|Released by RKO | Directed By Worthington Miner
Proof That It’s Pre-Code-ish
- A husband and wife have separated and she is clearly having an affair with a very young artist on the side.
- A young woman (who gads about in slinky lingerie) either commits suicide or is accidentally murdered. It’s hard to tell which occurs, but the movie doesn’t seem too interested in sorting out the truth either way.
Hat, Coat, and Glove: Mismatched
“You’re no criminal. Nor murderer. I’m sure I could prove that. If I want to.”
One of the fun things about watching enough movies is in finding ones that still manage to surprise you. Mind you, it may not be in a good way– case in point with today’s movie, which is earnestly ludicrous to a remarkable degree.
It’s meticulous in its setup, starting in a department store with our three main characters each purchasing one of the titular items. For Robert, a new camel coat; a sign of a new beginning, he hopes. For Dorothea, a hat, identical to one that seems to have gone missing. And for Jimmy a pair of gloves he doesn’t particularly like; he’s distracted while buying them by seeing Dorothea rush by without saying a word. Perhaps its because she was accompanied by her husband.
Dorothea and Robert have been separated for six weeks. He’s still deeply in love with her, and she harbors some affection for him as well. His big problem seems to be simply that he’s so meek; Robert only comes alive in the courtroom where he’s known for his antics and clever legalese. Everywhere else he’s quiet, thoughtful, and, from Dorothea’s point of view, perhaps a bit dull.
Ricardo Cortez, normally an aggressive lover or an off-kilter slime ball, plays a restrained man with remarkable grace. His Robert is quiet and introverted; you’re instantly drawn into the man’s relationship and want to know what could have possibly driven him and his receptive but evasive wife apart. The answer will only disappoint, I’m afraid.
Jimmy is a young artist– “Nobody has the right to be as young as you are,” Dorothea notes– who has one problem. An old fling keeps reappearing and demanding his time and attention. She’s Ann, played by Dorothy Burgess in a negligee, so it’s hard to believe he resists as hard as he does.
Robert finally snaps and decides to confront Jimmy at his apartment, only to find Ann there alone, drunk and frustrated. Burgess has a real electricity behind her performance, and her Ann tries her best to arouse Robert’s passions, only to run into a brick wall of impassivity. She pulls out a gun and offers it to Robert so that he may kill Jimmy. When he refuses, Ann dials Dorothea on the phone, intent on killing herself over the phone so that her lover’s new lover will hear it. There’s a scuffle and a gunshot and Ann is dead.
The kicker? The evidence all points at Jimmy.
For a movie that had been fairly quietly observed for its running time to this point, the switch to crime drama is hilarious. Maybe I should have known it as soon as it was mentioned that Robert was a brilliant lawyer, but the last third of the picture is devoted to an extensive trial scene, though it seems much, much longer.
After agreeing to save Jimmy as long as he doesn’t reveal that he was with Dorothea the night of the murder, Robert takes to the defense. The prosecutions evidence? Surprise– a hat, a coat, and a glove. At least the title makes sense, I’ll give the movie that one.
Most of the tension comes from the fact that by helping Jimmy, Robert may be putting him back in Dorothea’s arms, but that never really seems to concern him. He knows he’ll get Jimmy off because, incredulously, Robert’s trial strategy is to use the fact that he committed the murder to completely discredit the prosecution’s witnesses. And it works! It fucking works!
The film’s finale finds the trio alone after Robert’s defense sets him free with no one in the court any the wiser as to who the true criminal was. Jimmy and Dorothea know, though– and Dorothea goes back to Robert because he saved Jimmy. So there’s your moral: kill your wife’s lover’s lover, prove your wife’s lover’s innocence, and your wife will be back in your arms in no time.
I busted out laughing several times during Hat, Coat, and Glove, and it was never from the movie’s heavy handed comic relief. While there is some great work from Burgess and Cortez, the movie detours from his quiet, nuanced performance and insists on putting it in a gaudy trial movie that feels less like Perry Mason and more like something out of a Wheeler & Woolsey flick. There are good elements here, but the movie just can’t seem to make up its mind what to do with any of them.
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Trivia & Links
- Not technically a pre-Code since it was released in August of 1934, but its content certainly doesn’t seem dialed down at all.
- Director Worthington Miner didn’t have a very distinguished career as a director, but he did executive produce The Pawnbroker (1964), one of the films whose release was considered key to the dissolution of the Motion Picture Production Code.
- Andre Sennwald of the New York Times says the film has, “marked likeness to all the dreadfully familiar trial scenes of the past.” I love Sennwald’s reviews, and I think he’s remarkably pithy with this one. A highlight: “The grapevine from the West Coast whispers that John Barrymore declined to play the lead in the film. That, too, is a form of dramatic criticism.”
- Greenbriar Picture Show feels that the whole thing suffers without Barrymore, whose problems with alcoholism resulted in him being kicked off the production a few days after it commenced.
- According to TCMDB, the same play this was based off of was the basis for a 1944 Tom Conway vehicle called A Night of Adventure. … yeah, okay.
- One joke I did laugh at in this movie was a pair of police officers quizzing one another on classical poetry. It’s pretty random, and I guess that’s my excuse for laughing at it, too.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film appeared in the Wikipedia List of Pre-Code Films.
- This film is, like a lot of pre-Code RKO pictures, fairly obscure. It popped up on TCM back in January of last year, so good luck in finding it now!
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