Carole Lombard: The Glamour Collection

The queen of screwball is back; the woman who could make you laugh and swoon in the same breath is here for some sparkling wit and choice romantic intrigue. A surprisingly contemporary presence, she combined an easy charm with an assertive elegance that made her a top comic draw until her death in a 1942 plane crash. Universal has reached deep into its vaults to unearth six of her long out of circulation titles, many of which are surprisingly absorbing despite being the work of no-name directors. Least of the bunch is Man of the World (1931), in which William Powell plays an expatriate con man in Paris who considers going straight when presented with our woman’s love. It starts off snappy and becomes increasingly maudlin, despite a strong performance by the future Thin Man. Lighter and sweeter is the semi-musical We’re Not Dressing (1934), in which sailor Bing Crosby yearns for the love of heiress Lombard just as they become shipwrecked. Our heroine sparkles in this nice bit of fluff, with Ethel Merman and Burns and Allen providing choice comic support as a socialite and a pair of scientists, respectively. But the nitty-gritty is only achieved through Hands Across the Table (1935), a shockingly witty screwball farce with Lombard trading quips with Fred MacMurray as they seek rich spouses together. The first-rate script is supported by the well-matched leads, along with Ralph Bellamy as a wealthy suitor. Somewhat creepier is Love After Breakfast (1936), where industrialist Preston Foster does his best to manipulate Lombard into marriage, including sending her husband to Japan on business! This might have worked had the hero not been such a jerk, but you’ll be tearing your hair out at his arrogance. Much better is The Princess Comes Across (1936), in which Lombard does a Garbo impersonation as a phoney princess angling for a movie deal. A blackmailer interferes, but thankfully MacMurray’s back as a quick-witted bandleader. Some clever intrigue is blended with some suitably strong writing. The pairing of the two stars resurfaces in True Confession (1937), where Lombard is accused of a murder she didn’t commit and then pretends otherwise to give lawyer husband MacMurray a plum case. The film careens from the improbable to the outrageous and caps things off with choice scene chewing by John Barrymore as a criminologist and blackmailer. The skinny: it’s worth the blind purchase for the MacMurray films alone. (Universal)