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A bored & beautiful SMARTY enjoys goading both of her
husbands into fits of jealous rage.
This very bizarre little comedy from Warner Bros., which sneaked in under the wire before the imposition of the Production Code, actually espouses physical abuse as the secret ingredient needed in keeping the romantic spark alive in marriage. This distressful assertion is promoted by skillful players and smug dialogue, but to no avail.
Joan Blondell, as blonde & curvaceous as ever, is portrayed as an intensely annoying young virago with all the charm of an acid bath. Endlessly nagging, the script gives her one shrill note to play, which she does with unnerving tenacity. In most of her other roles of the period she played a smart & sassy gal who has to fight her way to happiness by final fadeout. Here, Blondell starts with everything and seems determined to claw her way to the bottom again. Must be some sort of mental aberration.
Patrician Warren William & nervous Edward Everett Horton supplied wonderful moments in dozens of Golden Age films. Here, as the two men caught in Blondell's web, although they make valiant efforts, they seem out of place in the rather sordid storyline.
Rounding out the cast as two friends seemingly without meaningful lives of their own, viewers will probably find Frank McHugh to be distressingly simpleminded and pretty Claire Dodd vindictive & catty. Neither exemplify the sort of friend one would want to have during a time of domestic crisis.
Perhaps it would be well to quote a single paragraph from celebrated journalist Harriet Hubbard Ayer's essay `What Not To Do,' published in CORRECT SOCIAL USAGE (The New York Society Of Self-Culture, 1903) `Don't nag; there's nothing in it but hateful thoughts for all concerned, and such thoughts are germs that breed deceit on one side and ungovernable temper on the other. At the end of the road is division of hearts, often a divorce court.' Blondell & Company should have paid heed.
This early screwball comedy is infuriating for two reasons: 1) the lead
female character, who manages to be more irritating than the Hepburn
character in BRINGING UP BABY, and 2) the way she's treated by the men in
her life. At a party, Joan Blondell has a fight with her husband (Warren
William) and he slaps her in the face (something to do with diced carrots).
She doesn't actually seem to be all that hurt, physically or emotionally,
but she nevertheless decides to get a divorce, egged on by lawyer friend
Edward Everett Horton, who is himself in love with Blondell. After the
divorce, Horton marries Blondell and is eventually driven to slap her as
well, which sends her back to William, who not only slaps her again, but
also rips her dress
off of her before carting her off to the bedroom. The message, honest to
God, is that some women just need to be slapped around every so often, and
when they (and their husbands) realize that, happiness will reign supreme.
Despite my intense dislike of the character, Joan Blondell is very good, a little different in tone than I've ever seen her. She's not quite tough, but she's certainly not weak. She's not dumb, but she's not all that smart, either (I have no idea where the title comes from; the British title, HIT ME AGAIN, makes much more sense). I laughed out loud several times, even while I was grinding my teeth at the Blondell character and the way she was treated. The acting all around is quite good. Claire Dodd and Frank McHugh provide nice comic relief (relief, that is, from the "comic" slapping and arguing that occurs among the three leads). I don't think I've ever enjoyed a movie and been so exasperated by it at the same time.
At one point in this movie, Joan Blondell's character confides to a
friend thoughts about her husband striking her, "That's just it. If he
really loved me, he'd a hit me long ago." Very much a product of its
time, this pre-Hays code tale reflects a morality that seems cruel and
sexist now. But the main character revels in her time; cracking double
entendres and frank admissions of how she likes to be physically abused
yet control the men who love her.
Joan Blondell, infamous for her proclivity for shedding her clothes at parties, seems right at home in this role. Her risqué comments and coy delivery fit neatly within the framework of her character.
You could not make this movie today. Even the thought of a woman inviting physical abuse upon herself is taboo. But not in "Smarty". This brisk, if somewhat slight, film bathes in its taboo-breaking with a kind of so what bravado. The characters are friendly, even affectionate, with each other despite the blows, both physical and emotional. The breezy repartee ignores the reality of the situations, instead playing light thanks to a humorous script and crisp performances.
Yes, "Smarty" is a look back at a time before PC was de riguer and people like Will H. Hays, for better or worse, ruled cinema. If you can get past the glossing over of physical violence, you may just be lured into the lead character's web. Joan Blondell brings it. Watching her performance in this movie, I don't know why she wasn't a bigger star.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the last pre-code Warner Brothers comedies of sexual intrigue,
"Smarty" (a misleading title, BTW) is based on the premise that a woman
may complain about being struck by her husband, but if it brings on
passion, that's OK. In this case, the woman is Joan Blondell, whom I
adore, but here, she plays a rather unlikable socialite wife whose
husband (Warren William) suddenly strikes her for no apparent reason
during a dinner party. She divorces them and marries their mutual
friend (and her divorce attorney), played with little of his oh-dear
mentality by Edward Everett Horton. In the same year he was k-nocking
k-nees with Betty Grable in "The Gay Divorce", he was being "mothered"
by Blondell here. There is obviously no passion in the marriage between
Blondell and Horton, which leads to a showdown between Blondell and her
ex-husband. It all ends up predictable.
Blondell really does try to install her character with some charming qualities, but the twinkle in her eye and her adorable smile belongs to her, not the lady she is playing. She was made for pre-code Hollywood films with her gold digger with the heart of gold appearance, but if this is meant to be a follow-up for her "Gold Diggers of 1933" persona who ended up with wealthy Warren William there, it is sadly missing the spark they had in that film. She is condescending to Horton once they are married, getting what she wants by referring to herself as "mother" when they are together. It's obvious that this is a marriage based upon spite towards her ex-husband than any love for poor EEH, and is virtually sexless. Blondell does look ravishing in the black gown she buys to tantalize her ex-husband at a dinner party, but the battle between Blondell and Horton over the gown is childish and pointless. Frank McHugh is present as a pal of the trio, but really isn't important at all here other than playing his typical silly goose type character. It's all art decco style but no substance. The ending made me twinge.
An early and not very effective entry in that 1930's movie specialty--
the screwball comedy. Some necessary elements are present ritzy
wardrobes, sophisticated dialog, colorful characters. Then too, the
plot's appropriate-- a farcical marriage-go-round where no one much
cares who's married to whom.
At the same time, catch the sexy Vicky (Blondell) as she endlessly rolls and unrolls her hosiery, that is, when not fitting into backless evening wear or craving a little rough man-handling. In short, it's the kind of provocative material that soon brought down the heavy hand of Hollywood censorship. (Scope out the very last scene that I expect challenged even the loose conventions of the time.)
The women are well cast, including the eye-rolling Blondell, a dryly sensible Claire Dodd, and a sweetly seductive Joan Wheeler. The problem is with the two male leads. Now, I'm a big fan of Warren William who's unequalled in ruthless, authoritative parts, e.g. Employee's Entrance (1933), Skyscraper Souls (1932), which remain true period classics. The trouble is that the role here of the discombobulated husband Tony calls for the light comedy skills of a William Powell, for example; the aristocratic William does try hard, but lacks that particular flair. Also, the naturally comedic Horton is memorable in eccentric parts, but is unfortunately miscast here as a strait-laced, jealous husband.
At the same time, director Florey doesn't manage the kind of zany pacing that could have smoothed over some of the questionable parts. Too much of his deliberate tempo comes across like the stage play the material is adapted from. As a result, the movie has its momentsmainly the super coy Blondell and a provocative parade of 30's fashionsbut is otherwise a titillating disappointment.
Interesting if bizarre dark comedy. This has been well reviewed by
others. Two comments. The first is Warren Williams vacillating
character, one minute dismissive of his ex-wife, then next expressing
his undying love. This is not his most forceful or consistent role. The
next is Joan Blondell and her motivation. She divorces her husband one
minute and marries another shortly thereafter. Was she trying to make
her husband more romantic, or was she living out her masochistic
The dimpled Claire Dodd does a good job as the divorced friend of the couple. It was also nice to note Edward Everett Horton toning down his usual effete, fuss-budget persona.
Smarty is precode and based on a play from the 1920s.
Joan Blondell plays Vicki Wallace, and she's married to Tony (Warren William). She teases him a great deal and one night, he's had enough and slaps her. Vicki is very upset. Her lawyer, Vernon (Edward Everett Horton) takes care of her divorce, and she marries him.
Now it's Vernon's turn. Vicki loves to wear sexy clothes and keeps inviting Tony over for dinner. So one night, Vernon belts her. Vicki runs to Tony, who has a date at his apartment and really doesn't want his ex-wife there. Apparently she likes Tony's slugs better than Vernon's.
Two of my favorite actors, Blondell and William, in one of the most atrocious stories I've ever seen. Normally the fact that I am watching an old film with dated cultural beliefs doesn't bother me, I just take it in the time that it was done. But while it may have been more common to hit your wife, and I'm not even sure that's true, I don't think it was okay -- if it had been, why did she leave him in the first place? It's never been okay, just because it happened. Here it's downright glamorized. In something like Streetcar Named Desire, it's shocking by today's standards, but it went with the odious character of Stanley. And it wasn't glamorized.
I did not like this movie.
Perhaps too many folks are getting their things in an uproar about this
zippy, fast-paced little comedy about the battle of the sexes. Yes,
there are slaps in the film, but Blondell's character seems intent on
getting them-- which to modern eyes seems bizarre indeed, and offensive
in too many ways. But there is no indication that wife-beating is
really the focus of this film, but instead the games people play when
they discover relationship kinks that are not mainstream.
In many ways, this is a deeply cynical film (witness the running commentary from the two constant house guests) about public and private lives, the last gasp of pre-code comedy before the censors came down hard on creative expression of and shuttered them into the kitchen with their aprons for the next thirty years or so, when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton exposed a more modern version of the S/M games that can develop when love is stunted by circumstance. This is not a great film by any measure, but viewed in an unusual context can be great fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a horrible, horrible movie this was. How can I explain it? Well
let's see. It's basically wife beating as comedy. The UK name for the
film was "Hit Me Again". The main idea is that wife beating is a Good
Thing women want it, and the harder the better, because it shows
love. If they get too 'smart' or sassy, the correct thing to do is to
hit 'em to keep 'em in line.
Joan Blondell is cute and revealing and all (and this movie was still pre-Code), but her character is ditzy and smiles throughout, which is awful in itself. She comes across as shallow, manipulative, and maddening - and everyone agrees, she deserves the abuse. She's never truly shocked or remotely scared, even after getting hit while playing bridge and mentioning that she's also had things thrown at her and been bit. She herself says "a good sock in the eye is something every woman needs, at least once in her life", and "if he really loved me, he would have hit me long ago." Her second husband also hits her after she goads him on with "why don't you hit me like a man?", but he's not as manly so she's less interested in him. When the second husband says "I didn't even hit her hard", a smiling female friend says "Not hard enough probably." Her first husband provides this advice to the second: "I'd kick the door down and kiss her 'til she's black and blue, and if she didn't let me, I'd roll up my sleeves and beat the daylights out of her." These are all real quotes! Oh, and one more, the last line of the movie: "Tony dear, hit me again." and that, after he's ripped her dress off, pulled her hair, and given her a hard slap across the face, all as she stands there smiling.
Did I mention this was a horrible film? Yes, it was a different time and yes it gives us visibility into that, but when it's shown with such lightness and as comedy, not as disturbing or dark, and knowing it's still such a problem in society today, it's very hard to stomach. One of the characters alludes to how men in movies push women around, and specifically the grapefruit incident from "The Public Enemy", as if that's justification for him but I have to say, while I liked that film, there we knew Cagney was a thug. We saw him commit murders. It's far more painful when it's shown as the norm and done by the "good guys" in the film. This is one to avoid.
Intended as titillation but ending as a shocking and sick attempt to
cater to male fantasies of female submission, this movie is worth
watching for a few good reasons besides the ultimate failure of the
theme to amuse. Claire Dodd as the knowing, mocking friend who
collaborates in Blondell's teases. Many sharp little lines that set the
stage for excruciating jealousy, a theme most often clumsily handled in
film. Joan Blondell, who is too lovable for her part.
The cuckold scenario common to many drawing room comedies of this period is made unusually explicit by an actual divorce and remarriage, which leaves us disconcertingly free of all doubt as to the consummation of sexual relations. Blondell's character, a woman intended to be the paragon of teasing sexuality, is never fully understood by anyone involved, which is good, because it would have led to even graver extremes of predatory female sexuality. She tries to play her character lightly, with a teasing innocence, and they ignore the sharp edge of the tease that tears the heart of the male lead apart.
By the time Blondell dons the ultra-revealing dress that is constantly on the verge of exposing her famous breasts, the film stumbles through scene after scene of impotent male rage conflated with lust as Blondell fights to expose herself in the outfit. Only Proust himself could do justice to the heady combination of jealousy, exhibitionism, and lust she leads her ex-husband through, all while married to her new husband.
While the complexity and taboo nature in this weave of female exploitation with male jealousy are beyond most Hollywood movies of any time, the movie settles for a violent end and a shocking submission that is entirely the creation of male fantasy and a woman's compliance with it. Many women, unable to see this from the perspective of male lust, will simply be confounded by it. Most men will be repulsed by the unadorned openness of it, and will be tempted to blame the woman for complying with male fantasy.
If this film were remade today the title would be changed to the more appropriate "Slutty." It is an unusually unguarded look at the contradictory nature of the male invention of the fantasy of the slut.
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