Cast & Crew
When word of jockey Eddie Sands's sudden death while riding in a big race hits the newspapers, amateur sleuth and mystery writer Paula Bradford immediately assumes foul play and shows up at the apartment of her ex-husband, surgeon Dr. Lawrence Bradford. Reluctant to pursue Paula's theory that Eddie was murdered, Bradford, who divorced Paula because of her penchant for involving him in murder cases, agrees to examine Eddie's corpse only after horse trainer Mike North shows him a threatening note found in Eddie's locker. During the examination, Bradford discovers a gelatinous substance on Eddie's arm but nothing else of note. Soon after, however, Bradford receives a money-filled package intended for Mike, a mysterious phone call from someone pretending to be Mike, and a visit from a burglar looking for the package. After fighting the burlgar and getting knocked out by Paula, who has moved back in with her ex-husband, Bradford learns that Paula saw his secretary, Miss Prentiss, with bookmaker and murder suspect Nick Martel just before the corpse of Mike North is found on the Bradford's doorstep. Now the prime suspect of Inspector Corrigan, who informs Bradford that an autopsy on Eddie revealed that he died of a collapsed lung, Bradford visits the three people from whom Mike received phone calls the night he was murdered: Leroy Hutchins, the owner of the winning horse, John Summers, the owner of the stable where the horse was trained, and Summers' lawyer, Henry Strand. With the devoted help of Paula, and visual aid from hired newsreel cameramen, Bradford eventually uncovers an elaborate plot devised by the financially troubled Summers and Mike North impersonator Lou Pender to murder Eddie and another jockey riding against Summers' horse. Bradford reveals that the murder was committed using a black widow spider encased in a gelatinous capsule and placed inside the rider's clothes. Cleared of all suspicion, Bradford, who suffered a gunshot wound from Summers and another knock-out from Paula, proposes to his ex-wife and is re-married in a "previously filmed" marriage ceremony.
Frank M. Thomas
Al St. John
Samuel J. Briskin
John L. Cass
James Edward Grant
J. Roy Hunt
Van Nest Polglase
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford
Like Arthur, Powell also started in silents but had his best years after sound. Following a moderately successful career playing heavies and villains in the 20s, he made the transition in the early sound years to the witty, sophisticated leading man we remember today, primarily via his several screen appearances as the character Philo Vance, novelist S. S. Van Dine's verbose but whimsical high society man who dabbles in amateur crime detection to relieve his boredom. Within a few years, Powell was a major player at MGM, his stardom solidified by his role opposite Myrna Loy as a high society couple dabbling in crime in The Thin Man (1934). When RKO asked MGM to lend Powell's services for a new film, studio head L. B. Mayer was reluctant to allow another studio to capitalize on the popularity of one of his top stars. But MGM Production Chief Irving Thalberg saw that The Ex-Mrs. Bradford would only increase Powell's stock, especially since it cast him to type as a high society doctor who must turn to amateur sleuthing to clear his name in a murder investigation.
Powell, who had script approval for all loanouts, found the screenplay a winner and readily agreed. He was also happy to see that his co-star was to be Jean Arthur, for whom he had predicted a bright future when she was still a supporting player in three of his previous films, including his first Philo Vance picture, The Canary Murder Case (1929), and one other in the series.
Beyond its two leads, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford shares similarities with other popular films of the period. It's got the screwball estranged husband and wife who clearly belong together after all, as in I Love You Again (1940) and Love Crazy (1941), both starring Powell and Loy, and The Awful Truth (1937) with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne; the married couple at the center of a tale combining the dark, often gruesome elements of a crime story with the breezy romantic comedy typical of the time (The Thin Man and the resulting six-picture series); the madcap society girl who won't mind her own business, nearly bringing ruin on the object of her affections (The Mad Miss Manton and Bringing Up Baby, both 1938); and the wise-cracking butler, played here (and in over 20 other pictures) by Eric Blore. Even as early as 1936, critics were saying The Ex-Mrs. Bradford was covering "fearfully familiar ground," and yet most were delighted to report that the work of everyone involved made it all seem fresh and novel.
The two stars were ably aided by a supporting cast that included popular character actors (and real-life married couple) James and Lucile Gleason in one of 13 films they made together; Robert Armstrong, the "master showman" Carl Denham of King Kong (1933); Ralph Morgan, brother of Frank, aka The Wizard of Oz (1939); and once-promising starlet Lila Lee, mother of James Kirkwood, Jr., author of the plays P.S. Your Cat Is Dead and A Chorus Line.
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford was the last film directed by Stephen Roberts before his untimely death of a heart attack at the age of 40, two months after the picture's release. Roberts began his career in 1924 and turned out more than 60 pictures (many of them comedies) over the next 12 years. He had worked with Powell previously in Star of Midnight (1935), which co-starred Ginger Rogers and was about another couple embroiled in a whodunit. One of the writers of that script was Anthony Veiller, who also penned The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. Veiller had a very active and successful career for 30 years as the sole or contributing writer of more than 30 screenplays, including his Oscar®-nominated work on Stage Door (1937) and The Killers (1946).
Director: Stephen Roberts
Producer: Edward Kaufman
Screenplay: Anthony Veiller, story by James Edward Grant
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Editing: Arthur Roberts
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Cast: William Powell (Dr. Lawrence Bradford), Jean Arthur (Paula Bradford), James Gleason (Inspector Corrigan), Eric Blore (Stokes the Butler), Robert Armstrong (Nick Martel).
BW-82m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford
Don't tell him what happened.- Dr. Lawrence Bradford
I don't know what happened!- Paula Bradford
Neither do I.- Dr. Lawrence Bradford
What *is* a cocktail dress?- Dr. Lawrence Bradford
Something to spill cocktails on.- Paula Bradford
Oh well, you know, "Great minds..."- Paula Bradford
No, I don't know any great minds.- Dr. Lawrence Bradford
My goodness, that looks just like a refrigerator. What is it?- Paula Bradford
A refrigerator.- Dr. Lawrence Bradford
In exactly twenty-eight minutes I have to start opening a gentleman's stomach. Maybe I can do as much for you some day.- Dr. Lawrence Bradford
The working title of this film was One to Two. RKO borrowed Jean Arthur from Columbia and William Powell from M-G-M for this production. Modern sources state that Powell, whose M-G-M contract stipulated that he could not be loaned out without his approval, was impressed by the script of The Ex-Mrs. Bradford and wanted to co-star with Arthur, with whom he had made several early "talkies." M-G-M executive Louis B. Mayer eagerly granted RKO permission to use Powell, as he believed that the predicted success of the film would only help the star's drawing power. Contemporary reviewers noted the similarity between The Ex-Mrs. Bradford and M-G-M's The Thin Man and speculated about the chances that RKO's film would eclipse After the Thin Man, which was to be released later in the year, at the box office. Modern sources claim that the film was RKO's third most successful production of 1936. Stage actor Frank M. Thomas made his official screen debut in the production. Scenes for the film were shot at the Santa Anita Racetrack near Los Angeles, according to production files.