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Working backwards in a film of love won, then lost, then won again, Two Heads on a Pillow (1934) begins with a glamorous couple Jack (Neil Hamilton) and Evelyn Smith (Miriam Jordan) waking up side by side in their matrimonial bedroom. But a morning routine of breakfast and marital bliss soon descends into bickering. After just one month of marriage Jack and Evelyn decide to divorce, a break partly fueled by Evelyn's meddling mother Mrs. Van Suydam (Emily Fitzroy).
Seven years later, Jack and Dave Talbot (Hardie Albright), his playboy law firm partner, are now defending the interests of a wealthy couple Mr. Devonshire (Claude King) and Mrs. Devonshire (Mary Forbes). Another meddling parent, Mrs. Devonshire has instigated the break-up of her daughter Pamela (Lona Andre)'s marriage to Anthony Populopulini (George Lewis) because she doesn't believe Anthony is her daughter's social equal. As a result the Devonshires are being sued by Anthony, who demands his in-laws pay him a sum of $100,000 for the enforced separation. Anthony's father Henry Populopulini (Henry Armetta) arrives at Dave and Jack's office to state his family's rationale for the lawsuit, but Mrs. Devonshire at least, is unmoved and unsympathetic. In a delicious coincidence, Evelyn, who since her divorce from Jack has gone back to school to become a lawyer, arrives at Jack's office to represent Henry Populopulini.
In a distinctly screwball turn, despite Jack's assertion that he no longer loves Evelyn, he invites his ex- to dinner. But more bickering ensues, and passions are even more inflamed when the Devonshire-Populopulini case goes to trial. A shrewd, agile lawyer, Evelyn wins a $100,000 judgment for Anthony against the Devonshires citing their responsibility for the annulment. The presiding Judge Gorman (Edward Martindel) guessing that Evelyn and Jack are still in love, invites them to his home for bridge. But the supposedly happy married couples at the bridge party are even more combative than Evelyn and Jack and hardly make a convincing case for marital harmony.
In the meantime Mr. Devonshire, with the help of Henry Populopulini, defies his wife in an effort to reunite Pamela and Anthony. That spirit of reconciliation proves infectious. Evelyn and Jack enjoy a celebratory dinner at the Populopulini home but before long they descend yet again into another round of bickering. Lost in the rain after dinner the couple take shelter at a country farmhouse where they are forced to masquerade as husband and wife. And that illusion appears to work its own magic, as the couple who began Two Heads on a Pillow married, then divorced, realize that they were happiest together after all.
Directed by William Nigh and originally titled Love Can't Wait, the comedy drama Two Heads on a Pillow adopts a slightly screwball concept and a common refrain, that meddling, snobbish mothers were the cause of the unhappy divorces between two sets of couples in the film. Prolific screenwriter and director George Waggner was originally intended to pen the script but longtime Republic Studios writer Albert DeMond is credited with the screenplay. The screenplay was adapted from a short story called The Eternal Masculine by Dorothy Canfield, an educational reformer and social activist who was named one of the 10 most influential women in the United States by Eleanor Roosevelt. Children's book author Canfield (Understood Betsy) had previously written a 1924 novel The Home Maker with a remarkably modern plotline. Over the course of the novel a deeply unhappy housewife is thrust out into the work force as a saleswoman when her husband suffers a devastating injury that leaves him confined to a wheelchair. The novel was considered ahead of its time for imagining a gender role reversal in which both husband and wife are far happier in their newfound roles as a stay-at-home-father and a female breadwinner.
Director: William Nigh
Producer: M.H. Hoffman
Screenplay: Albert DeMond, from a short story by Dorothy Canfield
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Production Design: Rudolph C. Flothow
Music: Hugo Riesenfeld
Cast: Neil Hamilton (Jack Smith), Miriam Jordan (Evelyn Smith/Evelyn Adams), Henry Armetta (Henry Populopulini), Hardie Albright (Dave Talbot), Dorothy Appleby (Mitzie LaVerne), Mary Forbes (Mrs. Devonshire), Edward Martindel (Judge Gorman), Claude King (Albert Devonshire), Lona Andre (Pamela Devonshire), Betty Blythe (Mrs. Walker), Emily Fitzroy (Mrs. Van Suydam), George J. Lewis (Anthony Populopulini).
by Felicia Feaster