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A party line and some small town gossip lead to big misunderstandings in Party Wire (1935). The film stars Victor Jory as Matthew Putnam the most eligible bachelor in town thanks to his recently inherited dairy business. Jean Arthur plays Marge Oliver, his love interest and the focus of all the talk. Marge gets labeled a "bad girl" when the townsfolk listen in on a phone call and mistakenly get the idea that a shotgun wedding is in the works. Party Wire feels like a story Frank Capra might have tackled except that instead of extolling the virtues of small town living, the film takes aim at narrow-minded small town mentality.
Party Wire is based on a novel of the same title by Bruce Manning whose other credits include screenplays for One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937) staring Deanna Durbin, That Midnight Kiss (1949) with Kathryn Grayson and the Bette Davis vehicle Payment on Demand (1951).
The film stands as one of Victor Jory's few starring roles in a fifty-plus year Hollywood career. Jory got his start acting on stage in 1929. The next year, he launched his film career with Renegades (1930). In another notable lead role, Jory played the title character in The Shadow (1940) a Columbia serial that ran for fifteen installments. His burly look lent itself more to character parts than that of leading man and over the years, Jory was often cast as the villain. Some of his most memorable Hollywood credits include: Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935); Yankee carpetbagger Wilkerson who gets a face full of dirt courtesy of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939); Helen Keller's father in The Miracle Worker (1962); and Judge Roy Bean in Budd Boetticher's A Time for Dying (1969).
Another familiar face in Party Wire is Charles Grapewin who plays Jean Arthur's father. Grapewin has one of the most unusual backstories in Hollywood. Born in 1869, Grapewin got his showbiz start as a circus acrobat and high wire performer. He eventually graduated to the New York stage, acting, performing in vaudeville shows and even writing plays. Grapewin had retired by the time he decided to give movies a try in 1929; he worked in several short subjects before appearing in his first feature film, The Shannons of Broadway (1929), at sixty years old. He worked steadily through the '30s in films like Alice Adams (1935), The Petrified Forest (1936) and The Good Earth (1937). In the 1940s, Grapewin was in his seventies and still in demand. He played Inspector Queen in a series of Ellery Queen films. There were also appearances in The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and They Died with Their Boots On (1941). But Grapewin would never top his most well-known role -- uncle to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Finally, there is, of course, the most famous face in Party Wire -- Jean Arthur. Arthur had signed with Columbia just one year earlier, appearing in films like Whirlpool and The Most Precious Thing in Life (both 1934) before hitting on major success in The Whole Town's Talking (1935). The film, starring Edward G. Robinson and directed by John Ford, would send Arthur's career soaring to a new high. Her next film would be Party Wire which captures that moment in time when Arthur's star was on the rise.
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Screenplay: Ethel Hill, John Howard Lawson, based on the novel by Bruce Manning
Cinematography: Allen G. Siegler
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Film Editing: Viola Lawrence
Cast: Jean Arthur (Marge Oliver), Victor Jory (Matthew Putnam), Helen Lowell (Nettie Putnam), Robert Allen (Roy Daniels), Charley Grapewin (Will Oliver), Clara Blandick (Mathilda Sherman).
by Stephanie Thames