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A perpetually bickering married couple, Tim (John Hubbard) and Sally Willows (Carole Landis), are both convinced the other partner has the easier life and make a wish one night to change places. The driven, athletic Tim would like to slow down and catch his breath and housebound, lady-of-leisure Sally could use an escape from her domestic routine. An ancient Indian bronze bust in their bedroom hears them discuss the longed-for switch and grants the couple's wish in the screwball comedy Turnabout (1940).
Sally arrives at work in Tim's body but with her feminine voice and swishy manner intact, shocking Tim's advertising agency partners, the droll, dipsomaniac Phil Manning (Adolphe Menjou) and slow-witted Joel Clare (William Gargan).
Carole Landis and John Hubbard have a ball with the physical comedy of adopting the mannerisms of the body-switching spouses. While Tim outrages a swimsuit model by stroking her bathing suit-clad body and forges a surprising alliance with an effeminate client Mr. Pingboom (Franklin Pangborn), Sally surprises her staff and friends with her gruff male voice, an ability to devour enormous breakfasts and by taking on some dangerous home repairs including scaling a flagpole on her penthouse rooftop.
Based on a novel by Thorne Smith, who also wrote the 1931Topper, Turnabout showed director Hal Roach's finesse with the comedy genre. Roach produced two other Thorne Smith novels including Topper (1937) and Topper Takes a Trip (1938). A CBS television show "Turnabout" which aired from January to March 1979 and starred Sharon Gless and John Schuck was also inspired by Smith's novel.
Turnabout had some issues with the censors with the Legion of Decency originally giving the film an objectionable "B" rating. Joseph Breen, director of the Production Code Administration, had several specific problems with the film. For one thing, Breen objected to the ending, in which Tim reveals that, in all the body switching, he rather than Sally has wound up pregnant. Breen also took issue with Franklin Pangborn's character, a hosiery merchant, whom Breen called "pansyish."
While admitting that the movie audience at the Roxy giggled and guffawed over the film a New York Times critic called Turnabout "as subtle as a five-cent stogie and just as aromatic."
The film also features Roach's daughter Margaret Roach as Dixie Gale, a honey-voiced Southern belle who joins the advertising agency as Joel Clare's secretary and adds to the ensuing comic mayhem with her ditzy charms.
Producer, director, screenwriter Roach, whose previous careers included mule skinning and gold prospecting, had his first taste of Hollywood as a stuntman, extra and bit player at Universal. In 1915, using a small inheritance, Roach started his own film company and hired a fledgling comic named Harold Lloyd to star in several short films. Will Rogers and Laurel and Hardy eventually joined Roach's comic retinue and later, the Our Gang comedy team. Able to successfully make the transition to both sound and then feature films, Roach eventually even tried his hand at television production, until his company finally closed in the late 1950s.
Producer: Hal Roach
Director: Hal Roach
Screenplay: Berne Giler, Rian James, John McClain, Mickell Novack, Thorne Smith (novel)
Cinematography: Norbert Brodine
Film Editing: Bert Jordan
Art Direction: Nicolai Remisoff
Music: Arthur Morton
Cast: Adolphe Menjou (Phil Manning), Carole Landis (Sally Willows), John Hubbard (Tim Willows), William Gargan (Joel Clare), Verree Teasdale (Laura Bannister), Mary Astor (Marion Manning).
by Felicia Feaster