Saturday, March 17, 2018

She Knew All the Answers (1941)

She Knew All the Answers is a lighthearted romantic comedy starring Franchot Tone and Joan Bennett. Released in 1941, the film is directed by Richard Wallace, who would team up with Tone and Bennett again a year later for the war comedy The Wife Takes a Flyer. Neither film has been released commercially on DVD and I'm not sure if that will ever be something slated for the future at all, but I would love to see a Bennett/Tone double feature DVD one day. In addition to these two early 40's films, Franchot and Joan would go on to costar in a 1957 episode of Playhouse 90 entitled The Thundering Wave.

In She Knew All the Answers, we are first introduced to playboy Randy Bradford (John Hubbard) and chorus girl Gloria Winters (Joan Bennett), both eager to elope. There's just one problem standing in their way and that problem's name is Mark Willows. Willows (Franchot Tone) was Randy's father's partner in a lucrative financial firm on Wall Street, and was appointed Randy's guardian when his father died. As guardian, Mark gets approval over the woman Randy marries and if he doesn't approve, Randy loses his millions. Mark is a mild-mannered, conventional man who doesn't approve of Gloria's chorus girl status and nixes their plans.

Gloria knows that Randy will never make it as a working class man and she's not willing to be a working class wife, so she hatches a plan. She will get a job—under the name of a roommate—as the switchboard operator at Willows' office long enough for him to sign a letter of recommendation for her, then she will use that signed letter to marry Randy without consequence. Expecting an older, unattractive guardian, Gloria is surprised to find that Mark Willows is a young, attractive man—albeit, a reserved, bespectacled one. Although focused on stocks and investments, Mark is clearly befuddled by his blossoming attraction to Catherine Long (Gloria's assumed name.)

Beginning to feel confident with the switchboard and around her coworkers, Gloria—unaware of Wall Street lingo—accidentally spreads false news about the firm causing Mark to lose a large amount of investments. Mark fires her, then, after her suggestion for a solution is successful, visits her apartment to ask her to return to the firm. This is the scene where many men would've caught on to Gloria's tricks, but Mark is gullible. Randy is hiding in the kitchen while the real Catherine Long, Gloria's roommate played by the infallible Eve Arden, feigns a disability to substantiate Gloria's lies.

Randy sees that his guardian is falling for Gloria and has a prank call placed to the restaurant where Mark and Gloria are dining one evening. Mark decides to get revenge and talks Randy into staying in the office all night in order to "save the business." Gloria's eyes light up when she realizes that the typically straight-laced Mark, whom she's convinced to ditch the glasses, is up to mischief. As Randy waits by the phone all night, Mark and Gloria go to Coney Island and act like total goofballs. This is my favorite part of the film! They pose for silly pictures, ride the Tunnel of Love, eat cotton candy, and both Franchot and Joan are really adorable in these scenes. They fall for each other, but then Mark learns the truth about Gloria and her scheme. In the final scenes, an unusual dream sequence for all three main characters follows leading to a wedding in which those dream alter egos call the shots.

The film was lukewarm with critics. Bosley Crowther warned audiences that it was an "inconsequential little comedy," which was actually much kinder than he'd be a year later when he deemed The Wife Takes a Flyer a "painfully labored comedy." She Knew All the Answers would be neither Franchot nor Joan's most successful comedy, but they, as evidenced in their incredibly expressive faces throughout, embrace the lightness of the picture. It's a joy to watch from start to finish and the two stars are very well-matched in their comedic timing. I hate to call it a "cute movie," but it just is. I watched it again this week when I was ill with a virus, and—even though the quality of my old copy leaves much to be desired—it proved to be the fantastic spoonful of sugar I required.

Franchot and Joan shared not only these films, but also the same birthday. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Franchot and Joan celebrated their birthdays together two years in a row—with surprise cakes for each other on the set of this film in '41 and by cohosting a massive party for servicemen with Feb. 27 birthdays a year later in '42.

Finally, a pal who has been a kind supporter of my Franchot efforts (and antics) happens to be an out-of-this-world knowledgeable and passionate expert on all things Joan Bennett (as well as some other fantastic film ladies) and recently devoted a website to Joan B. at Check it out!

Crowther, Bosley. "The Screen in Review." The New York Times. June 20, 1941.
Crowther, Bosley. "The Screen." The New York Times. .June 19, 1942.

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