Thursday, April 20, 2017

Three Loves Has Nancy (1938)

My film choice for the Franchot Tone Blogathon is the 1938 comedy Three Loves Has Nancy. It's not the best film Franchot ever made. It's not the best performance he ever gave. He doesn't even receive first lead in it.  But it’s a good one and a sentimental favorite of mine and the film that transformed me into a viewer who thought "Oh, Franchot Tone, yeah, I've probably seen him in a few films" to "Who is this Franchot Tone? I must know everything about him and watch everything he's ever done and then blog about it!"

Three Loves Has Nancy stars Robert Montgomery, Janet Gaynor, Franchot, Guy Kibbee, Claire Dodd, Reginald Owen, and Charley Grapewin. Director Robert Thorpe had previously directed two 1937 films featuring Franchot: Man-Proof and Love is a Headache.

Malcolm (Robert Montgomery) is a best-selling author who embarks on a book tour in order to escape the clutches of his girlfriend Vivian (Claire Dodd). Robert (Franchot Tone) is Malcolm's frequently drunken publisher and next-door neighbor who suggests the idea of a tour after watching Malcolm's previous break-up attempts fail to materialize. Waiting in line at one of Malcolm’s rural stops is fresh-faced, innocent, country bumpkin Nancy (Janet Gaynor). When Nancy informs him that it happens to be her wedding day as he’s signing the book, Malcolm thinks (and we hear Montgomery’s voiceover) that Nancy is a devoted fan whose life is so pathetic she will treasure this signed book her entire life. He quickly finds out differently. Nancy gives him a piece of her mind and one thing you’ll discover about this film is that Nancy always seems to be giving someone a piece of her mind. Sheltered? Yes. Shy? No, sir. Nancy confesses that she has no use for the book, doesn’t own the copy he’s signing, has never read it, has never heard of him, and wouldn’t spend a penny on it. Then off Nancy goes to marry George as Malcolm receives word from Robert that his unwanted girlfriend Vivian is preoccupied and it’s safe to return home.
Malcolm is surprised to see a jilted Nancy in the train’s dining car and offended when she doesn’t instantly recognize him and also, when she laughs as passengers assume they are married. Nancy talks nonstop as a bewildered Malcolm looks on. After a purse mishap (a running gag throughout the film), Malcolm and Nancy, there to search for her runaway groom George, end up at a party in his NYC apartment. Nancy decides Malcolm needs home-cooked meals and stays on at his apartment until she finds George. Although her constant meddling frustrates him to no end, Malcolm agrees to the arrangement to keep Vivian away and because he believes Nancy will prove to be good fodder for a new book.
Franchot Tone and Janet Gaynor in Three Loves Has Nancy. Source: original from my collection

As the playful, mostly inebriated publisher-next-door, Franchot’s character Robert provides a lot of laughs. Actually, what’s great about this film is that everyone provides a lot of laughs. There’s not one actor carrying the film’s funny scenes. All three headliners are equally funny in their roles and work very well as a trio. Enjoying the three-square meals a day that Nancy provides, Robert rivals Malcolm for her attention. He starts to fall for Nancy and the steadiness her presence gives his life. Still, Robert has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. In this role, Franchot gets to do a lot of physical comedy (like sleepwalking and trying to catch an imaginary eagle) and as Malcolm’s sarcastic, witty friend, utters lines like, “You know it’s funny. I drink and you’re drunk.”
Three Loves Has Nancy is overflowing with witty one-liners from all of its characters. Malcolm’s rejected girlfriend says at the party, “I had a lovely evening. This wasn’t it.” It’s just an enjoyable comedy all around. When Malcolm takes her to an upscale restaurant, a safety-conscious Nancy puts out the fire that’s grilling the evening’s meal. She publishes a newspaper ad for George and is surprised when scores of men show up at the apartment. Of course, Nancy’s solution is not to turn them away but to feed them all, to which Franchot names her the “Florence Nightingale of the Skillet.”
A favorite scene of mine is when butler William quits after Nancy calls him dishonest. Speaking of this character assassination to his employer Malcolm, you begin to notice all that William is wearing…layers of Malcolm’s clothing which William claims he was taking as “souvenirs.”
It’s clear to the audience that Malcolm is slowly falling for Nancy’s homespun charms, but he is slow to realize the fact himself. Sober since her arrival, Robert proposes immediately, calling Nancy the “first genuine person who’s ever come into my life.”  It takes the jealousy he feels about Robert’s proposal to make Malcolm question his own feelings about Nancy.
Hilarity ensues! Nancy’s backwoods family shows up (with unbeatable performances by Guy Kibbee and Charley Grapewin), Robert’s snooty wealthy parents appear, a psychologist called Pieface throws his expertise in, and then runaway groom George surfaces. You will not be disappointed. The final scenes are laugh-out-loud funny and fitting to the rest of the film.

Franchot and Janet in Three Loves Has Nancy. Source: original photo from my collection.
Now comes a very personal story explaining my particular attachment to the film. Years ago, I first discovered Three Loves Has Nancy on the TCM app on my iPad. I was very ill and struggling to come to terms with a recent diagnosis of Lupus. Especially in those early days when none of my treatment plans were successful, I was bed-ridden a lot of the time. I’d like to go ahead and say here that in the years since, I have found medications that are working for me, keeping me stabilized, and, although I still require a good amount of bedrest when I’m not working, I’m feeling much stronger these days and living a full, happy life! But that particular night years ago, I was truly struggling physically and emotionally. I needed a light comedy to make me laugh and take my mind off myself.

I chose Three Loves Has Nancy because it starred Janet Gaynor, whom I’ve always liked. I watched the movie once, chuckling throughout, and completely forgetting everything else. And although I believe that all three stars are equally matched in it, it was Franchot Tone who grabbed my attention from the very beginning. I remember just being mesmerized by his manner of speaking and rich voice, his physical presence (the cocked eyebrow, slow grin, and comedic movements), and his entire delivery. I was waiting for his scenes and wishing he’d had more. This was not the first time I saw Franchot. I realized later, while frantically scouring the internet for information about him, that I’d watched him in Jean Harlow movies and Joan Crawford movies and Honeymoon with Shirley Temple. But I never actually saw him.  He was there all the time, but for some reason, my eyes were not focused on him until the night I watched Three Loves Has Nancy. After watching it and then researching the film and Mr. Tone for a long while after, I was thinking of all the great lines and cute moments and ended up re-watching the film from start to finish immediately.

Three Loves Has Nancy will always have a special place in my heart. It provided the perfect escape for me on a night when I desperately needed the smiles and laughter it contains. It is the film that forced me to take another look at Franchot Tone. I’ve been madly researching and watching him since that viewing. I would come to find that as much as I loved Three Loves Has Nancy, it was just a hint of what Franchot could do. There were tons of sensitive and nuanced performances waiting for me in Franchot’s film and television work. Three Loves Has Nancy started it all—my appreciation of an under-appreciated actor, my fascination with his life, and my need to dedicate a permanent online space for him.

I hope you enjoy the Franchot Tone Blogathon this weekend!

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