Marry the Girl
Tagline for Marry the Girl With the popularity of screwball comedies in 1930s Hollywood, a small group of actresses cornered the market on one of the genre's most popular types, the dizzy society matron. Depending on age, attractiveness and level of pixilation, those roles could go to Spring Byington, Alice Brady, Dame May Whitty or Billie Burke. For this 1937 film, a combination of the screwball and newspaper genres, Warner Bros. turned to one of the funniest and most distinctive of the group, Mary Boland.
Best known for her role as the Countess De Lave in The Women (1939) and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (1940), Boland managed to be both infantile and imperious at the same time. In Marry the Girl, she stars as a daffy dowager who, with equally eccentric brother Hugh Herbert, runs a thriving newspaper. After firing the managing editor for failing to keep her niece (Carol Hughes) out of the newspaper business, she hands the job to Frank McHugh, a minor employee with a crush on the girl. In short order, McHugh is assigned to keep Hughes away from fortune-hunting editorial artist Mischa Auer, a welcome assignment as it throws him together with the object of his affections.
Marry the Girl was clearly a B movie for Warner, assigned to Bryan Foy, the producer dubbed "Keeper of the B's" for his 14-year stint as head of the studio's B unit, and director William C. McGann, who thrived making Warner's low-budget films throughout the decade. Joan Blondell was originally cast as Boland and Herbert's niece, but when she was needed for retakes on a more prestigious film, The King and the Chorus Girl (1937), the role was handed to Carol Hughes, best know today as Dale Arden in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).
There was nothing slipshod about Warner's B movies. They may have been made quickly, but so were most of the studio's films. And that speed at least meant they moved quickly, with Marry the Girl navigating numerous plot twists in a mere 68 minutes. And no film could look shoddy when filled with members of the Warner Bros. stock company, a group of actors and actresses who brought fast-talking grit to all the studio's work. The lead in Marry the Girl went to McHugh, usually a sidekick to bigger stars like James Cagney or Pat O'Brien in the studio's A pictures. Joining him were such studio stalwarts as Herbert, Allen Jenkins and Alan Mowbray. And the role of the fortune-hunting artist out to get his hands on the family fortune went to Mischa Auer, who had just won an Oscar® nomination for playing the eccentric playboy in My Man Godfrey (1936).
At the center of all the fun was Boland. Whether shouting nonsensical orders in the newsroom or flirting with Auer to keep him away from her niece, she keeps the screwball antics afloat almost effortlessly. That easy knack for light comedy was the product of four decades of hard work in the theatre, where she had started out at the age of 15, following in father William Boland's footsteps. Early on, she formed a popular romantic team with John Drew, uncle of John, Lionel and Ethel Barrymore. Her greatest stage successes came in the 1920s, when she honed her image as a scatterbrained high-society woman to perfection. Her popularity helped boost the career of the young Humphrey Bogart, who co-starred with her in two hits, 1923's Meet the Wife and 1925's Cradle Snatchers. Boland had tried silent films in the 1910s, but gave it up after only nine films. She returned to the screen in 1931 with a Paramount contract that allowed her to return to the stage periodically (she starred in Cole Porter's musical hit Jubilee in 1935). There she did a popular series of comedies teamed with Charles Ruggles. They were first matched up in supporting roles in Evenings for Sale (1932) and then co-starred in one of the vignettes in If I Had a Million (1932). When they scored a surprise hit starring in the B movie Mama Loves Papa (1933), it led to ten more films together, the most notable being the Charles Laughton hit Ruggles of Red Gap (1935).
By Frank Miller