|Gary Cooper, Shirley Temple, and Carole Lombard make an uncomfortable family, at best.|
It's an odd sort of film, darker and shadier than I would have expected from Shirley or Cooper either one. I never expected to watch a Shirley Temple movie that must be stretched out of shape to fit into the Hays Code box, and Cooper's portrayal of con man Jerry Day is a far cry from his usual wholesome image. There are a few predictable plot elements on both sides--as usual, Shirley has several family members and friends fighting for custody of her, and the film's ending has Cooper stoically battling a gunshot wound without bothering to seek medical attention. The film does present a fairly simple moral dilemma and then test the characters' reactions to the challenge, and Shirley overwhelms everyone in her path with near toxic levels of cuteness, as she giggles and dances her victims into submission. But Shirley is not in every scene, which helps to keep the radiation levels in check, and the story itself is both interesting and original.
Cooper plays American con man Jerry Day, who spends his life ducking in and out of some of the best hotels in the world with his partner Toni (Carole Lombard). Although a few specific references identify her as his wife, this seems to be a mere technicality, and surely only for the benefit of the Hays office. The two seem at times barely to know each other, and never have any clear vision of their future together, or even if they will stay together at all from one caper to the next.
|Partners in crime.|
The real saving grace in this film is that the characterizations of all three leads and their relationships with each other are sympathetic and believable. Jerry falls for Penny in spite of his best intentions (it seems no one is immune), and turns down the $75,000 in favor of taking Penny to Paris with him to rejoin his "wife" Toni. He hasn't really changed--"I don't like life any better than I ever did," he tells Toni, "and nothing can make me settle down,"--but the more attached he becomes to Penny the more he realizes that there is more to life than just having fun, and even manages to develop a little responsibility. Or, at least he tries.
|Okay, so they do look cute together...|
Although Penny is the catalyst that makes Jerry want to change and be a better man, he doesn't really do it for her. It is Toni that he really loves, but bringing Penny into their lives lets him see Toni's pain and vulnerability for the first time. It is for her, and not for Penny, that he agrees to stop "chasing trains" and go get a job. These are two broken, desperate people, lonely even when they're together and unable to commit to each other in any traditional way yet each physically incapable of living without the other. A handful of catch phrases and inside jokes make the characterization of these two beautifully three dimensional, and create, almost in the background, a genuinely touching love story.
|... but then, so do they.|