Personal Property (1937)
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Watch, rent or own this film and it is worthy of adding to your collection. Harlow and Taylor make an excellent comedy team and the only disappointing thing I can say about this experience is that they didn't get to work together again. From the opening scene to the final denouement, the story is charming, and the wit bumps along at a great pace, no sluggish direction here, charming characters and stunning costumes make this a wonderful experience. If only they had made more comedies like this one.
If there is one let down in the production, it is the fact that it is a little hemmed in with the sets which while glamorous and smart, are a little claustrophobic and limiting. The picnic scene could have added a welcome breath of fresh air if filmed on location, and a welcome break from the interior shots.
I have enjoyed this film immensely and have given it a worthy 10 from 10. Harlow and handsome Taylor are a great looking couple, so glad to see them together at the end. Harlow sparkles as always in comedy and she is right in her element in this one.
Jean Harlow, of course, gets top billing in this film, and she is very good. Just three months after this film's release, Harlow died of blood poisoning caused by kidney failure.
But it is Taylor and others in the supporting cast who are the source of most of the great comedy in this film. Notable among the supporters are Reginald Owen as Raymond's brother, Claude Dabney, and Forrester Harvey as Bailiff Herbert Jenkins. Owen was a very talented English actor and well-known character actor of Hollywood. He played a variety of roles. In this comedic venture, he puffs himself up so absurdly that he's a riot. And his character adds much to the fun of the film.
Taylor and Harlow have excellent chemistry, and Taylor shows a natural flair for and ease with comedy. It surprised me a great deal, because until seeing this film I wasn't aware that he had made comedies. I was used to the more serious roles of his later career. In some roles, I thought he was serious to the point of being droll (i.e., "Waterloo Bridge" in 1940 and D-Day the Sixth of June" in 1956).
Taylor's first comedy/romance was a year earlier before this in "Small Town Girl" with Janet Gaynor. But he had made a name for himself already in some smashing dramatic films, including "Magnificent Obsession" of 1935 and "Camille" of 1936. So, I'm not surprised, as some reviewers are, that Taylor would get the comedy lead in "Personal Property," where it otherwise would seem to be a role made for Franchot Tone. No doubt, Louis B. Mayer was trying his rising leading male actor in different venues to see how high his star might rise. And, it continued to rise with this film.
Still, Taylor made only a few comedy films after this. "Lucky Night" in 1939 with Myrna Loy was a drama-comedy. Neither it, nor "Remember?" of that same year scored as well. So MGM may have decided to keep their handsome male lead in dramas, romances, war, mystery and Western films - all of which he did quite well. The only other comedy Taylor would make that would have some success was "Many Rivers to Cross" in 1955 with Eleanor Powell.
This film has some hilarious scenes. In a couple, Taylor serves as a sheriff's assistant for a bailiff with a big bill for Mrs. Wetherby. In another couple, he is the Wetherby butler to the dismay of his family who are dumbfounded. He brings out the best (in acting) of his brother, Claude, in this role.
Barnett Parker plays a pompous highbrow by the name of Arthur 'Trevy' Trevelyan. His nose is so high in the air, that he just mumbles his name to Raymond who is playing the butler, Ferguson. Ferguson announces him as closely as possible, and everyone knows who he is right away. It's hilarious to see Taylor announce him: "Fooh fu Fo Fon Fu."
Crystal and Raymond are romantically on and off toward each other, with some very funny lines. As she's going upstairs to find the butler's uniform, Crystal says, "And while we're on the subject, just what did they send you to jail for?" Raymond, "Murder!" Crystal, "Well, I wish it had been suicide."
This is a fine comedy romance that I think the whole family will enjoy. There are just enough antics to amuse young children and keep them interested as well. Of course, we older children can enjoy it for all the comedy, romance, family jousting and many good performances. This is a nice addition to my comedy film library.
As for this movie, Jean is charming as ever, but she does not exhibit the same sparkle as she had in previous films. She looks beautiful as always, but she does show a bit of the extra weight also exhibited in Saratoga. Of course, this was due to her kidneys failing, as her health was in serious and fatal decline.
The movie itself is a bit on the slow side, and I think Robert Taylor, though handsome, wasn't up to her level. I think part of the film fell flat due to his performance.
One thing that totally puzzles me is that in the movie Robert Taylor's family all have British accents except for him. He sounds totally American. What's the deal with that?
A piece of trivia: I noticed that in the film she wore William Powell's star sapphire ring, a sort of engagement ring.
If you are a Jean Harlow fan, this movie should be seen, but she's so much better in Red Headed Woman, The Girl From Missouri, and Bombshell, just to name a few.
It's sad to see that Jean Harlow is largely forgotten by so many in our society today. Read David Stenn's book Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow for superb information on her.
Jean Harlow co-stars with Taylor in what would be her last completed role for MGM. She seems a bit sluggish with her comeback remarks and somehow seems lacking the zest she usually showed in her romantic comedies with William Powell or Clark Gable. But she and Taylor make a handsome couple.
The silly story never quite comes off as convincing enough with a strange number of elements in the plotting that has Taylor pretending to be her butler while falling in love with her--although she seems to resist his charms from the start. While the predictable ending is never in doubt, it takes a bit of persuasion to believe his brother could be Reginald Owen.
Summing up: The thin plot moves rather sluggishly despite the brief running time but there are a few chuckles to get out of the whole thing. All in all, it's undistinguished from any viewpoint and a not too subtle jab at the idle rich.
She figures an upper class accent is a guarantee of security, but tain't so Jean. She's set to marry Reginald Owen, who's family has a title, but little else. Their business has suffered some reversals and they need some quick capital themselves.
Before this double calamity takes place, along comes Robert Taylor who is a black sheep in Reginald Owen's family as his younger brother. Through an incredible comedy of errors he winds up Harlow's bill collector and later butler.
It's not a bad film, Harlow is great, she was sparkling and delightful and no trace of the illness that would claim her life while filming her last picture Saratoga.
Taylor is oddly miscast though. I'm sure this was a part that was originally intended for Franchot Tone and he would have had just the right upper class touch. Taylor handles the comedy well, but Tone or Cary Grant would have made the film a classic.
In fact Taylor's part and some of the film premise you can also find in My Man Godfrey with William Powell without the social commentary.
Film buffs should see it for a once in a lifetime pairing.
Taylor is Raymond Dabney, the black sheep in a successful family, all of whom are British except for him, evidently, as he sports no accent. He's been released early from prison after selling a car he didn't own. His brother Claude (Reginald Owen) and father (E.E. Clive) aren't happy to see him, unlike his mother, so they offer Raymond 300 pounds to go anywhere he wants, preferably out of the country. Raymond chooses London.
At a cocktail lounge, Raymond meets Crystal Wetherby (Harlow), a widow. Raymond is interested and follows her to the opera Aida, and then he follows her home. At her home, he meets a bailiff who is going to sit in Crystal's house until she pays what she owes.
Crystal is throwing a dinner for her fiancé and future in-laws; Raymond kindly offers to pretend to be her butler. When the future family shows up, a few problems present themselves.
Jean Harlow was always very likable, although here, she's a little more low-key. She wears her engagement ring from William Powell throughout the film; it's sad that her life was cut so short. I thought Taylor was just fine. He had a nice sense of comedy. But I have to agree with some others that the role would have been better suited to Franchot Tone or Cary Grant. Taylor was a beautiful man, and he looked great in evening clothes, but he was a farm boy at heart and didn't have quite the sophistication necessary.
I found this film slow and not very involving, but I loved the two stars.
Interestingly, two actors who appeared in MGM's 1931 version play their roles again here: Reginald Owen as the gold-digging prospective bridegroom and brother Claude, and Forrester Harvey as the bailiff. I definitely enjoyed the sexiness of the Robert Montgomery-Irene Purcell version much more, however--see that one, if you can.
Taylor plays Raymond Dabney, son of an accomplished British family. Having served a jail sentence for selling a car without having paid for it, and now released early for good behavior, Raymond, greeted by his loving mother (Henrietta Crosman), doesn't get the same reception from his serious minded brother, Claude (Reginald Owen), partners with his father (E.E. Clive) in women's underwear. With both men disowning him as part of the family, Raymond is offered 300 pounds to go far away as possible and start life anew, possibly in Canada or Australia, but he would rather remain in London instead. Later, while at a cocktail lounge, Raymond meets Crystal Wetherby (Jean Harlow), an American widow of a big game hunter. Impressed by her beauty, Raymond, after making a bad impression, follows her to the opera and seats himself beside her during a performance of "Aida." If that's not enough, Raymond follows her home after the performance. Through arrangements by Herbert Jenkins (Forrester Harvey), a bailiff working for the sheriff whose wife is in the hospital expecting a baby, Raymond gets his opportunity by taking his place and legally entering as well as staying in Crystal's mansion as a "man in possession," a custodian of her possessions until the debts of her personal property have been paid. Due to her upcoming dinner plans to entertain her fiancé and future in-laws, Raymond agrees to assist her by acting the role of Ferguson, her butler. All goes well until Raymond meets Crystal's guests, who turn out to be more than familiar faces from his questionable past.
With the plot being centered more on Robert Taylor's character than Harlow's, both become equally balanced by the midway point. PERSONAL PROPERTY does has some funny scenes. While, Hugh Mills and Ernest Vadja, who scripted this story from the play by H.M. Harwood, make every effort by turning this into an honest effort of hilarious drawing room comedy, the final results are simply average, no more, no less. One truly funny moment occurs with the arrival of mumbling British bore (Barnett Parker) and his confused exchange with Taylor. This great scene was later clipped into a 1964 documentary, MGM'S BIG PARADE OF COMEDY, which indicates others have felt this a highlight as well. Very brief, but good. A pity there weren't enough great scenes like it to make up for some rather weak material. Another problem with PERSONAL PROPERTY is that Taylor acts and looks too American to play the part of a British family. Taylor's butler and Harlow's rich girl gimmick is an obvious attempt to bring forth another MY MAN GODFREY (1936) that served William Powell and Carole Lombard so well, though not on the same level.
Cora Witherspoon, who previously enacted opposite Harlow in the hilarious LIBELED LADY (1936) as Mrs. Burns-Norvell, the gabby mother, assumes similar chores here, this time simply as Mrs. Burns, with Marla Shelton as her flirtatious daughter who has her eyes on the young "butler" (Taylor). Interesting to note the supporting players, consisting those of Una O'Connor (in the role as Harlow's maid); Forrester Harvey and E.E. Clive to be those in memorable support in the James Whale science fiction classic, THE INVISIBLE MAN (Universal, 1933). Even more interesting is both Reginald Owen and Forrester Harvey reprise their roles from the 1931 film. Other British character types as Billy Bevan and Lionel Brahm serve their brief parts well.
Placed on home video in the 1990s, PERSONAL PROPERTY should make an impression on those curious about the careers of both Harlow and Taylor, or lesser known "screwball comedies" from this era. With better roles ahead for Taylor, especially his reported personal favorite being WATERLOO BRIDGE (1940), Harlow next project would be another comedy, SARATOGA, noteworthy mostly as the one she never lived to complete, though her remaining scenes were performed by a stand-in double. For PERSONAL PROPERTY, it's all Harlow. (**1/2)
Personal Property, even with its great cast, is a pale imitation. It preserves the characters (and even adds a couple), but most of the innuendo has been written out of the dialog, and a couple of very steamy scenes have been deleted. The earlier version is a spicy, sexy bedroom comedy of errors. This remake, on the other hand, is bland drawing room comedy with slapstick elements.
The character, Arthur Trevelyan, transforms Personal Property into a farce - very nearly a "live" cartoon. If even one out of every three words he spoke were intelligible, Trevy might be funny. The fact that not a single word is understandable is bizarre. Even as a caricature of upper-crust British society, he is more puzzling than funny. In the context of the film, surrounded by the other perfectly understandable characters, he seems totally out of place - as if he wandered in from the Merry Melodies cartoon before the feature film!
Remaking a 1931 sex comedy in 1937 after the enforcement of the Hays Code results in a completely neutered film. And Trevy is the fire hydrant for this poor dog!
SYNOPSIS: The scene is England, and Miss Harlow is an American widow who is in financial straits. Taylor plays an irresponsible playboy of good family who gets into trouble for selling a car he didn't own and is disowned by his family, including father E. E. Clive and brother Reginald Owen, who consider him hopelessly and irredeemably shiftless. Taylor accepts a sheriff's offer to watch the house and furnishings of widow Harlow to make sure she moves nothing.
COMMENT: High-grade upper-crust comedy, with the cast in fine form, under the expert direction of W.S. Van Dyke. Harlow is given several opportunities as a comic impersonator and acquits herself well. The accent is much more on her ability as a comedienne than on her physical charms, which, if anything, are under-emphasised - although cinematographer William Daniels does give her some attractive close-ups, he also treats us to an equal number of unflattering angles. Similarly, although she has a good wardrobe by Dolly Tree, she slops around for a good deal of footage in an unrevealing bathrobe. And Marla Shelton, at her first appearance wears a more gorgeous gown than any Harlow puts on. Also Harlow's brunette hair is not as alluring as her platinum blonde tresses were.
Oddly, therefore, it is not Harlow but Robert Taylor who walks away with the film's acting honors. Harwood's play is a typical comedy of manners, its storyline slight but long on co-incidence, its chucklesome but one-joke plot fleshed out with a host of captivating and wonderfully quirky characters. Yet, though surrounded by such scene-stealing stalwarts as Reginald Owen as the blustering brother, E.E. Clive as his nervous nellie dad and Una O'Connor as a quarrelsome slavey (not to mention Forrester Harvey's punctilious bailiff, Billy Bevan's adroit waiter and Barnett Parker's unintelligible lounge lizard), Taylor is completely unfazed, delivering a professional performance that is at once suave, sophisticated, charming and wholly likable.
Incidentally, Harwood's play was previously filmed by M-G-M in 1931 under its original title. Robert Montgomery had the Taylor role, whilst Irene Purcell enjoyed the Harlow innings and Charlotte Greenwood impersonated the cook-of-all-work. Cast in the same roles in both versions were Reginald Owen and Forrester Harvey. The 1931 picture was directed by Sam Wood from a screenplay by Sarah Y. Mason, with additional dialogue by P.G. Wodehouse.
I have no complaint about the performances. Taylor was good in light comedy. I did think -- as another reviewer mentioned -- that Harlow was a bit heavy handed here. However, the chemistry works, even if (at least for me) the plot didn't. Throw in some old reliables -- Reginald Owen, the delightful Una O'Connor, and Cora Witherspoon, and you have the ingredients for a good comedy...except it didn't pan out.
I don't recommend this film. Both leads have far better fare you can select from.
The original cast has a huge edge over this sad grouping. Robert Montgomery is way out in front of Robert Taylor in the key role of Raymond Dabney. Likewise, Irene Purcell delivers an incredibly, sexy, charming, classy and witty performance that is completely beyond anything Harlow is capable of. C Aubrey Smith is superb as the father in the original while E.E. Clive is clueless here. There's no end to it as Charlotte Greenwood mops of the floor with Una O' Connor as the maid, 'Clara'.
Jean Harlow is listless and pedestrian as Crystal Wetherby, a woman who is in danger of losing her home and possessions to the bailiff. Once the precode era was over, Harlow 'bulled' her way through many a performance, especially, 'The Girl From Missouri' where she shrieks with self righteous indignation from start to finish. Here, she's too distracted and puffy for a full fledged rampage, but gets off plenty of low-brow jabs at Robert Taylor that are weary and tiring after awhile. The situation is so bad that for those who haven't seen, 'Man In Possession', you'll be absolutely amazed how different that film comes off even though both films have the identical plot. The whole tone is different, the pace is lightning fast and Irene Purcell never ever at any time cuts the legs out from under Montgomery the way Harlow does to Taylor. For those of you who actually like this film, I suggest you see, 'Man In Possession' and your eyes will be opened.
But a few excerpts (no spoilers) of the kind of witticism threading throughout this very delightful film starring Jean Harlow, Robert Taylor, and a fantastic supporting British cast.
Harlow plays an American girl who marries an alleged wealthy Englishman and gets stuck with the bill so to speak. Robert Taylor is a prodigal son type that is denounced by his well-to-do family. Taylor and Harlow meet and sparks of wit pour over the silver screen from opening to closing credit.
Truly a delightful, fun, completely whimsical, happy encounter with a wide range of comedic actors and star performances by Taylor and Harlow, particularly, in my opinion, Robert Taylor.
Of course, it seemed strange that Taylor, with his American drawl, could be part of a British family, but I guess that this just adds to this 1937 comedy which was probably of Jean Harlow's last pictures.
A free-spirited Taylor out of jail lands a position to collect money owed by Harlow who is engaged to marry his brother. Fact remains that both Harlow and her fiancé are marrying each other for their supposed money when in fact, both are very much broke. The fact that Taylor is the brother to the fiancé is unknown and you can imagine when his family arrives at her home for dinner and sees him as the butler known as Ferguson.
The home is filled with an array of party guests who are quite memorable.
When the film begins, Raymond Dabney (Taylor) has just gotten out of jail for something...though they don't say what. His brother, Claude (Owen) is upset because the sudden appearance of Raymond might scare away the fiancée, Crystal (Harlow). By a complete act of chance, Raymond sees Crystal at the opera and INSTANTLY falls head over heels for her. In 1930s films, this is kind of cute as he constantly follows her. When seen today, he seems much more like a creepy stalker!
It turns out that Crystal AND Claude are both interested in marrying each other because they think the other one is rich! Claude is far from rich...and Crystal is so broke that practically everything she owns is being repossessed! So how's all this going to work out and how is Raymond going to figure into all this? See the film...find out for yourself.
Overall, it's a decent film....enjoyable but also slight and easy to forget. The only outstanding portion was the dinner party sequence, as I thought it was rather funny seeing the British actors exaggerating their stuffy upper-class patter. They were so incredibly dull and awful...but funny.
Miss Harlow's wearing of the ring and incorporating it into the actions of the character she's playing seems very significant. It's a personal validation of who she is and what she's worth.
There is a moment where Robert Taylor asks her in the film about her plans to marry, and it is clear that when replying, Harlow is not the character in the story, but her real self, commenting on her own plans to marry Powell. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but we know that she had been given not only a ring, but the gift of real love. And it's great to watch that in this film.
** (out of 4)
Robert Taylor gets a job for the sheriff and his first case is babysitting for a rich woman (Jean Harlow) who recently lost her husband. This film is a remake of the 1931 movie The Man in Possession but since I haven't seen that one I can't compare the two. From what I've read this version was watered down due to the Hayes Code and that comes off true watching the film because Harlow's sexuality tries to get displayed but the screenplay keeps it at a distance. Another problem in the screenplay is that it comes off rather lazy and doesn't feature anything very original or funny for that matter. The whole joke in the second half has Taylor acting as the Butler and we get several childish jokes, which just don't work. Harlow sleepwalks through her role but then again she isn't given too much to do. Taylor doesn't come off any better and Una O'Connor is wasted in her role.