Year: 1933

Director: Sam Wood

Starring: Clark Gable and Jean Harlow

This rollicking good time at the movies features Jean Harlow and Clark Gable in arguably their best film together. Hold Your Man wears the pre-code banner with pride encompassing all the traits of the genre: double entendres, snappy dialogue, racy situations, and street-wise comedy. When the feature opens we see Eddie Hall (Gable) running a short con using a fugazi, a fake diamond ring. His mark figures out he’s been hoodwinked and pretty soon, our grifter is on the run. When he scrambles into an open apartment, he comes across Ruby Adams (Harlow) naked in her bathtub. Her initial reaction is to scream and find out what this nutjob is doing in her home uninvited. Eddie hears the police coming up the stairs and he pleads with Ruby to stall them so he can hide. Not a big fan of law enforcement herself, she reluctantly gives in. When the police come barging in, Ruby gives them her two cents but they barge into the bathroom to find the protagonist covered in soap suds in the tub. Harlow’s character claims that he’s her husband and Eddie yells at them to mind their own business. When the boys in blue leave the grifter jumps out of his bath and we see that he was in the water pants and all. It’s hilarious sequences such as the one I’ve just described that make this motion picture a delight to watch.

The heart and soul of Hold Your Man is the working relationship between Harlow and Gable. They are just like a couple of tennis pros volleying one sizzling barb after another. Quite full of himself, Eddie flirts w/ the curvy blonde like a determined bulldog. Facing one zinger from Ruby after another he accuses her of knowing all the answers. She replies, “Yeah, to all the dumb questions.” Eddie to this point in his life has been a good-for-nothing con artist and Ruby doesn’t have any delusions. She even points out that “… even your smile is crooked.” Eventually his charms prove irresistable to the point where when he tells her to dump her date and come over to his place in Flatbush, Ruby complies. When Gable’s character pours a Scotch and hands it to the blonde firecracker she asks, “Scotland or Brooklyn, which is it?” As Eddie tries to work more of his greasy charm, he invites Harlow’s character to join him on the sofa. Ruby sagely declares, “I got two rules when I go out visiting; keep away from couches and stay on your feet.” Of course, with the overwhelming chemistry these two have onscreen, she inevitably succumbs and spends the night. Eddie gets pinched and ends up doing time on the farm. The scene where she visits and teases him in jail works well. Ruby watches Eddie’s apartment for him and even re-decorates it. The grifter is quite pleased to find her there waiting upon his return. In typical pre-code fashion he follows Ruby into the bedroom, closing the door behind him with just his leg, slowly enough for the audience to infer what will ensue.

While the first two acts of this movie are wonderful, the last morphs from delicious comedy to sappy melodrama. Eddie finds a drunk they were trying to grift pawing Ruby all over. He slugs him so hard that the louse hits his head and dies. While Eddie is on the lam, Ruby gets left holding the bag as a witness spots her as the blonde who’d been with the deceased at the time of the murder. All the momentum this film achieved comes to a grinding halt as our female protagonist does time in prison. She runs across a rival for Eddie’s affections while in the can, and the women almost come to blows several times. When the brunette (Dorothy Burgess) tells everyone else in the barracks how sweet Eddie is on her, Ruby won’t stand for it. She offers this rejoinder instead: “You wouldn’t be a bad looking dame, if it wasn’t for you’re face.” Eventually our two lovers end up with a happy, if contrived, ending. But it’s the third reel that prevents this movie from reaching greatness. Still, this is the sexiest I’ve seen Harlow look onscreen. Hold Your Man is the best pre-code picture I have seen to date. It is mandatory viewing for fans of the platinum one or the king

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