Warner Archive releasing the 1936 Ann Sothern/Gene Raymond comedy "Smartest Girl in Town" and the 1937 Sothern/Raymond comedy "She's Got Everything" in a two-disc DVD set provides a nice look at the hilarious Sothern 30 years before she plays the titular character in the Unreal TV reviewed unfairly maligned sitcom "My Mother The Car."
"Smartest" is very witty film that has Sothern playing model Frances "Cookie" Cooke, whose primary goal in life is marrying a wealthy man. Her relationship with an eccentric baron has her well on the way to achieving that goal when a chance encounter with the more charming Richard Stuyvesant "Dick" Smith, whom Raymond expertly portrays, endangers her current romance.
The following scene, courtesy of YouTube, of when Dick met Cookie shows the great chemistry between the leads.
The twist in this entertainingly textbook '30s screwball comedy is that Cookie thinks that Dick is a struggling male model, rather than the dashing millionaire that is his true persona. Dick goes to great lengths (and expense) to maintain this facade in order to have Cookie fall in love with the man, rather than his assets.
This story provides Cookie and Dick many great opportunities for terrific banter and wonderful heart-to-hearts. The arguably perverse "must see" final scene sends an only slightly cynical mixed message.
Sothern's Carol Rogers in "Everything" is the opposite of Cookie. Carol is the daughter of a wealthy man who literally wakes up one morning to a very painful "heir today, gone tomorrow" lesson. This reversal of fortune relates to mismanagement of assets by her father that has creditors actually banging down the door to Carol's bedroom.
Carol is also unlike Cookie in that her approach to keeping a desired class of roof over her head consists of seeking employment, rather than trying to land a millionaire. Carol undergoes this task in ignorance of a Shakespearean scheme by her Aunt Jane and Waldo Eddington, who has a strong interest in having Carol pony up (this is hilarious to folks familiar with "Everything") the money that Carol's father owes him.
The pigeon that Jane and Waldo select for their plot is Raymond's Fuller Partridge, who owns a large coffee company. Our puppet masters soon have Fuller hire Carol, who is still ignorant of the ulterior motives behind this, as his secretary. Carol having such a strong aversion to coffee that it provides grounds (of course, pun intended) for termination provides great humor regarding this employment.
The action shifts into high gear after Jane and Waldo succeed in first conning Fuller into sending Carol, who remains ignorant of the scheming, to a resort. Great humor from this portion of the film includes chasing away a charming suitor and involving a vaudeville performer in a scheme that goes predictably but still hilariously awry.
Getting Fuller to join the party leads to the equally predictable development of his responding accordingly on learning of the scheme to get him to marry Carol for his fun and her profit. Watching a man turn cad and humiliate and otherwise torture a gold digger always provides good '30s style entertainment.
The clever closing scene, which indicates that money can buy happiness and anything else, ends this tale on an especially entertaining screwball note.
The best thing about these two films is that the Archive double feature facilitates watching (and comparing) them together. Doing so validates Sothern tooting her own horn in "Mother."
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Smartest" or "Everything" is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.