TCM Pick for January: Pre-Code
It was a tough call, y’all. With Loretta Young featured in close to 20 pre-Codes on TCM this month, it was a no-brainer that my pick for January would be a Young vehicle – but which one? Do I go with a sentimental choice, like Employees’ Entrance, which I first purchased on VHS years ago? Or one that left me with my jaw on the floor, like She Had to Say Yes or Born to Be Bad? Or maybe a film that also features some of my favorites in the supporting cast, a la Joan Blondell and Ricardo Cortez in Big Business Girl? What to do, what to do!?!?
Finally, I chose the easy way out, and selected the film that I’ve seen the most often – Week-End Marriage. This film has a whole lot going for it and, in fact, offers something for everyone, with a first half that is filled with comic touches, and a second half that is pure melodrama and pathos. It airs on Thursday, January 23rd, in the wee hours of the morning, so set your VCRs! (Or whatever.)
Loretta Young stars as Lola Hayes, whose marriage teeters on the brink of destruction when her career fortunes rise while her husband’s plummet. With an overriding theme of women who try to “have it all,” the film focuses mainly on Lola, but also touches on the lives of her sister-in-law, Agnes (the always delightful Aline MacMahon), who has kept working after her marriage, and her friend, Connie (Sheila Terry), who is being forced by her brother to quit her job and marry “a greasy bootlegger.”
“I may be a lot of things, but I’m not going to be fed by any woman! And remember this – I had a break once too, a big break, with a big future, but I didn’t take it, did I? No, I gave it up like a fool, because I thought you wanted to get married and be a real wife, and stick with me. Well, it’s pretty clear now – you care more for your rotten job than you do for me. ” Ken Hayes (Norman Foster)
In response to her husband’s suggestion that they would manage better if she didn’t work, Agnes offers this gem: “Yes, I could spend all day taking care of the darned house for you – cooking your meals and washing your dishes and thinking how marvelous it’ll be when you get home at night. We couldn’t ever go anywhere because we couldn’t afford it. You’d know just where I was and just what I was doing all the time. We’d see so much of one another, we couldn’t possibly like each other. It would be indecent. Like not wearing any clothes.”
I love the scene where Lola’s sister-in-law, Agnes, orchestrates Lola’s attempt to get her boyfriend, Ken (Norman Foster) to turn down his pending two-year gig in South America and marry her. It’s all Agnes’s idea, and it begins when she answers the telephone and Ken is on the line. Without hesitation (or consulting Lola), Agnes tells him that Lola can’t come to the phone because she’s busy dressing for a date, and tells him he’d better hurry if he wants to see her before she leaves. (“She’s in love with that boy and there’s no reason she shouldn’t have him,” Agnes explains when her husband chastises her for fibbing.)
Agnes’s first plan of action is to get Lola to change out of her polka-dotted, plain-Jane dress into something, shall we say, more comfortable. When Lola balks, Agnes berates her into obedience: “I’m ashamed of you – mooning over a man. If you had one ounce of pride . . .” Next, Agnes sets the stage in the parlor, dimming the lights and putting suitable music on the phonograph. Then she goes into overdrive: “Listen darling,” she says, “if you knew just six sentences to say that would make him propose, would you say them? I’ll write them down and I’ll give you my personal guarantee that they’ll work.” Agnes jots down notes for Lola like she’s writing a play: “You’ll start to cry, and he’ll comfort you . . . and then you’ll say . . . and he’ll say . . .” Lola raises objections throughout (“I like him too well to trick him into anything . . . do you think anybody with any sense at all would fall for a deliberate trap like that?”), but when Ken arrives, she finds herself putting the plan into action – at one point reading straight from Agnes’s written directions. And before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Ken is following right along, as if he’d read the script too – not only asking Lola to marry him, but acquiescing when she insists on keeping her job: “The devil with South America – I’ll stay here . . . . you win.”
Watch for this continuity goof: When Lola calls Ken to tell him she won’t be home for dinner, Ken storms out of the apartment, leaving all the lights on and tossing his apron on the floor of the hallway. When Lola gets home late that night, the apron is on the floor on the inside of the apartment and the light in the kitchen is out – even though Ken never came back home.
Sheila Terry, who played Lola’s luckless pal, was a Minnesota native who studied acting at the Canadian branch of the Royal Academy of London. She had her biggest roles in 1934, in a couple of John Wayne’s early westerns – The Lawless Frontier and ‘Neath the Arizona Skies. She abruptly left Hollywood in 1938, and later became a press agent. Sadly, she committed suicide at the age of 46. She was broke at the time of her death and her body was not claimed, so she was buried at Hart’s Island – also known as Potter’s Field – in New York City.
Scene-stealing Aline MacMahon was nominated for an Academy Award in 1944 for playing the Chinese mother of Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed. She lost to Ethel Barrymore in None But the Lonely Heart. MacMahon’s husband, Jim, was played by Roscoe Karns, whose son, Todd, played Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1949).
Norman Foster’s career started on Broadway in 1926 and he appeared in about 43 films between 1929 and 1938 (including some great pre-Codes like Men Call It Love, Under 18, and Skyscraper Souls). In the late 1930s, he turned his sights behind the camera, honing his craft by directing numerous features in the Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan series, and also writing the screenplays for five of the Mr. Moto movies. Of the other features he directed, among the best known were Rachel and the Stranger and Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, both in 1948. He also directed numerous television shows, including episodes of Zorro, Batman, and both The Loretta Young Show and The New Loretta Young Show. Foster was married to actress Claudette Colbert from 1928 to 1935. Three years after the release of Week-End Marriage, Foster married Loretta Young’s sister, Sally Blane; the couple had two children and remained together until Foster’s death from cancer in 1976.
Be sure to tune for this pre-Code gem – it’s a wild ride with never a dull moment. You only owe it to yourself!