28 April 2014 | lugonian
HOLD YOUR MAN (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1933), directed Sam Wood, places its two leading players from RED DUST (1932) fame from jungle plantation of Indo-China to Depression-era Brooklyn, New York. It also reverses their star billing over the title from Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in RED DUST to Jean Harlow and Clark Gable in HOLD YOUR MAN. Being more Harlow's movie than Gable's, considering a long stretch where he's off-screen in the midway point, the dual continues their likely screen partnership in an unlikely but not entirely uninteresting story written by Anita Loos.
For its opening shot, a wallet is dropped on the sidewalk. Eddie Huntington Hall (Clark Gable, minus mustache) and another passerby pick it up only find a ring and two dollars inside. After defrauding the other man of forty dollars, Eddie, a slick confidence man by profession, ends up being followed and chased after by both victim and a policeman. He runs into an apartment building, up the stairs and enters an unlocked apartment door of Ruby Adams (Jean Harlow), a sassy 19-year-old girl whose "been around and knows all the answers." Rather than turning him over to the police, and taking a liking to his crooked smile, Ruby helps him out. After the two get acquainted, a knock on the door has Eddie hiding in the next room where he suddenly disappears when Ruby comes looking for him. Tracing him to his favorite speakeasy, The Elite, Ruby has Al Simpson (Stuart Erwin), a "swell guy" who loves her unconditionally, escort her there. After a few occasional visits, Ruby finally locates Eddie, and the two get together once more. Later that evening, Ruby comes to Eddie's residence at the Norma Apartments where she unexpectedly meets up with his drunken girlfriend, Gypsy Angicon (Dorothy Burgess) leading to verbal insults with instant rivalry. After spending 90 days in jail on a crooked job with pals Slim (Garry Owen) and Phil (George Pat Collins), Eddie talks Ruby on assisting him in one of his latest blackmail schemes. Things go afoul when the police arrest Ruby and Eddie disappears, letting her take the rap. Sentenced to serve two years in a state reformatory under Mrs. Wagner (Blanche Frederici), along with Mrs. Tuttle (Elizabeth Patterson) and Miss Allen (Lillian Harmer) as the matrons, Ruby finds herself sharing the same quarters with Sadie Kline (Barbara Barondess), a socialist, Bertha Dillon (Muriel Kirkland) and much to her surprise, her arch rival, Gypsy. Even more to Ruby's surprise is to find she's pregnant (as she would be again while serving time in RIFFRAFF (MGM, 1935) with Spencer Tracy) and wondering if she will ever get to hold her man (Eddie) again.
HOLD YOUR MAN (no relation to the Universal 1929 drama starring Laura LaPlante) does live up to its title in plot. It's also a title used in theme song, with words and music by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed initially heard on a phonograph record, then reprized by Harlow herself in the reformatory segment while playing the piano to her fellow inmates. Aside from Harlow's singing, there's a segment during church service where the inmates of various ethnic backgrounds gather together singing "Onward Christian Soldiers." On a couple of on-screen occasions earlier in the story, both Eddie and Ruby rate "Hold Your Man" as their favorite song. The song would be used again for another Gable movie, DANCING LADY (1933), a backstage musical starring Joan Crawford, sung by the one and only Winnie Lightner. Others in the cast include: Theresa Harris (Lily Mae Crippen), the preacher's (George Reed) daughter also serving time in the reformatory; Paul Hurst (Aubrey Mitchell); Inez Courtney (Maizie); and in smaller roles, Louise Beavers (The Maid), Joseph Sawyer and Wade Boteler (The Policemen).
In some ways, HOLD YOUR MAN tends to be a reminder to many of those hard-luck dame/confidence man related themes most commonly found during the Depression era, at best from the Warner Brothers studio. Though HOLD YOUR MAN has some traces of James Cagney and Joan Blondell sassy style from BLONDE CRAZY (Warners, 1931), a bit here and there from Mae West's I'M NO ANGEL (Paramount, 1933) where duping a sucker (William B. Davidson) to blackmail, the film stands well on its own merits, even when the raunchy comedy shifts to serious melodrama with certain scenes that really don't ring true-to-life.
Classic moments include Gable's Eddie hiding from the law while taking a bubble bath in Ruby's bath-rub; Eddie's reaction when observing a handful of autographed photos from Ruby's male lovers posted all over her living-room; Harlow-Burgess facial slap/jaw socking return incidents (a scene that got the most laughs during its 1981 movie revival screening at New York City's Regency Theater); and the usual pre-code sassy verbal exchanges between Gable and Harlow being true highlights. Stuart Erwin, in a role of Mr. Nice Guy, is played to the limit, but quite satisfactory as nice guy's go, even in Cincinnati.
With the rare exception of a 1978 late show presentation on WKBS, Channel 48, in Philadelphia, HOLD YOUR MAN has become the least known of the six on-screen collaborations of Gable and Harlow. It wasn't until February 15, 1986 when HOLD YOUR MAN finally made it to New York City television on public broadcasting station, WNET, Channel 13, as part of its Cinema Thirteen Saturday night classic movies lineup.
Distributed to home video in the 1990s and later onto DVD, HOLD YOUR MAN can be seen to a film lovers delight whenever shown on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. (***)