© 1938 RKO Radio Pictures

Vivacious Lady (1938)

I was really expecting a lot from this film. After all, I had found a ‘30s film that I hadn’t seen yet, and it was not some complete obscure title, but something staring Jimmy Stewart and Ginger Rogers. The cast also has Charles Coburn, who I found quite funny as Marilyn Monroe’s admirer in Monkey Business and in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as, well, Marilyn Monroe’s admirer and Beulah Bondi, who played Jimmy Stewart’s mother in It’s a Wonderful Life as well as four or five other films.

But Vivacious Lady turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I don’t think it was the fault of Stewart, who is just as much Jimmy Stewart as he is in any other film, or of Ginger Rogers, who is quite cute in this. The problem with the film was probably with the director, or possibly the writer. The reason I love romantic comedies from the ‘30s so much is that they move at a breakneck speed before ending in a completely predictable way.

The pacing of this film is too slow, and there are a few too many slow patches. The story has potential. Stewart plays a young biology professor who is on track to eventually take over his father’s role as the president of the college. At the opening of the film he is out of his element as he enters a nightclub to retrieve his now good cousin. But he falls in love at first sight with Roger’s character, a singer at the club. They marry but have to hide the fact to avoid ruining his career. In the hands of a director like Howard Hawks, and with a better title, this could have been very funny, and probably one of the great comedies of the ‘30s. But as it is, too many moments fall flat. Even the cat fight between Rogers and Stewart’s former fiancée, which is supposed to be one of the highlights of the film, is not all that funny.

But there are a few nice moments, most of them belonging to Rogers. To wit, Stewart’s fiancée shrieks, “oh, I’d like to give you a piece of my mind!” Rogers: “Oh, I couldn’t take the last piece.”

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