Hired Wife (1940)
User ReviewsReview this title
Best of all and driving the movie is Rosalind Russell in the type of role that became her signature: the fiercely competent, take care gal who also happened to be deeply romantic and fighting to get the guy she's set her sights on. Some of her machinations are outlandish but since she plays them straight she manages to put them across.
She's well matched with the debonair Brian Aherne, not only a suave leading man but because of his 6 ft 3 in height someone the statuesque Rosalind paired up well with visually. Virginia Bruce is wry and knowing as a gold digging model and Robert Benchley funny as Aherne's lawyer. The real standout in support is John Carroll, a secondary leading man for most of his career he's full of goofy charm as a former beau of Roz's character displaying a comic finesse that Hollywood didn't take advantage of.
A cute studio movie that helped its star hone her screen persona following directly after her one-two punch of The Women and His Girl Friday.
Brian Ahearn was OK, but Russell is her comic best here, much as she is, of course, in "His Girl Friday".
Another spark in this comedy is the always reliable Robert Benchley as Brian Ahearn's attorney and friend of many years. He is vintage Benchley, with the droll line uttered with a poker face, a sly double take, and more than one sequence involving snoring and talking in his sleep....the sort of comedic genius which Benchley is remembered for.
Nevertheless, if you happen to have come across this film or have divulged any interest in watching it, I would encourage your desire and eagerly anticipate your enjoyment. After all, this film really is quite swell, even if it isn't particularly a classic in any way. Its plot is screwball, to be sure, with aspects of the Comedy of Remarriage thrown in for good measure, such is the widespread appeal of that genre at this time. While I cannot attest to the picture quality being excellent-- naturally this film lacked the MGM sheen, or even the crispness of some Paramount or Columbia features-- that doesn't detract from any pleasure you might find herein. Naturally I assume that given Rosalind Russel's starring in this film it would most appeal to her fans, and if you are caught in her own particular spell you will no doubt appreciate her character here, which is embodied by the typical qualities which this actress is so renown at invoking, such as her being a strong, coordinated, wise-cracking woman of competence yet who retains an essential romantic, traditionalized passion underneath it all; to be sure, this is a typical Roz role.
Even further surprising is the fact that at least two of the other actors herein are recognizable as appearing in several other films, by which I understand Virginia Bruce and Robert Benchley to be those. All in all, this film is typical of its time, certainly being the type of story that only could have ever been produced before the horrors of the war about to be fought, and if you enjoy such a circumstance; such a setting; such a plot; such characters-- then I cannot understand why you should not watch this film, or join me in wondering why it wasn't successful, or given more attention.
The film is funny, aided by a good cast, especially Russell in the lead role. John Carroll's Spanish playboy is totally unconvincing but he does get a lot of mileage out of the role. As regards the story, you can tell what is going to happen but just go with it on its journey.
It soon becomes advantageous for Aherne to marry for business purposes. After the wedding occurs, they soon find that they're not compatible. Of course, I omitted that Russell had lied to his girlfriend so that she could marry him.
The line of the marriage papers not being filled correctly also is again used in this picture as well. Did Hollywood always see that type of situation as a way out?
Wonderful support is given by others in this film.
Copyright 4 September 1940 by Universal Pictures Co., Inc. Presented by Universal Studios. New York release at the Roxy: 13 September 1940. U.S. release: September 1940. Australian release: 25 November 1940. Sydney release at the State: 22 November 1940. In 1948 Universal licensed the film to Realart Pictures who re-released it through Eagle Lion Films (Pathe Industries, Inc.). 10 reels. 96 minutes. 8,640 feet.
SYNOPSIS: Secretary agrees to marry boss for business reasons. Secretary is actually in love with boss, but boss has eyes for a blonde gold-digger!
COMMENT: "Hired Wife" is a good example of the tale that is ballyhooed as beat-the-censor risqué, but is actually as moral as a Puritan on the Sabbath. Just look at the headlines in the ads! (Don't blame me for any spelling mistakes. I am quoting directly from the Pressbook).
"Blonde fiancée by day! Brunette wife by night! Between them both, he didn't know what time it was ! The hilarious hi-jinks of a honeymoon built for three!" — "A bride in his arms A fiancée on his hands He's up to his neck in girl trouble!" — "When his blonde fiancée meets his brunette wife Is his face red!" — "Hilarious hi- jinks! Romantic antics!"
Mrs. Grundy may well have taken umbrage at these catch-lines, but Europe was at war and she had other things on her mind. In any case, the publicity promised far more than the film actually delivered. Looking at it today without benefit of the ballyhoo, the movie emerges as a pleasant enough, even lightly amusing romantic comedy. The players are surprisingly agreeable. We expect Robert Benchley to be amusing (and he is!), but it's nice to find the principals (even normally staid old Brian Aherne) investing their roles with such deft comic touches.
Briskly directed (by Bill Seiter, not always the most reliable of hands), with high production values, "Hired Wife" emerges as a slight but entertaining example of Hollywood adaptability to censorship in the early 1940's.
A sparkling script could have compensated for the predictability of the story, but this one just lumbers on from one lame incident to another to drag out the phony marriage in a way that obeys the Production Code. The one that breaks it is a cliché that has itself been the basis of several other movies, and is no less plausible for that. Brian Aherne--the poor man's David Niven--has no sex appeal, or at least no chemistry with Rosalind Russell, and Virginia Bruce isn't half as good-looking as the other characters claim she is, at least not in her hideous pompadour hairstyle. Robert Benchley has no funny lines, is asleep through part of the movie, and looks as if he is trying to sleep through the rest.
But then there's Roz. Rosalind Russell was a fabulous comedian of the glossy, unflappable school, a superwoman who never (at least, so far as I can remember) gave up meaningful work to be the little wifey baking cookies (although, annoyingly, the movie does show her taking some kind of "delicious" baked goods out of the oven in her career-woman kitchen. What funny lines the picture does have are given to her--indeed, most are created by her, because, on paper, they are just ordinary lines, and would remain so without her crisp delivery, rich implication, and more-than-perfect timing.
You wouldn't be wrong to think this movie is not worth the time of anyone except Rosalind Russell fans. On the other hand, if you don't know her work, this could make you one.
There are some good moments in the film -- many of them supplied by Robert Benchley portraying his usual drunken, befuddled sidekick.
Unfortunately, where "His Girl Friday" was crisp and energetic, "Hired Wife" is slow and lethargic -- perhaps it should have been named "Tired Wife." Even worse, where HGF is full of belly laughs, HW only produces occasional smiles.
To those who would blame the result on the replacement of Cary Grant with Brian Aherne, I would point out that Aherne was very good in a similar role in "Merrily We Live" which was a much funnier film. No, I think the key difference was MWL was directed by Norman Z. McLeod who did some of the Marx Brothers' best films and HGF was made by the legendary Howard Hawks. The writer of HGF was Charles Lederer who also wrote gems like "I Love You Again," "Love Crazy," and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
It's not terrible, but it has been done so much better in films like "More Than a Secretary," "Wife vs. Secretary," and "She Married Her Boss" among others.
A bit later, the idiot Stephen learns that his company is vulnerable to a possible hostile takeover. So, to save his butt, he realizes he could hide many of his assets if he gets married and proposed a very business-like arrangement with Kendal--marry him but it will be in name only. Not exactly Mr. Romance, huh? Well, Kendal agrees...but also has plans of her own and they DON'T involve just getting married for his convenience...and he realizes this when she suddenly refuses to grant him a divorce! And, in those days, that meant he was in serious trouble!
While I liked this film, I did not love it and have seen similar sorts of movies from the era that worked better. What is the big problem? Well, the ending (which is a foregone conclusion) comes way too abruptly. It seemed almost like the director realized the film was running on long enough and just decided to wrap it up and call it a day! Enjoyable...but nothing more.
All the main players were excellent. I don't understand why Dexter latches onto the unknown Phyllis: no more beautiful(and perhaps less, with her pompadour hairdo) than the available and willing Roz with whom he had spent 6 years as his executive secretary. I don't know if his scheme of 'hiding' his assets in his wife's name would have stymied the injunction, but the screenplay assumes it would.