The first thing to know about Frank Tuttle’s Ladies Should Listen is that the title is actually really clever. It just might be too clever for its own good, because while “listen” could be confused for “obey” (and there are plenty of films from the 30’s that end with women being “put in their place”), that’s not what’s happening here at all. Ladies Should Listen is really encouraging women to be nosey and in this delightful comedy by Claude Binyon and Frank Butler (based on a play by Alfred Savoir and Guy Bolton) that’s exactly what Frances Drake’s Anna does.
To say who Anna is, though, is to spoil what makes Ladies Should Listen so unusual. While Tuttle introduces plenty of love interests for Cary Grant’s Julian in this picture (including a hilarious Nydia Westman, who doesn’t stand a chance, yet thinks she does), Anna shows up late and essentially comes out of nowhere. While her profession is foreshadowed by the opening credits, it really is an economical movie. The runtime is only 62 minutes, and even the fact that the film opens with photos of the entire cast shows how much it values its supporting players. Some of the running gags, like Julian’s butler (Charles Arnt) being an inventor, work, and it’s funny how little the film is interested in what a “nitrate concession” is, because it comes up often enough.
The other two films in this box set came out the same year (1936) and pair Grant with actress, Joan Bennett. Both give rather warped depictions of what it means to be a journalist. In Richard Wallace’s Wedding Present, Rusty (Bennett) and Charlie (Grant) are about to get married, but Charlie doesn’t take the red tape seriously. When the wedding falls through, then, Rusty takes it as a sign that they shouldn’t get married after all. Neither seems too concerned that they skipped work to have this wedding, but then unprofessional seems to be the name of the game at their newsroom. In fact, when Charlie is promoted to chief editor (which makes sense), that’s when their relationship really suffers.
While the film isn’t offensive and has a few genuinely funny moments (like Rusty conning her way into a plane ticket), it’s also chaotic and given to absurdity (like Rusty knocking out a pilot). Film historian, Kat Ellinger, provides the commentary track and, while the film is so-so, her commentary’s quite personal. Besides talking about the film as a newspaper movie and as a predecessor to Grant’s screwball comedies, Ellinger talks about growing up near Bristol where Grant was from.
Last but not least, Raoul Walsh’s Big Brown Eyes boasts the strongest direction of the three films and the best use of locations. Here Grant is a cop and Bennet works at a barbershop yet somehow they end up working a case together when Bennett’s Eve switches over to journalism. Instead of failing to take her job seriously, though, Eve’s problem is writing false headlines.
Bennett is more in her element here, but the film is surprisingly dark for a comedy. Actor, Lloyd Nolan, is downright sinister during the trial scenes and it doesn’t get worse than the crime his character committed. In his commentary track, film critic, Nick Pinkerton, quotes another film critic, Graham Greene, who described the movie as being “free from emotion.” That’s a good way of putting it.
The Cary Grant Collection is available on Blu-Ray now from Kino Lorber.