ralph Bellamy (C.F. Friday), Frank McHugh (Rossetti), Dick Foran (Larry Toms), Ronald Reagan (Radio announcer), James Stephenson (Major Thompson).
BW-86m. Closed Captioning.
by Stephanie Thames