A newspaper man, his ignored fiancée, and his former employee, a down on his luck reporter, hatch an elaborate scheme to turn a false news story into the truth in order to prevent a high-society woman from suing for libel.
Relations between Dr. 'Brad' Bradford and ex-wife Paula are surprisingly romantic. They divorced because Brad hated being dragged into murder mysteries, to which mystery writer Paula is addicted. But through horse trainer Mike North, Brad is embroiled in the case of a jockey who died of "heart failure" during a race. As they pursue clues, Paula pursues Brad for remarriage, and assorted hoods pursue the Bradfords.Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
M-G-M had struck success in 1934 by adapting Dashiell Hammett's "The Thin Man" with William Powell and Myrna Loy in the central roles. The film was a commercial hit, received four Oscar nominations, and spawned five sequels between 1936 and 1947. The good folks at RKO Radio Pictures asked themselves "why can't we have success like that?" and so set about replicating the accomplishment. They got halfway there, at least: for the "Nick Charles" role, Powell was loaned out from M-G-M, but, for his "Nora," Jean Arthur arrived from Columbia Pictures. Both were already big names in the screwball comedy business – that year, Powell also starred in 'After the Thin Man (1936)' and 'My Man Godfey (1936),' and Arthur had graced 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936).' There does seem to be a slight mismatch in each star's comedic style; Arthur's impulsiveness tended to work better with an actor less sure of himself, like Jimmy Stewart. Thus, the interplay between husband and (ex-)wife doesn't quite come off as naturally as it did with Myrna Loy, but RKO still got their money's worth.
Does this 'Thin Man'-knockoff reach the heights of its inspirational source? It does its best, but the answer is no. While certainly utilising the comic talents of its two stars, 'The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)' lacks an interesting script, becoming so halfheartedly-distracted by its main characters that the supporting cast – the very people whose movements we should be scrutinising – are anonymous wax figures. Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham in 'King Kong (1933)') is easily the most notable supporting player as shifty bookie Nick Martel, while Eric Blore does that snooty butler act he enjoyed so much. As for the other suspects, I can't tell you much about them. When, in a Nick Charles-inspired detective tactic, Dr. Bradford (Powell) decides to bring together all the potential murderers, I couldn't remember ever meeting half of them. Heck, it's been less than 24 hours since I watched the film – with full attentiveness, I assure you – and I can't even remember the name of the guilty party. At least the method of murder was ghoulishly clever.
Though Powell's character is supposed to be a professional surgeon, writer Anthony Veiller apparently felt obliged to furnish him with the characteristics of a detective. One of Nick Charles' most enticing attributes was that, despite an enviably laid-back demeanour, he could swiftly snap into physical action when a gun-wielding criminal threatened his safety. Dr. Bradford, likewise, picked up this instinct at some point during his medical training, and seems to be relatively well-acquainted with the city's hoodlums (admittedly, he does once complain about his ex-wife's habit of thrusting him into homicide investigations). Paula Bradford (Arthur) has the active imagination – and certainly the enthusiasm – of Nora Charles, but maybe not the courage under fire: upon entering the morgue, she faints in her ex-husband's arms, but not before Eric Blore has hilariously fallen down behind her. Certainly, if you're going to watch 'The Ex-Mrs. Bradford,' then it's for the two leads, who are pleasant enough to be worthwhile. As a kind of interlude in the 'Thin Man' series, it works, as well.
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