Hands Across the Table

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: Mitchell Leisen
Writers: Viña Delmar; Norman Krasna,
  Vincent Lawrence, Herbert Fields

  • Carole LombardRegi Allen
  • Fred MacMurrayTheodore Drew III
  • Ralph Bellamy — Allen Macklyn
  • Astrid Allwyn — Vivian Snowden
  • Ruth Donnelly — Laura
  • Marie Prevost — Nona

Paramount Pictures: 1935
black & white; 80 minutes

January 2013

Love, hilarity, and the main chance

"Hands Across the Sea" is a catch-phrase for international alliances and friendship, most often used for the American-British "special relationship". John Philip Sousa coined or popularized the phrase as the title of a military march composed in 1899. So we have some deep and stirring associations.

Playing off this, but in decided homely contrast, is the romantic-comedy film Hands Across the Table, with shallow and abrasive associations. What does this mean? Well, Regi Allen (played by Carole Lombard) is a hotel manicurist, determined to avoid the poverty that plagued her childhood by marrying a rich fellow. Theodore Drew III is a young man of a once-rich family impoverished by the stock market crash beginning in 1929; he is determined to avoid poverty by marrying a rich girl. After an unusual meeting — he is playing hopscotch in a corridor of the hotel — they seem quite attracted to each other, before discovering that each is avowedly anti-romance, a seeker of the practical marriage wherein the other partner has plenty of money, and love is irrelevant.

Additionally, they have rivals for their matrimonial prospects. Regi Allen is being slowly courted by Allen Macklyn (played by Ralph Bellamy), a millionaire living in the hotel; and Ted Drew already is engaged to heiress Vivian Snowden (played by Astrid Allwyn).

Can Regi and Ted find a mutual route through their fortune-hunter attitudes, unromantic entanglements, and other obstacles? Since this is a romantic comedy, we'll expect them to have some happy, sad, funny, and frustrating times along the way. Since our pair is Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray with a well-written plot in a well-directed movie, their path is often witty and occasionally hilarious.

The cast of Hands Across the Table does a fine job. Regi's friend and manicurist colleague Nona (played by Marie Prevost), and their boss Laura (played by Ruth Donnelly) help and encourage her. A number of bit parts are also nearly done.

If you'v ever held hands across a table with someone you're falling in love with, you'll see some opportunities, and perhaps guess at the hazards, of giving and receiving a manicure. In Hands Across the Table, a relationship that begins with abrasiveness and seems doomed to shallowness develops its own dynamic confusion, cutting emotions to the quick in unexpectedly funny ways. Regi and Ted abrade and polish each other, themselves, and their surroundings in a delightfully dextrous manner.

Regi's and Ted's practical marriages-for-money plans may march steely-eyed past Romance, but can their plans emerge so true from the thicket of Laughter? It appears that, after all, there may be deep and stirring associations here.


© 2013 Robert Wilfred Franson

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