Cast & Crew
Regi Allen, a New York manicurist who was reared in poverty, is determined to marry a wealthy man. She becomes the favorite manicurist of Savoy-Carleton Hotel client Allen Macklyn, a former aviator now confined to a wheelchair because of a flying accident. Regi soon becomes the only bright spot in Allen's life, but he never tells her that he has fallen in love with her. Meanwhile, Regi meets Theodore Drew III, the nutty scion of a wealthy family that lost all their money in the 1929 stockmarket crash. Ted and Regi go out on a date and he becomes drunk, and she does not learn until later that evening that he is engaged to marry Vivian Snowden, the daughter of the "pineapple king." Unable to awaken Ted from his drunken stupor, Regi allows him to sleep on her couch that night, but finds him still there when she returns home after work the next day. Ted has missed a boat sailing for Bermuda, on which his future father-in-law had bought him a berth to keep him out of the way until the wedding. Regi allows him to stay with her, because he has no money, and they slowly fall in love, despite the fact that both are determined to marry for money. To maintain his good favor with his fiancée, Ted calls Vivian, while Regi pretends to be a Bermuda telephone operator. She interrupts so many times that she and Ted have to hang up because they are laughing so hard. When Vivian tries to get the Bermuda operator back, she finds out that the call was from New York. Finally, Ted and Regi have their last night together and, although they both admit they are in love, Regi insists that unless Ted marries for money, he will hate her within six months. After having private detectives determine the identity of Ted's girl friend, Vivian books a room at the Savoy-Carleton Hotel, and asks to see Regi. Unimpressed with her, Vivian decides to take Ted back. He, however, finally realizes how much he loves Regi when he decides he would be willing to get a job and marry her, rather than live in luxury with Vivian. Vivian releases him from their engagement, and he rushes to Allen's apartment, where Regi has just been sobbing. Allen leaves to allow Regi and Ted to talk, even though he had bought an engagement ring and was planning to propose to Regi. He is happy for her, however, and she and Ted make up and decide to marry that day. On the top of a doubledecker bus, they toss a coin to see if they will first eat lunch or marry. Ted flippantly remarks that if the coin lands on edge, he will get a job. The coin falls off the bus entirely, so they stop the bus and run through traffic to retrieve it. The coin has landed on its edge, and they kiss, oblivious to the traffic jamming up behind them.
Joseph R. Tozer
Edward Peil Sr.
Chauncey M. Drake
S. H. Young
Fred "snowflake" Toones
Whitey The Cat
A. E. Freudeman
E. Lloyd Sheldon
Hands Across the Table
Lombard plays Regi Allen, a beautiful manicurist who doesn't believe in romance, and has decided that she'll simply marry the richest man she can land. Regi soon wins the admiration of a wealthy, wheelchair-bound customer named Allen Macklyn (Ralph Bellamy). But Regi also makes a move for Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray), a playboy who convinces Regi he's rich by spending money on her that was given to him by his fiancée, Vivian (Astrid Allwyn). After a drunken night with Drew, Regi has to come to terms with the fact that her new marriage prospect isn't really loaded...and isn't even available for marriage. From there, it a slow re-warming process that's occasionally interrupted by heavy bouts of cynicism from both Regi and Drew.
Lombard played an active role in Hands Across the Table from the very beginning. She was even allowed to pick her own leading man, although her original choice, Cary Grant, had been temporarily loaned out to RKO and wasn't available. Later, when someone at the studio suggested MacMurray, Lombard already knew who he was because he used to play saxophone in various dance clubs around town! His chops as a comic actor, however, were far less developed. In David Chierichetti's book, Hollywood Director, Leisen speaks extensively about his approach to comedy, and Hands Across the Table in particular. "Light comedy is a state of mind," he says. "You can't really direct it, the actors just have to feel it." He says that MacMurray was too shy a performer at this point in his career to really play a scene instinctively.
Lombard, Leisen recalls, "worked as hard as I did to get that performance out of (MacMurray). She had none of what you might call 'the star temperament'. She felt that all the others had to be good or it wouldn't matter how good she was. She got right in there and pitched." At one point, Lombard even sat on MacMurray's chest, pounding on him and yelling, "Now Uncle Fred, you be funny or I'll pluck your eyebrows out!" (Given Lombard's well-known fondness for profanity, the actual quote was probably a lot more colorful than that.)
Lombard also had trouble throwing off big-screen sparks when MacMurray was involved. "The main problem with Fred in those says," Leisen said, "was that he didn't project much sex, aside from being very good looking. In the scene where he says 'Aren't you going to kiss me good-night?' Carol was supposed to walk in and kiss him, then walk out of the frame. Well, she came out past the camera, just looked at me and shrugged her shoulders, as if to say, 'So what?' Poor Fred!"
All appearances to the contrary, Lombard and MacMurray really did like each other, and credit has to be given to Leisen for managing to get that warmth into the film. He remembered shooting a scene in which Lombard pretended to be a telephone operator who constantly interrupts a call with the phrase, "Bermuda calling, Bermuda calling.": "When they finished the take, Carole and Fred collapsed on the floor in laughter; they laughed until they couldn't laugh any more. It wasn't in the script, but I made sure the cameras kept turning and I used it in the picture. It is so hard to make actors laugh naturally - I wasn't about to throw that bit out."
Happily, audiences as well as critics responded to Leisen's gift for revealing true emotion within an otherwise jokey context. In a remarkably perceptive review of Hands Across the Table which appeared in The New Republic (November 11, 1935), critic Otis Ferguson wrote that "the trouble and the danger with light comedy as a rule is that it is self-conscious over its lack of weight and either leaves reality altogether in an attempt to be capricious and unexpected about everything, or fastens on each excuse for feeling with a hollow and forced semblance of deep emotion. That Hands Across the Table keeps the delicate and hard balance between these two courses of procedure is partly the work of direction, cutting, dialogue writing; but considerably the work of Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray."
Given how much energy she put into MacMurray's performance, Lombard could have considered that a double compliment.
Producer: E. Lloyd Sheldon
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Screenplay: Norman Krasna, Vincent Lawrence, Herbert Fields (based on the story Bracelets by Vina Delmar)
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Editing: William Shea
Costume Design: Travis Banton
Cast: Carole Lombard (Regi Allen), Fred MacMurray (Theodore Drew III), Ralph Bellamy (Allen Macklyn), Astrid Allwyn (Vivian Snowden), Ruth Donnelly (Laura), Marie Prevost (Nona), Joseph R. Tozer (Peter), William Demarest (Matty), Edward Gargan (Pinky Kelly), Ferdinand Munier (Miles), Harold Minjir (Couturier).
by Paul Tatara
Hands Across the Table
Hands Across the Table - HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE - Featured in the DVD Set "Carole Lombard: The Glamour Collection"
I'm no exception. The two-disc Carole Lombard: The Glamour Collection includes six Lombard Paramount comedies from the 1930s I'd never seen before. Director Mitchell Leisen's Hands Across the Table, from 1935, shows that there's good Lombard to be found beyond the four famous pictures in her body of work. Hands Across the Table is not a classic. It's just a charming, three-star romantic comedy. Made a year after Lombard's breakthrough role in the proto-screwball comedy Twentieth Century, Hands Across the Table takes advantage of the actress' ability to be both glamorous and the girl next door.
Regi Allen, her Hands Across the Table character, fits that bill. Although she's attractive, this isn't her defining quality. Graceful Lombard is earthy enough that we have no trouble accepting Regi as a young woman who rides the subway every day, toils at a job she barely tolerates and hopes to marry a rich man who will take her away from this workaday world. As a manicurist at a posh hotel (hence the title), Regi often brushes up against wealth, but she hasn't found a way to grab some for herself yet.
She gets her chance in Hands Across the Table. Much of the movie's early action involves Regi meeting Allen Macklyn (Ralph Bellamy), a wheelchair-bound ex-flyer staying at her hotel whose life becomes brightened by the frequent, often unnecessary manicures he schedules with her. The two become fast friends with Regi freely sharing her strategy of marrying a rich man with him, as well as news of her dates with other men.
One of these men is Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray), a flake Regi initially dismisses until she finds out he's rich and available. She lets him take her out on the town and the two have a great time getting stewed together, until he tells her he has to go out of town at dawn and he's to be married in a week. But when he passes out in their taxi and she doesn't know where he's leaving for and how he's getting there, she has no choice but to drag him into her apartment with the help of the cab driver. The next day he confesses he's rich in name only, and since his family fortune is gone he's planning on marrying an heiress for her money. "We're exactly alike," Regi says, and reluctantly allows him to be her boarder for a week.
Although each realizes their mutual attraction, they promise to hold firm to the goal of marrying into money. A comic highlight here is the phone call the pair fake to Ted's fiancée (Astrid Allwyn), with Regi pretending to be the Bermuda operator (that's where he was supposed to have gone and his fiancée thinks he is). Their shared laughs bamboozling the fiancée bond Regi and Ted, but the comedy in Hands Across the Table never gets physical or hectic enough to be a screwball comedy in which outrageousness bonds the lovers. It's also a stretch to see MacMurray in a sometimes kooky, Cary Grant sort of role. That, of course, is due more to MacMurray's domesticated persona later in his career (thanks to TV's My Three Sons and his frequent Disney movies). Audiences in the 1930s would have had no problem accepting him in the role (Hands Across the Table is one of three movies in the Lombard DVD set in which he stars opposite her).
Speaking of My Three Sons, Hands Across the Table pairs MacMurray and future TV co-star William Demarest in a brief scene. Demarest was two years away from finding the writer (and later director) who made the best use of his crusty personality and flair for pratfalls, Preston Sturges (though he takes a good tumble here). Leisen directed that movie, 1937's Easy Living, while MacMurray starred in Leisen's other film from a Sturges script, Remember the Night (both are among Leisen's best). Also of note in the cast of Hands Across the Table is one-time silent-film star Marie Prevost, who, in one of her last roles, plays Regi's dowdier best friend and co-worker (a comic relief role Patsy Kelly might have played). Prevost's bizarre 1937 demise was later chronicled in Nick Lowe's memorable black-comic song, "Marie Provost" (sic).
Hands Across the Table works itself to a climax in which Regi and Ted must individually make a choice between love and money. Bellamy's Allen also has designs on Regi, though he's not as outspoken about them as Ted (and anyone who's seen a few 1930s-1940s Ralph Bellamy movies can handicap his odds here). As important as the romantic union the climax forges is the Depression-era, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps work ethic the movie ultimately embraces. Like a lot of 1930s movies, Hands Across the Table embraces a brand of populism that feels part-genuine, part-propagandizing. But it's put across by writers Norman Krasna (Bachelor Mother), Vincent Lawrence (Peter Ibbetson) and Herbert Fields (People Will Talk) with 1930s Paramount's typical light touch and wit.
For more information about Hands Across the Table, visit Universal Studios Home Entertainment. To order Hands Across the Table (available only as part of a set), go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Sherman
Hands Across the Table - HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE - Featured in the DVD Set "Carole Lombard: The Glamour Collection"
Well, I'm not *that* unconventional.- Regi
Aw, don't be old-fashioned. What are conventions anyway? Just a bunch of salesmen sitting around and telling stories.- Ted
It was lovely of you, but taking taxis when you haven't any money is a little foolish, isn't it?- Regi
Foolish? Why, I had to take a taxi. I couldn't go out in this pouring rain and get my only suit all wet, could I?- Ted
Where's your overcoat?- Regi
Ohhh, spending a little time in the pawnshop...- Ted
Well, why did you pawn your overcoat?- Regi
Why, to pay for the taxi, of course. Dope!- Ted
We're exactly alike.- Regi
No, ha ha, oh no, your hair is much--- Ted
We are! We're both trying to do the same thing: marry for money.- Regi
Is that what you want to do?- Ted
Oh, father's living abroad. He has an amazing ability for borrowing money from practically total strangers. Unfortunately, that ability isn't hereditary.- Ted Drew
How could the Drews be broke?- Regi
Well, do you remember that thing called the Crash?- Ted
Well, that was us.- Ted
Yeah, and maybe here's that ten million dollars you've been dreaming about.- Laura
The way I feel today, I'd settle for a million.- Regi
You must have a lot of friends that could give you a job.- Regi
That'd be a fine friend who'd give you a job. No friend of mine had better try anything like that on me.- Ted
The plot synopsis in the pressbook ends with the coin landing "heads up," indicating that Ted and Regi will marry first. A pre-release article in Hollywood Reporter notes that Viña Delmar originally optioned her story under the title "Hands Across the Table" to Samuel Goldwyn, who intended it as a Miriam Hopkins vehicle, however, he allowed his option to lapse. When she sold it to Paramount, she changed the name to Bracelets, the film's early working title. A Daily Variety news item notes that Gary Cooper was originally intended for the lead, however, was unable to take the part due to his commitment to Paramount's Peter Ibbetson. Modern sources frequently cite this film as Carole Lombard's first "screwball" comedy, and that it was overseen by Ernst Lubitsch, managing director of production at Paramount at the time. Hollywood Reporter production charts include Russell Hopton in the cast. Jack Kirkland was given screenplay credits in early publicity records. The cat Whitie, was owned by Henry East and trained by Rudd Weatherwax. Modern sources note that dress fittings included Edith Head; that Lombard was originally to be given sole star billing, but MacMurray was given co-star status; and that Ray Milland was originally intended for the part of Ted.