Pre-Code Crazy: Hold Your Man (1933)

I’ll admit it. Hold Your Man (1933) isn’t my favorite pre-Code. It starts off great, but it kinda goes off the rails toward the end. Still, there’s something about it that I absolutely love. In fact, there’s lots about it that I love.

The film stars Clark Gable as Eddie, a small-time con man, and Jean Harlow as his hard-boiled lady love, Ruby. The two are mad about each other, but they actually spend a significant amount of the movie apart, what with Ruby being in the slammer and Eddie being on the lam. But more about that later.

What’s it all about?

Hold Your Man starts out with a bang, with a classic “meet cute” between Eddie and Ruby. On the run from the cops after fleecing a local yokel for 30 bucks, Eddie ducks into a nearby apartment house and opens the first unlocked door he finds. Inside, he encounters Ruby, who’s none too pleased to find a stranger in her apartment. Still, when the police arrive a short time later, Ruby covers for her unwelcome visitor, pretending that he’s her husband. And after Eddie uses Ruby’s bathtub as a hiding place, she even agrees to dry his wet pants (ingeniously putting them in the oven). Ruby’s no pushover, though – when Eddie flees out of a window while her back is turned, Ruby is disappointed, but her first reaction transforms into relief when she realizes that her piggy bank is safe.

To the moon, Gypsy!

Our hero and heroine next encounter each other at a local nightclub, where Ruby is out with her sometime-boyfriend, the ever-devoted Al (Stuart Erwin). But once she spies Eddie, Ruby drops Al faster than a hot potato and meets Eddie at his apartment. And let’s just say she’s still there in the morning, if you know what I mean. While Ruby’s there, Eddie gets a visit from a former flame, Gypsy (Dorothy Burgess), who’s less than thrilled to find Ruby there, and slaps her face. Without blinking an eye, Ruby delivers a cool left hook, effectively putting a halt to any further plans by Gypsy to engage in fisticuffs.

Ruby ends up sentenced to two years in a reformatory (why, I’m not quite sure) after Eddie punches – and accidentally kills – a would-be victim of one of Eddie’s cons. (Eddie conveniently disappears when the cops show up.) Shortly after her arrival, she learns, to her disgust, that one of her roommates is Gypsy. Yup – the same one Ruby punched during their first encounter. And it doesn’t take long for history to repeat itself. Apparently Gypsy has a short memory. Once again, she serves up a slap, and once again gets clocked by Ruby’s well-placed punch.

Interestingly, despite all the punching and slapping and whatnot, Gypsy turns out to be – as she terms it – “on the level.” When she learns that Ruby is pregnant with Eddie’s child, Gypsy’s first reaction is to laugh with malicious glee, but later, after she gets sprung from the big house, she changes her tune. When she meets up with Eddie, Gypsy not only learns that he’s simply nuts about Ruby, but also that Ruby was the one who sent her money at Christmastime that she’d thought was from Eddie. Talk about an about-face!

Oh, brother!

It’s around this time that the movie gets a little wacky. (Don’t get me wrong – I still love every minute, but it’s kinda nutty nonetheless.) After learning that Ruby is expecting his baby, Eddie risks his safety by pretending he’s the brother of one of Ruby’s roommates and sneaking into the reformatory. Finding one of the inmates (Theresa Harris) and her preacher-father praying in the chapel, Eddie interrupts them and begs the minister to marry him and Ruby. (“I never had any father. I was brought up in the gutter. Maybe that’s what started me off wrong,” Eddie says with so much tearful emotion it’ll make your teeth hurt. “Don’t ya see? I wanna give my kid a chance.”) Ruby’s closest pals conspire to hide Eddie and the minister, spring Ruby from solitary confinement, and get these crazy kids together so they can leap together into the land of matrimony before Eddie gets carted off to the hoosegow. It’s all very melodramatic, and by the end, if you’re like me, you’ll be rolling your eyes and going, “Oh, brother!,” but who cares? I still love it!

Other stuff:

The film’s theme song, Hold Your Man, sung (or, really, spoken) in the film by Jean Harlow, was written by the team of Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. The two also wrote such hits as “All I Do is Dream of You” (featured in 1934’s Sadie McKee), “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “You Were Meant for Me.” Freed also produced some of Hollywood’s top musicals, including The Harvey Girls (1946), On the Town (1949), An American in Paris (1951), and Gigi (1958).

Gowns by Adrian.

Harlow’s pre-prison wardrobe featured two eye-popping numbers designed by Adrian, MGM’s famed costume designer (and, incidentally, the husband of actress Janet Gaynor).

Hold Your Man was the third of six films starring Gable and Harlow. The others were The Secret Six (1931), Red Dust (1932), China Seas (1935), Wife vs. Secretary (1936), and Saratoga (1937). Tragically, Harlow died at the age of 26 during the filming of Saratoga. Her remaining scenes were shot with her double, Mary Dees, filmed from behind, with another actress, Paula Winslowe, speaking Harlow’s lines.

Playing a nightclub washroom attendant, Louise Beavers makes what amounts to a cameo, speaking fewer than 20 words.

The working titles for the film were He Was Her Man, Black Orange Blossoms, and Nora. (If you can figure out the meaning of the last two, you’re better than I am.)

One more thing. (Or two.)

Just wanted to share my two favorite quotes from the film, both spoken by Jean Harlow:

“I got two rules I always stick to when I’m out visiting. Keep away from couches and stay on your feet.”

“You know, you wouldn’t be a bad lookin’ dame – if it wasn’t for your face.” (Burn!)

Don’t miss Hold Your Man, airing May 16th (technically the wee morning hours of May 17th) on TCM. You won’t be sorry. I promise!


Be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to read all about the pre-Code gem that Kristina is recommending for the month!

~ by shadowsandsatin on May 11, 2017.

4 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: Hold Your Man (1933)”

  1. I love your reviews! I haven’t seen this one, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m tackling the Crawford/Gable movies right now and having fun with them. This one sounds like a hoot!

  2. Wow! I remember watching this one Sunday and wondering if I had missed the end credits of the first movie and the beginning to another. Nonetheless, I think it is mainly due to Jean, you really get caught up in everything and must see it through to the (please let it be) happy ending.

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