Saturday, July 1, 2017

Stubs - The Bride Came C.O.D.

The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941) Starring: James Cagney, Bette Davis, Stuart Ervin, Eugene Pallette, Jack Carson, George Tobias, William Frawley, Harry Davenport. Directed by William Keighley. Screenplay by M. M. Musselman, Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein. Produced by Hal Wallis. Run Time: 92 U.S.A. Screwball Comedy

If you think you’ve seen the story of The Bride Came C.O.D. before, you may have if you’ve seen It Happened One Night (1934), directed by Frank Capra. Like that film, Bride is about a rich girl’s wedding to a man she doesn’t really love being derailed by an everyman who wins her heart. In It Happened One Night, the heiress was originally supposed to be Bette Davis, but Jack Warner bawked at loaning out his star a second time after her appearance in RKO’s Of Human Bondage (1934). Things worked out well for the woman who replaced her, Claudette Colbert, who won that year’s Academy Award for Best Actress.

That slight might be one of the reasons Davis wanted to play the role of Joan Winfield. That role was originally offered to Olivia de Havilland, who lost out on the role when Davis became interested in playing the part. Davis badly wanted to take a break from the sort of dramatic roles and try her hand at comedy. Hal Wallis learned of her interest and, with his support, was cast in the role.

Cagney was also trying to change his image from gangsters to playing other roles as well, having earlier in the year starred in the romantic comedy The Strawberry Blonde (1941), opposite de Havilland. He was also eyeing going independent and insisted that his brother William, his future production partner, serve as Associate Producer. It was the Cagneys who brought in twin brothers/screenwriters Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein with the hopes they could punch up M. M. Musselman’s original screenplay. Musselman, more of a book writer, had only written one other screenplay, The Three Musketeers (1939).

The Epsteins were the writers behind The Strawberry Blonde, which no doubt was the attraction to the Cagneys. However, their most famous screenplay was still to come the next year with Casablanca (1942). The hope was that they could spice up the screenplay, but apparently, there were still unresolved issues when the film went into production in January 1941, including ten days on location in Death Valley. When Cagney complained about the heat of the location, which hit 100 degrees, to director William Keighley, he was told that they were lucky that it wasn’t summer, when temperatures routinely hit 130 degrees.

Production lasted until the end of February and the film was released on July 12, 1941. While the studio publicity department claimed this was the first pairing of Cagney and Davis, it wasn’t. The two had started together seven years earlier in Jimmy The Gent (1934), a comedy crime film.

Oil heiress Joan Winfield plans to marry bandleader Allen Brice (Jack Carson). Gossip
columnist Tommy Keenan (Stuart Erwin) offers to help them eloop.

The film opens with radio gossip broadcaster Tommy Keenan (Stuart Erwin) urging oil heiress Joan Winfield (Bette Davis) and band leader Allen Brice (Jack Carson) to elope to Las Vegas. To make it happen, Keenan charters an airplane from pilot Steve Collins (James Cagney), who runs a one-plane airline with the help of  Peewee Dafoe (George Tobias). Business is so slow that Steve is about to lose the plane to repossession by the finance company.

Even though Steve is a bit of ladies’ man, he likes to pretend that he’s married with two children so he can stay unattached long enough to buy a fleet of planes. Seeing the money-making possibilities of the situation, Steve then offers to sell his services to Joan’s father, Lucius K. Winfield (Eugene Pallette), who is none too anxious for his daughter to marry a bandleader. Steve promises to deliver his daughter unwed to Winfield at Amarillo, Texas, as far as he can fly his plane on one tank of gas. The price, $10 for every pound Joan weighs, 110 pounds, is enough to pay off his debt on the plane.

Steve Collins (James Cagney) is hired to fly the couple to Las Vegas.

When Keenan, Joan and Brice arrive at the airport, Peewee helps uses the ruse of a phone call in the office to get Keenan and Brice off the plane. Once they’re in the plane alone, Steve informs Joan that she is being kidnapped. She offers to pay Steve twice the ransom he is asking if he will take her back to Los Angeles. But Steve refuses and continues to fly to Amarillo.

Peewee (George Tobias) helps Steve with a ruse, allowing him to fly off with Joan alone.

But Joan is not going to go along quietly. In flight, she puts on a parachute and tries to jump out, but Steve thwarts here by banking the plane sharply. But that process causes the plane to malfunction and Steve has to land it in the middle of the desert. When Joan jumps out of the plane, she lands on a cactus bed and Steve has to remove the quills from her behind one at a time.

Steve has to pull cactus quills from Joan's rear end.

While Joan frets, Steve gathers up a couple of blankets and makes up a bed for each of them to sleep for the night. Joan wants him to sleep away from her until she hears the howl of a wolf, which turns out to be Steve, causing her to sleep right up next to him.

The howl of a wolf makes Joan sleep next to Steve for safety.

The next morning, they see a town out in the distance. Thinking that it is a thriving place, they wander off towards it. However, the town, called Bonanza, is really a deserted mining town. There turns out to be only one resident, "Pop" Tolliver (Harry Davenport). He runs the only hotel and is waiting for them to arrive and even prepares breakfast for them.

The next morning, they spy an abandoned town called Bonanza.

Briefly, Pop locks Steve up in what’s left of the town’s jail, believing Joan’s story that he had kidnapped her. He even tries to get his old car to run so that he can drive her to the next town, but to Steve’s delight, the old car pretty much disintegrates on them. Later, Pop changes his mind about Steve.

 "Pop" Tolliver (Harry Davenport) is the only resident of Bonanza.

Oil heiresses don’t disappear without someone looking for her, and there are search planes in the sky. Joan manages to signal one of them, leading to her fiancĂ©e and her father to separately fly to retrieve her.

Unaware that anyone is coming for them, Steve locks Joan in what’s left of the town’s jail, at Pop’s advice, so he can fix the plane. But Joan escapes and heads into one of the abandoned mine shafts. Steve goes after her, but she causes a cave-in that traps both of them. While Steve goes off to try to find an escape route, Joan is left alone. Believing that she is going to die, Joan re-examines her life with regret.

Steve and Joan find themselves trapped in a cave in the old mine.

Meanwhile, Steve follows the shaft, which leads him into Pop’s underground storage locker under the hotel’s kitchen. Pop convinces Steve to leave Joan in the mine until her father arrives. Steve goes back into the mine and confesses to Joan that not only is he not married, but he is in love with her. But when he kisses her, Joan can taste food on his lips and realizes he’s been out of the mine. She makes him take her out and when they emerge, they find that Brice has arrived along with a Judge Sobler (Harry Holman), a Nevada judge, along with several reporters. Also on the scene is Lucius and L.A. County Sheriff McGee (William Frawley), who is there to confiscate the plane and arrest Steve.

Judge Sobler (Harry Holman) marries Brice and Joan while Steve looks on.

Steve tries unsuccessfully to fight Brice for Joan’s hand, but he is out-muscled. When Pop tells him that Bonanza is located in California, Steve encourages them to get married right away before Lucius arrives, knowing that it won’t be legal. Later, Pop also tells McGee that Bonanza is in Nevada, playing fast and loose to help Steve out.

Not knowing they aren’t really married, Joan flies off with Brice to Los Angeles. But as soon as she realizes that they aren’t legally married, Joan parachutes out of the plane. She lands on a cactus and her anguished screams bring Steve and Lucius running. Later, Steve and Joan, now married, spend their honeymoon in Bonanza with Lucius and Pop.

The film received sort of lukewarm reviews. The New York Times review: “As we were intimating, 'The Bride Came C. O. D.' is neither the funniest comedy in history nor the shortest distance between two points. But for the most part it is a serviceable romp in which Mr. Cagney, as usual, gives better than he takes, George Tobias steals a scene or two and Miss Davis can learn her comic ABC's. Next time we hope she'll relax a little and not take her fun quite so strenuously. Meanwhile, we'll pay the charges.” Bette Davis herself would later sarcastically say that the film “was called a comedy." She would later complain that all she got out of the film was “a derriere full of cactus quills."

The Bride Came C.O.D. is at its heart a routine film. It is only memorable because of the acting, not just from its stars, but also by the supporting cast. George Tobias, whose work is done rather early, is very good in a minor role. Jack Carson, who plays bandleader Allen Brice, is, as usual, good in his role as well. They are joined by other character actors, like Eugene Pallette, Harry Holman and William Frawley. The latter would later find lasting fame as Fred Mertz on the seminal TV comedy “I Love Lucy.”

One of the reasons to see The Bride Came C.O.D. is to see Cagney and Davis work together.

But the stars of the film is what would have brought the audience into the theaters. While on their own, Cagney and Davis are both engaging actors, it’s too bad that together they are not more than the sum of their parts. There is some chemistry, but they don’t light up the screen as a couple. They’re good, but not great in these roles. While the interest is there, to see them work together, it is a double-edged sword. The pairing isn’t as magical as Warners would have wanted, but it is the pairing that makes the film worth watching.

The Bride Came C.O.D. is at best, to quote the NY Times, “serviceable,” but it pales in comparison to It Happened One Night, the film it most closely resembles. So the choice is, if you want to see a classic, watch It Happened One Night, but if you’re a fan of either Cagney’s or Davis’ then watch The Bride Came C.O.D. It’s not as good, but who doesn’t need a little serviceable comedy in their lives?

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