The systematic exploration in recent years of the Columbia Studio’s archives by Grover Crisp and his team of expert restorers has thrown up many forgotten Hollywood gems, most valuably from Columbia’s beginnings in the late silent era and the pre-Code talkies, when Frank Capra and others were cutting their teeth. This hidden surprise comes from a decade later and seems to have been playing truant from the school of screwball comedy. More likely, it fell in the shadow of RKO’s similarly-themed hit, My Favorite Wife, released the same year. Directed by veteran Wesley Ruggles, from a play by W Somerset Maugham, the plot turns triangularly on a woman (Jean Arthur) finding herself with two husbands (Fred MacMurray and Melvyn Douglas) when the first turns up a year after reportedly drowning on a boat cruise. To her increasing delight, they vie desperately for her affections. Kept light and pacey by Ruggles, the comedy sails surprisingly close to the censorship wind with Arthur’s coquettish performance and a strong suggestion of her not being averse to a ménage à trois. With hindsight, there is a pre-echo, too, of the more serious actuality of soldiers returning home from WW2 to find their wives and girlfriends otherwise engaged. The casting is high-class, with Arthur a particular joy to watch as she appears in a succession of haute couture hats and expensive animal furs; and both Lionel Banks’ art direction and Joseph Walker’s black-and-white photography are impeccable. A welcome rediscovery from Sony-Columbia. —bfi
Wesley Ruggles (June 11, 1889 – January 8, 1972) was an American film director.
He was born in Los Angeles, a younger brother of actor Charles Ruggles. He began his career in 1915 as an actor, appearing in a dozen or so silent films, on occasion with Charles Chaplin.
In 1917, he turned his attention to directing, making more than 50 mostly forgettable films — including a silent film version of Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence (1924) — before he won acclaim with Cimarron in 1931. The adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel Cimarron, about homesteaders settling in the prairies of Oklahoma, was the first Western to win an Academy Award as Best Picture.
Although Ruggles followed this success with the light comedy No Man of Her Own (1932) with Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, the comedy I’m No Angel (1933) with Mae West and Cary Grant, College Humor (1933) with Bing Crosby, and Bolero (1934) with George Raft and Carole Lombard, few of his later films were in any way… read more