Film Reviews

Men are Such Fools (1938)

I hadn’t actually planned on watching this movie–though it is directed by Busby Berkeley, it’s not actually a musical, so it didn’t cross on my radar while I was plotting this month’s Rare Musicals post. TCM had given us the gift of a whole day of rare Berkeleys, so while I was flipping through my selections, I saw this one and, based on title alone, knew I had to watch it.

The film originated from a story by Faith Baldwin that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, which invokes exactly the type of wholesome schmaltz we see in the resulting cinematic version. Baldwin specialized in tales of working women torn between family and career, and that is certainly on display here as well.

Men Are Such Fools follows the trials of Linda Lawrence (Priscilla Lane), an ambitious young secretary at an advertising firm with aspirations of becoming a copywriter who could earn an incredible salary of $10,000 per year. She comes up with a great idea for one of their current clients and earns the promotion for herself, based on her own talent–a kind of 1938 precursor to Mad Men. Along the way, she picks up a husband, Jimmy Hall (Wayne Morris) and a bevy of admirers, including the main romantic rival, Harry Galleon, played by a soft, smiling Humphrey Bogart.

It’s a snappy kind of screwball comedy, full of one-liners and comebacks, and risqué allusions to that which could not be shown on screen. “Don’t you know weekends were made for getting drunk, fighting, and making love to your girl?” asks Jimmy at one point early on, and the line is echoed later towards the end of the film. “What did you say weekends were for? Drinking, fighting, and, umm…” suggests Linda, coyly. “Making love to your girl?” responds Jimmy, not at all coyly. This prompts Linda to laugh gently, shake her head, and eponymously proclaim: “Men are such fools!”

For how simple the story is, the character motivations did get a bit confusing at times for me. We first see Jimmy pestering Linda, proclaiming his love to her in the office elevator, but she seems entirely uninterested and, quite frankly, annoyed by him. “Be patient,” he implores. “I can grow on  you!” “So can barnacles,” she snaps back. He then intrudes on a pitch meeting with her boss, and in the course of that meeting–really, within the course of a few minutes–they fall in love and kiss on a dance floor, clinging to each other in a surprisingly tender, conspiratorial embrace.

There were also a few moments that struck this modern viewer as very strange, and perhaps not the best precursor to a supposedly idyllic romance: Linda initially agrees to marry Jimmy only because he has parked them on the tracks in front of a rapidly approaching train, refusing to move the car until she relents; later, Linda moves up their wedding date because a jealous Jimmy sees her talking to another man and responds by repeatedly dunking and holding her underwater in a pool as she gasps for air. It’s funny how even something as a simple as a romantic comedy can feel dated, just in seeing how the audience is supposed to be reacting to these situations–presumably, we are not meant to be witnessing the early stages of an abusive relationship, but instead to be thinking, “Oh, what a pair of wild and crazy kids!”

Overall, it’s enjoyable enough, even if it doesn’t have the same sparkle and sheen of Berkeley’s musicals. I always find it interesting to watch these older films that aren’t considered “classics,” beyond the overarching use of that term as a simple designation of time period. These are the simple popcorn flicks that we see a ton of today, that might not necessarily leave a mark on us now either, just as these pictures didn’t seem to entirely capture their audiences at the time. But they’re often designed to, most basically, provide entertainment for the length of their run time, and typically… they do just that. And I now kind of wish I had taped the other Berkeley non-musicals that aired this day, because it’s fascinating to see something different from someone who is so well-known for doing one thing so well.

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