Personal Property (1937)

  • Directed by W.S. Van Dyke.
  • Reading the plot summary for this one, it’s clear to me that this is one of those films that completely disregards accents. I mean – come on. Robert Taylor is playing a Brit, and we know that never works out well. (It’s not that he has a really bad British accent – it’s that he doesn’t even try.) Did contemporary audiences really not care about this sort of thing? I’ve wondered this many times before.
  • Raymond (Robert Taylor) is part of a fairly wealthy family in the women’s hosiery business. He has an outstanding relationship with his mother (as Taylor’s characters often seem to – probably because the older actresses very much enjoyed hugging & kissing & adoring the hunk that was Taylor, as much as the script allowed. But – I digress) and a not-so-outstanding relationship with his father and stuffy brother Claude (who is the one running the family business at this point, it seems). Raymond has just been released from a 6-month jail sentence for re-selling a car he didn’t own (which is somewhat badass), and now Claude (Reginald Owen) and the father (E.E. Clive) are trying to pay him to relocate to Canada or Australia before Claude’s new fiancée Crystal (Jean Harlow) discovers she’s marrying into a family of criminals.
  • Personally, I think Claude ought to be hiding Raymond from JH so she doesn’t fall in love with him – because it’s obvious that’s where this story is going – but whatever. You worry about whatever you want to, Claude.
  • “Drinks are like lifts, Mr. Raymond. Whiskey sends you down into the cellar, and champagne, up to the roof.” — Frank the Waiter (Billy Bevan)
  • R. Tay romancing in an opera house, one year post-CAMILLE (1936). Nifty!
  • Oh – plot twist! JH (sorry – I mean Crystal) is broke! But Claude obviously doesn’t know this and really wants her money, so that should make everything very interesting, from here on out.
  • JH comments to Clara (her maid, played by Una O’Connor) (of course) how the man downstairs (R.Tay) – who she thinks is a genuine Sheriff’s officer monitoring her every move until she pays off her debts – could ruin her chances of ending up with Claude (and Claude’s money).

“Would you like me to poison him, madam?” says Clara, earnestly.

Ha!

  • Mr. Wetherby (Crystal’s late husband) apparently met his demise by being eaten by a tiger. How exotic!
  • “Well, I’ll tell you what we’ll do – you make the best of me, and I’ll make the best of you.” — R.Tay, to JH

I like that. A lot.

  • (Just fyi – JH’s lack of accent has just been explained by her meeting Mr. Wetherby on a boat from America to Europe. Just so no one thinks I’m complaining about R.Tay’s deficiencies, while ignoring JH’s.)
  • Exciting news – R.Tay is going to spend the evening buttling for JH’s dinner party. They have chosen the name Ferguson for him. Exquisite.
  • love the scene where Raymond & Crystal are rehearsing Ferguson’s greeting/announcing of the guests. (Harlow does impressions of several of the people coming, & it’s great to watch.)
  • Plot-wise, I love how Raymond’s parents walk into Crystal’s house, see that their son is acting as a butler named Ferguson, and just go with it. Seriously – after the initial shock, they’re just like, ‘Okay, whatever, I guess our son’s a fake butler now’ and go about their dinner party business like nothing about the situation is weird. It’s awesome.
  • A dinner party guest named Arthur (Barnett Parker) arrives, and he does not speak words that are understandable. Every time he speaks, he just speaks scoffing noises, and there is no way to tell what he is actually saying. Everyone except R.Tay can understand him & carry on normal conversations with him, it seems. Clearly, this is meant to be humorous – but I don’t really get the point of it. Who is this guy? He hasn’t been mentioned before & plays no significant role in the story…so why is he there? Suddenly, he’s there just to make scoffing noises, which he does for several scenes, and then he is gone, never to be mentioned again. What the hell.
  • Meanwhile, Ferguson manages to spill soup/sauce on his brother, and Claude loses it. Everyone jumps up from the table to intervene/clean up the mess, and then the camera shifts to Lord Carstairs (Lional Braham), in his goofy spectacles, who says, “DID SOMEONE SPILL SOMETHING?”

This is hilarious.

  • The dishwashing scene between R.Tay & Harlow is not near as great as the William Powell/Carole Lombard one in MY MAN GODFREY (1936). But I can see why the movie makers would like to try to replicate that sort of magic in a scene of similar content.
  • (Funny to have JH fall in love with a fake butler, following the plot of GODFREY, since she & William Powell were a real-life item at this time.)
  • Crystal & Raymond have a picnic on the upstairs floor of Crystal’s house in the dead of night. I very much like this idea, and intend to suggest this activity to someone of importance in the future.
  • Robert Taylor & Reginald Owen play their brotherly relationship superbly. I’m a fan.
  • Well, this was a largely unspectacular movie…but I liked it. The Jean Harlow + R.Tay combo was a fun one.
  • And – interesting ending note: this is apparently a remake of a movie starring Robert Montgomery & Irene Purcell (and C. Aubrey Smith & Alan Mowbray) called THE MAN IN POSSESSION (1931). Must keep an eye out for that one. As y’all know, I love me some Robert Montgomery.
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