Some actors are actors, and some are stars. Carole Lombard was both, oozing glamour and sexual desirability while also turning her hand to everything from slapstick to melodrama to comedies to drama. Above all, she was the queen of the screwball comedy, a particular invention of Hollywood’s Golden Age that celebrated romance while satirizing conventional love stories and challenging traditional sex roles.
The Carole Lombard Collection II, as the name implies, is the second of two collections of Lombard’s work released by Kino Lorber. This one includes Hands Across the Table (1935, directed by Mitchell Leisen for Paramount Pictures), Love Before Breakfast (1936, directed by Walter Lang for Universal Pictures), and The Princess Comes Across (1936, directed by William K. Howard for Paramount Pictures). Together, these films offer a welcome escape into the high glamour of old Hollywood, where audiences could forget about the Depression (or today, the pandemic) for a few hours and visit a world where everyone was beautiful and witty and spent their time in fabulous interiors designed by the likes of Hans Dreier and Albert S. D’Agostino.
Hands Across the Table stars Lombard as the quick-witted manicurist Regi Allen who does house calls and keeps her eyes open for the main chance, in her case an eligible bachelor with a lot of dough. Fate brings her to the hotel room of Allen Macklyn (perpetual second fiddle Ralph Bellamy), a disabled veteran who is both rich and charming, and takes such a shine to her that he sets up manicure appointments strictly for the pleasure of her company. But keeps him firmly in the friendship zone, setting her sights instead on Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray), the eccentric scion of a prominent family. Except that Ted already has a fiancé, Vivian (Astrid Allwyn), and maybe he doesn’t have any money, but when did the course of true love ever run smooth? MacMurray is a bit out of his league in this role, but Lombard is as great as ever, and she gets solid comic support from Marie Prevost as her numerologist pal Nona.
Love Before Breakfast is a romantic comedy based on the novel Spinster Dinner by Faith Baldwin. Lombard stars as the wealthy Kay Colby, who is engaged to Bill Wadsworth (Cesar Romero) but has caught the eye of Scott Miller (Preston Foster). A man who is used to getting his way, Scott takes a page from the books of General Sir John Mandrake by buying the company Bill works for and promptly sending him to Japan. He pulls something similar with his own girlfriend, the Countess Campanella (Betty Lawford), and gets Kay’s mother on his side as well, only to find out that his little games have not pleased the object of his affections. Will they, won’t they, and whatever is going on in Japan? You’ll have to watch to find out.
The Princess Comes Across is a somewhat uneasy blend of comedy and murder mystery, set on an ocean liner, but Lombard is fabulous as always. She plays Wanda Nash, a Brooklyn actress pretending to be the Swedish “Princess Olga” by channeling her inner Greta Garbo, all in the hopes of attracting the attention of a Hollywood studio. It’s always fun to see an actor playing a character who is trying to act, and she has able support from Fred MacMurray (he’s much better as a slightly sinister character than as a straight romantic lead) as an accordion-playing bandleader (MacMurray actually could play, and did so on the soundtrack) with a criminal record. Both are blackmailed by another passenger (Porter Hall), and when he turns up dead, suspicion naturally falls upon them. Did I mention that five detectives are also on board, traveling to a professional convention? | Sarah Boslaugh
The Carole Lombard Collection II is distributed on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Each film includes an audio commentary: by filmmaker Allan Arkush and filmmaker/historian Daniel Kremer for Hands Across the Table and The Princess Comes Across, and by film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Joshua Nelson for Love Before Breakfast.