Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Janet Gaynor, Billie Burke and Roland Young are a family (The Carltons) of high class con-artists who travel to the most posh spots to fleece the very rich. Doug and Janet are brother and sister, Billie and Roland are husband and wife. Billie and Roland are called “Marmy” (as in Little Women) and “Sahib” by their children. Some reviewers called this aspect “cutesy” but I think that all four of them have a great rapport in the film and the family bond truly works.
When we meet them, they have just been kicked out of Monte Carlo (or someplace similar) because the law caught up with them. Their hopes of Richard (Doug) making a advantagous marriage to a southern belle heiress are dashed. George-Ann’s hope of marrying her penniless beau (the film debut of Richard Carlson – doing a mighty convincing Scottish accent, btw) goes by the wayside, too. On the train ride back, George-Ann meets up with a lonely but rich old lady who George-Ann decides to stick for a meal. The old lady (Miss Fortune) is played by Minnie Dupree. Minnie Dupree was mostly a stage actress and only made four films, which is sad because she’s wonderful as Miss Fortune.
Well, as you’ve probably guessed, the Carltons take full advantage of their new trusted position with Miss Fortune and hatch a plot to get her to will them her estate. It proceeds from there to a sweet, poignant story of the four Carltons fighting their own cynicism and worldliness while becoming more and more enchanted with Miss Fortune. I won’t spoil the ending for you, if you haven’t seen it.
There are many reasons why I am passionately fond of this film, starting with the utterly adorable Doug Jr. The accent, the smile, the incredible personal style, the dignity, the class – all just make him so thrilling. This revelation will be no surprise to you though, if you looked at my 20 Actors meme. I know that for some reason, Doug Jr. is just not as famous or beloved as Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy, but in my estimation, he tops both.
Next reason for passionate fondness: Jane the dog. The photo above is of a scene where Doug and Paulette Goddard (his love interest) visit a dog farm and look for a special puppy for an old lady. That special puppy is Jane (that’s not her in the photo), a darling little white dog with a “large black eyebrow over one eye.” I’ve been trying to find photos of her on the web, to no avail. She’s so sweet. I’ve been quite taken with little white dogs for a while now (especially terriers) and I’ve decided that s o m e d a y, I’ll share my life with one. :)
Third reason for passionate fondness: the remarkable architecture and sets. Doug sits in an engineering office that has out-of-this-world paintings on the walls. Then, Roland Young gets a job working for a car dealership that sells the imaginary Wombat. It’s a deco explosion of amazing sets for that dealership. And, the Wombat itself is so terrific. It’s actually a Phantom Corsair that was going to be put into production after the films release. Unfortunately, the builder died before the deal was complete and the Phantom Corsair never materialized.
Fourth reason for passionate fondness (“which,” to quote Mr. Collins of Pride & Prejudice fame, “perhaps I should have mentioned first”): the clothes! Janet Gaynor and Billie Burke wear some fantastic fur coats in the beginning of the film. Billie’s collar is like a halo of light colored fur all around her face. Janet’s full length fur coat has a notched collar and she complements it with an exaggerated fedora-type hat. Here’s a link to a clip from the film where you can see this coat up close and personal. (TCM doesn’t let this one be embedded.)
If you’d like to see it, it is available on DVD (amazingly!) for purchase through Amazon or, you can wait for it to be shown on TCM again at 7.30am on April 19 (US Eastern time).