Tuesday, September 3, 2019

There's Always a Woman

During Summer Under the Stars, TCM ran a day of films devoted to Melvyn Douglas, whose very broad range goes from dramas like Hud to screwball comedies. Something much closer to the lattter is There's Always a Woman.

Douglas plays Bill Reardon, a private detective who doesn't particularly like it. Part of that is because he preferred his old job as an investigator for the district attorney, while the other part is because the business is failing due to lack of clients. His wife Sally (Joan Blondell) got him to start his own detective agency in the first place, and wants him to keep at it.

Bill goes out to approach the district attorney about getting his old job back, and wonder of wonders, a woman walks in the door looking for a detective! Lola Fraser (Mary Astor, which made me think a bit of The Maltese Falcon) is worried that her husband is cheating on her with his old girlfriend Anne (Frances Drake). Lola would like a detective to tail the husband and see what's going on. Sally sees that there's good money in this, so she's willing to take the job, even though she doesn't know the first thing about being a detective. That, and the first night of surveillance involves going to an expensive club, and Bill definitely does not know that Sally has taken a client.

At the club, we see a complicated love triangle as Anne has a fiancé in former gambler Jerry Marlowe (Robert Paige), so there are all sorts of reasons for sparks to fly. Except that the sparks don't fly there, but at the Fraser apartment, where the husband gets shot to death. Sally has a feeling she knows who did it, and actually calls up one of the papers to give them her story.

This is a problem for Bill, since the district attorney assigns him to investigate the case. And Sally isn't about to stop doing her own investigating, since she still has Lola as a client. So you can imagine where the comedy is coming from for the rest of the movie as husband and wife both investigate, with Bill trying to stop Sally from investigating, and Sally's moves constantly but unintentinally making life difficult for Bill.

Don't think too much about the mystery in There's Always a Woman, because that's not really the point of the movie. It's more about the give and take between the dueling investigators, and in that it works quite well. Every time I've seen Douglas in light comedy, he's been quite good, and that's the case here. Blondell worked especially well with Cagney back in the early 30s, but here she's able to work off of Douglas well too. She's not quite ditzy in a Gracie Allen way, just well-meaning but having everything backfire.

There's Always a Woman is a fun little comedy from the late 1930s that really deserves to be better known. It's on DVD courtesy of Sony/Columbia's MOD scheme, but that means it's a little pricey.

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