Thursday, September 1, 2011

Third Finger, Left Hand

I really love this little movie -- of course, I have an admitted and severe bias in favor of anything Myrna Loy was involved in (she was SUCH a class act!). Third Finger, Left Hand is a frothy little romantic comedy that Loy made at the height of her popularity in Hollywood, and one of the last films she made before the advent of World War II and her subsequent hiatus from movie-making to focus on raising money for the war effort and supporting the Red Cross. Third Finger, Left Hand is a bit of a departure for Loy, as in 1940 she was firmly ensconced in the public eye as cinema's ideal representation of "the perfect wife." The film apparently did not perform well at the box office, but personally I think it's perhaps an overlooked gem in Loy's filmography, thanks in large part to her on-screen chemistry with her leading man (and real-life good friend) Melvyn Douglas. This little comedy was the stars' first pairing together; they would later reunite for the screwball classic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Playing the type of role typically reserved for actresses like Rosalind Russell, Loy plays Margot Sherwood Merrick, a dedicated working woman and successful editor of a prominent fashion magazine. Margot is a "Mrs," or so everyone in her life thinks -- she invented a fictional (and conveniently estranged and hard-to-find) husband in order to stave off unwanted male advances at work. "Mr. Merrick" also provides job security, as the magazine publisher has a wandering eye and a wary wife, intent on removing any temptation from her husband's path. But that ring on the third finger of Margot's left hand? -- why that means Margot is friends with the aforementioned wary wife and allowed the freedom to focus on advancing her career.

Margot's deception works extraordinarily well until a chance meeting with artist Jeff Thompson (Douglas), newly arrived in New York and hoping to secure an art deal for his paintings. In the type of convoluted "meet cute" that classic Hollywood did best, Margot unwittingly sabotages Jeff's art deal. (Be sure to note Donald Meek as the pretentious art dealer -- a veteran supporting player, Meek appeared in a wide range of films ranging from Stagecoach to Du Barry Was a Lady.) Jeff is, of course, enraged -- until Margot deftly negotiates a better art deal than he'd ever dreamed for his work. Sparks fly between Loy and Douglas, and the stage is set for a romantic clash of cultures as Jeff, a proud native of Wapakaneto, Ohio, has little patience for New York and NO understanding of career-minded women. But he can't seem to get Margot out of his head...and the funny thing is, she can't forget him, either.

Loy has such a refined, graceful screen presence it's a real trip to watch her embrace the some of the laugh-out-loud, outrageous comedic sequences in this film. I absolutely loved her fast-talking the art dealer and bowling Douglas over with her skill as a negotiator. *wink* (Be sure to pay attention to her FABULOUS 1940's costumes -- tailored suits, gorgeous gowns, and in the aforementioned scene a hat fashioned to look like a basket full of cherries -- I kid you not!) The chemistry between Loy and Douglas REALLY takes off once Jeff discovers her fake-husband ruse and decides to pose as the never-before-seen Mr. Merrick, immediately endearing himself to Margot's father (Raymond Walburn) and sister Vicky (Bonita Granville, the original Nancy Drew!). Margot's outrage at Jeff's presumption is hilarious to watch unfold, and drives her to the desperate measure of admitting her deception to Philip (Lee Bowman), her lawyer and wannabe suitor, who advises her that she must marry Jeff so she can then divorce him and marry Philip (a bit presumptuous on his part, but this is Hollywood, yeesh...). After marrying in Niagara Falls, Margot exacts her "revenge" on Jeff for embarrassing her by playing his shrewish, uncultured new bride when they happen upon some old friends from his home town. It's the type of broad comedy Loy didn't get to do all that often, and it's a lot of fun to watch because she really throws herself into the transformation with gusto. And the resolution, by-the-book thought it may be, makes me ridiculously happy.

If you're a fan of the sparkling romantic comedies from Hollywood's Golden Age, Third Finger, Left Hand is definitely worth seeking out. Filled with the charismatic appeal of Loy and Douglas, two of the era's brightest -- and funnest -- stars, this film is a thoroughly enjoyable and diverting romance. Loy would go back to playing the "perfect," brilliant wife roles she did so well (notable exception being 1947's The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer), but her turn as Margot proves she could hold her own in the office as well as the home. :)


Rissi said...

I LOVE Myrna Loy in the old "Cheaper by the Dozen" movies and that one with Shirley Temple. Seeing her and Shirley play sisters and co-starring with Carey Grant makes for some pretty hilarious twists and turns. =D

Ella said...

You know the one I love with Myrna Loy? "The Bachelor and The Bobby Soxer."

You remind me of a man.....;-) LOVE IT!

Unknown said...

@Rissi - It seems 'The Bachelor & the Bobby-Soxer' is a fav (can't argue with that!). ;)

@Ella - Oh my goodness, that exchange KILLS me it's so funny! :)