Annabelle’s Affairs (1931)


CREDITS
BACKGROUND
PLOT
REVIEWS
MUSIC IN THE FILM


Fox.
Released June 14, 1931.
Associate Producer: William Goetz.
Directed by Alfred L. Werker.
76 minutes.

U.S. prerelease titles: Two Can Play; Good Gracious Annabelle.

Adapted from Clare Kummer’s popular 1916 play, Good Gracious Annabelle. Adaptation and Dialogue Director: Leon Gordon. Contributing Writer: Harlan Thompson. Costumes: Dolly Tree. Photography: Charles Clarke. Editor: Margaret Clancy. Asst. Director: Horace Hough. Sound Engineer: Al Bruzlin. Art Director: Duncan Cramer.

In 1919, Ms. Kummer’s play became a silent film, also called Good Gracious Annabelle. It starred Billie Burke and Herbert Rawlinson. Sigmund Romberg composed a musical version, Annie Dear, in 1924 which also starred Billie Burke, along with Ernest Truex. (The 1938 film The Affairs of Annabel with Lucille Ball and Jack Oakie is unrelated to this film.)

The U.C.L.A. Film Archive has the only known sur­viving footage, reel three, of this lost treasure.

Victor McLaglen (John Rawson, AKA Hefty Jack)
Jeanette MacDonald (Annabelle Leigh)
Roland Young (Roland Wimbledon)
Sam Hardy (James Ludgate, the butler)
William Collier Sr. (Wickham)
Ruth Warren (Lottie, the maid)
Sally Blane (Dora)
George André Beranger (Archie)
Walter Walker (Walter J. Gosling)
Ernest Wood (McFadden)
Jed Prouty (Bolson)
Hank Mann (Summers)
Wilbur Mack (Vance, the Asst. Hotel Manager)
Louise Beavers (Ruby)
Robert Parrish (Bellboy)
Cyril Ring (Desk clerk)
Ward Bond (Butler)*

*First time that Ward Bond and Victor McLaglen played a scene together. They were later leading members of John Ford’s stock company.


Background

The last of Jeanette’s three “lost” Fox films may be truly lost. Only one reel is known to have survived and now reposes in the archives of U.C.L.A. The fragment reveals a fast-paced, light-weight comedy, certainly superior to Jeanette’s other Fox efforts, but because the film features no legendary stars (Garbo, Dietrich) or director and the one reel has no commercial value whatsoever, it may be doomed to turning to jelly in the can.

The film reunited Jeanette with two Don’t Bet on Women players, Roland Young and Louise Beavers. Young was very well received in Annabelle’s Affairs for his portrayal of an inebriated millionaire (“Gorgeously amusing”— Philadelphia Inquirer). Victor McLaglen also scored nicely in one of the diamond-in-the-rough rôles he had gravitated to in American films (The Cock-eyed World, The Black Watch). He managed to mask his British accent sufficiently to be believable as a Montana miner. Jeanette, of course, had a bath and lingerie scene.


Plot

Clare Kummer’s popular 1918 play, Good Gracious Annabelle, provided the basis of the film. The story, as reconstructed from contemporary synopses and reviews is this: Annabelle Leigh, played by Jeanette, (“an extravagant but adorable minx”–New York Post) is thrown from her horse and twists her ankle. She takes refuge in the shack of a miner, John Rawson (Victor McLaglen), and jokingly sug­gests that their spending the night together has compromised her. He rushes off and returns with a minister. To her astonishment, they are married on the spot. She departs in the morning, but John insists on sending her fat support checks each month.

Annabelle is the type of girl who can’t live without a hotel suite and a charge account at the modiste, so she doesn’t object. When the checks stop eight years later, she gets a loan on fifty shares of “worthless” mining stock from millionaire playboy Roland Wimbledon (Roland Young). Then her lawyer informs her that the stock is now worth several million dollars. It is at this point that the surviving reel begins.

Annabelle is racing distractedly across a posh hotel lobby, swathed in furs and sporting a very becoming end-of-the-cloche hat with angled brim. Her husband John pursues her and introduces himself. She recognizes neither the name nor the face, but he persists. (He has undergone an amusing metamorphosis at the local barber shop and outfitted himself in “city slicker” clothes.) He is from Montana, from “the mines out there.” She races on, and he follows. Does she know anything about mines? “No, not much, except they used them in the war.”

He tells her he has a message from her husband, and she stops short. “He told me all about you,” John says expansively. “How indelicate,” she snaps. “He told me you had the prettiest eyes and the sharpest nails of any woman east of the Rockies…I’m inclined to agree about the eyes.”

Annabelle softens and invites him to join her and her friends for lunch. She asks him to wear a sprig of lily-of-the-valley from the ample bouquet pinned to her furs and, he happily agrees. She immediately changes her mind (undoubtedly an unexplained plot device), but he insists. She tells him coyly that he can supply something she and her friends lack at lunch. What that is becomes obvious in the next scene.

John entertains Annabelle and her friends, Dora (Sally Blane), Mabel (Joyce Compton), and Archie (George André Beranger) with tales of her husband’s despair after she left and of his subsequent education at the hands of an English school teacher. “She must have had large hands,” Annabelle scoffs. John demonstrates her husband’s rough and ready style on anemic little Archer. When he begins a second anecdote, Archer shrinks back out of reach, and John is forced to twist a silver platter into a tube instead.

A telegram is delivered to Annabelle announcing that her husband is in town. She rushes off to phone her lawyer. Passing swiftly down the row of pay phones, she matter-of-factly feels in each coin-return slot until she finds the necessary nickel and drops it in the slot. (She is obviously used to cutting corners.) While she is placing her call, Ludgate (Sam Hardy) stops at the next phone to call the Genteel Employment Agency. He is seeking a cook, a gardener, and two parlor maids. “Do they also handle sea captains?” he inquires.

Annabelle dashes after him and asks archly if he is seeking “an artiste de la cuisine.” “A what?” “A cook.” Ludgate admits that he is, on behalf of Mr. Wimbledon of Rock Point, Long Island.

“The man who bought my stocks!” she cries. “I beg your pardon?” says Ludgate. “Don’t mention it,” she replies.

Ludgate lists the luxurious accommodations and simple duties that comprise the job. “But you’re not a cook,” he decides, gazing at her lavish costume. “How dare you!” she snaps. She describes several gourmet dishes until Ludgate’s mouth is watering, his eyes rolled back in ecstasy. She is hired. Before she leaves for Long Island, she tells him, she will need a hundred dollars. Better yet, split the difference and make it two hundred. Ludgate offers to drive her down as soon as he locates some additional servants. “What kind of car?” she asks. “Rolls Royce.” “Color?” “Sort of a…dark black.” “Satisfactory.” All these exchanges are in light, rapid fire style that makes even simple statements read like punch lines.

Annabelle tells Ludgate she has an excellent gardener and two “unbelievable” parlor maids for him. They are lunching with her right this minute in the Gold Room, she explains, and she goes to get them. “The Gold Room?” Ludgate murmurs incredulously. These must be very wealthy servants.

Back in the Gold Room, Annabelle’s friends are trying desperately to leave John with the check, obviously Annabelle’s original intention. First Dora excuses herself to wash her hands. Mabel says she had better go help. “She always forgets to take off her gloves.”

Finally Archie lets out a loud groan. His foot has gone to sleep. Maybe, suggests John, he should walk on it. Archie does so…and keeps going. The table is deserted, and the waiter presents the bill: lunch–$45; platter–$22.50.

In the lobby, Annabelle hastily explains her plan to her co-conspirators. Archie protests he knows nothing of being a gardener, but she assures him he can read a book on their way down. She introduces herself to Ludgate as “Mrs. Annie Butterfield” and assigns false names to her friends. Ludgate begins listing their wages just as the reel ends.

John follows this motley crew to Rock Point and becomes captain of Wimbledon’s yacht. Wimbledon’s only requisite for this job is that the applicant be able to dance the hornpipe.

Wimbledon is a jolly soul who spends all his time drunk. This leads to several slapstick sequences. In one, he drives his car full of singing cronies through hairbreadth escapes. In another, his servants place crockery around his unconscious form, knowing that when he wakes from a drunken stupor he likes to smash things.

With John and Annabelle both after the mining shares, they change hands throughout the rest of the film. Sam Hardy as the butler who is fired every few minutes and Ruth Warren (of the vaudeville team “Wayne and Warren”) as a drunken maid both drew nice press notices. Annabelle finally gets the shares of stock back. She tells John she loves him but must, in honor, return the shares to her husband. He then reveals his identity with a bear hug.


Reviews

All reviews of Annabelle’s Affairs were so favorable that, even allowing for “dating,” it is clear that a very pleasant little comedy has been lost. The gist of Variety’s review was that Jeanette did “an Ajax” “holding up [the film] practically alone” with her comic skill. Variety liked the film a lot and said: “This picture gives every indication of winning for Miss MacDonald as many followers as her previous screen efforts combined. She romps here and delightfully. A splendid farceur and, on this effort, the best among the femme contingent on the coast.” High praise indeed!

Time Magazine ran a picture of Jeanette in satin “step-ins” and commented “she undresses well.” Of the film, they said “it is hilariously funny farce of a sort rarely seen in the cinema.”

The New York reviewers loved Jeanette: “…plays the part admirably”–New York Post; “…does a first rate job”–New York World-Telegram. But her hometown critic, Mildred Martin of the Philadelphia Inquirer, continued to be very cool to Jeanette’s abilities: “[The film’s] chief defect is Philadelphia’s own Jeanette MacDonald who…is a bit too consciously coy and looks down her nose rather too obviously for complete enjoyment.”


Music in the Film 

Fox’s cue sheet lists one song in the film, “If Someone Should Kiss Me Tonight,” by James Hanley. However no available review mentions a song, so it may have been cut before release, used only as background music, or sung by a minor character. Even if Jeanette did have a song, it did little to stop the bizarre rumors racing through the European press.