Tag Archives: Herbert Marshall

The Butlers And Maids Blogathon: If You Could Only Cook(1935)

Butler blogathon

Two of my favourite bloggers, Paddy at Caftan Woman, and Rich at Wide Screen World, are teaming up to co-host this blogathon dedicated to screen butlers and maids. Be sure to visit their sites to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

If You Could Only Cook is a little gem which holds a very special place in my heart. Not only is it a lovely and little known film filled with humour and great characters, but it is also the film which first introduced me to the actors Jean Arthur and Herbert Marshall.While I know that my opinion of some films could well change over the years, I know that this one will always remain beloved by yours truly. 

Jean Arthur and Herbert Marshall both shine here and their performances in this have become favourites of mine. Herbert is all charm and world weariness as the wealthy man turned servant, while Jean is bubbly and determined as a down on her luck woman who will keep trying to better herself in spite of her current circumstances. This was Herbert’s twenty-first film. Unlike many other actors, it hadn’t really taken Herbert very long to become a popular star, with roles in films such as Blonde Venus and Trouble In Paradise earning him leading man status.

                                              Jean and Herbert. Image source IMDb.

Jean Arthur had been working in films since 1923, but until 1935 hadn’t really given a performance that would change things for her. In this year however she shone, not only in this film, but also in The Whole Town’s Talking. The following year came Mr. Deeds Came To Town. She would quickly become forever immortalised on screen as the no nonsense, tough, and bubbly girl next door type. 

If You Could Only Cook is directed by William A. Seiter, who is unfortunately a rather unknown and seldom discussed director these days. He worked steadily all throughout the classic film era, from the Silent era right up until 1954. If he’s remembered at all today then it’s for directing the Astaire and Rogers musical Roberta(1935), and the Shirley Temple version of The Little Princess(1939).

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Publicity photo for the film featuring Herbert Marshall, Jean Arthur and Leo Carillo. Image source IMDb.

If You Could Only Cook contains many characters who would be right at home in a Frank Capra film, and that is interesting due to how this film was released here in the UK by Columbia Pictures. Capra films were very popular here and it was felt his name would be a box office draw for audiences, so the film was marketed as being a Frank Capra production. Frank Capra however had nothing at all to do with the film and he was furious when he found out what was going on. Capra sued Columbia Studios, and a bitter dispute developed between him and Columbia studio head Harry Cohen. The following year, Frank Capra made his classic Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.His leading lady in that film? Ironically it was none other than Jean Arthur. 

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Jim and Joan meet in the park and look for work. Screenshot by me.

If You Could Only Cook is set against the backdrop of the American Depression. Jim Buchanan(Herbert Marshall)is the wealthy head of a large Automobile Company. He is deeply frustrated when his board of directors refuse to accept his latest designs for a new type of car to be built and sold. Leaving his office after an angry meeting with the board which resulted in him deciding to take time off work, Jim takes himself off to the local park.

At the park Jim finds himself sharing a bench with out of work Joan(Jean Arthur), who is looking through job adverts in the paper. Assuming that Jim is also an ordinary person out of work, Joan passes him the job ads. They get talking and Joan persuades him into applying for a Butler and Cook job open to married couples only. Jim plays along with her, agrees to her proposal, and the pair decide to pretend to be married and apply for the vacancy.

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Preparing a dish as part of the interview. Screenshot by me.

The employer is a Mr. Rossini(an hilarious Leo Carrillo)who unbeknown to the couple is the head of a bootlegging gang. Rossini loves his  food, and is desperate to hire a cook who knows their job. In a very amusing scene he dismisses a potential applicant because of how she prepares the sauce he asks her to – “Not in my house you don’t put the garlic in the sauce!” To his great delight when it comes to Joan’s interview/test, Joan prepares the sauce the correct way, by wafting the garlic six inches above the surface of the sauce. Joan and Jim are hired. Jim sneaks out at night to take some side lessons on how to pass as a butler from his own butler, Jennings(Romaine Callender, reminding me very much of Eric Blore). Jim is a quick study and makes a very good butler indeed.

So begins a lot of funny moments as Joan and Jim begin work around the house. As they spend more time together it’s clear they are starting to like one another quite a bit. When they get hired they are placed in a double room over the garage, which of course poses problems as regards to the sleeping arrangements. They move a sofa out onto the balcony to serve as a second bed. This aspect of the film reminds me somewhat of the “Walls of Jericho” part of It Happened One Night(1934). 

                 Joan and Jim get to work around the house and get cosy later. Screenshot by me.

While it’s fair to say the film is no masterpiece and only clocks in at 1 hour 11 minutes long, it is however one of the most enjoyable and fun films from the classic era for me. It’s become a comfort film and it’s one I love to return to again and again. I also like that none of the characters are perfect. For all their faults, and for the fact that many lies are told by some of them, you can’t really hate any of the main characters in this. Even after it’s revealed what Rossini does for a living, and even after he comes onto Joan at one point, you still like the guy. The character of Jim serves to show that the rich don’t have happy and perfect lives just because they are rolling in money. Joan serves to show that the unemployed are looking for work and want to work, rather than receive handouts and not gain employment. Rossini serves to remind us that sometimes even someone who does great wrong, can weirdly be a very nice person at the same time.

While Jean and Herbert are undeniably the main attraction of this film, they have fine support from the rest of the cast, Len Carillo stands out as the tough and loud Rossini, who is a real sweetheart, despite the fact he is a thug and orders killings for a living. I love the affection that develops between Rossini and Joan later in the film and how he brings about Joan and Jim’s eventual happy ending.

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Lionel Stander. Screenshot by me.

A young Lionel Stander is absolutely hilarious as Rossini’s baffled pal,Flash. He steals all the scenes he’s in. Years later of course Lionel would get to show off some butler skills of his own, when he was cast as Max in the TV series Hart To Hart

Let’s hear it for If You Could Only Cook!

The Swashathon: Anne Of The Indies (1951)

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Fritzi, over at MoviesSilently, is hosting this blogathon all about swashbucklers. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries, I can’t wait to read them myself.

When you think of pirates, I will bet most of you will instantly think of athletic, rugged men, who are skilled sword fighters, and who speak in a somewhat similar fashion to Long John Silver (as played by Robert Newton.) Am I right? I will bet hardly any of you ever think of women pirates.

In real life there were actually several women who would go on to became pirates. Anne Bonny and Grace O’Malley are just two such examples. I find the choice of these women to roam the seas at the time they did to actually be quite brave. In the time those women lived life for women was very restrictive; they were expected to behave in a certain way, to marry, bear children, and to keep the home clean and tidy. Women pirates showed that women didn’t have to live that way, they could be fearless, strong and were more than capable of taking on a mans role.

In 1951, Jacques Tourneur directed Anne Of The Indies. This exciting pirate story sees     Jean Peters (step aside Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone) proving that women could have adventures, command ships and buckle their swash too. Jean is one of my favourite classic era actresses and she is someone who I think should have become a far greater star than she did become. She is brilliant here.

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Jean Peters as Anne. Image source IMDb.

Jean Peters accepted the role of the barefoot, fearless, Captain Anne Providence (loosely based on Anne Bonney), and in doing so delivers what I consider to be one of her best screen performances. Anne is a woman living and trying to survive in a man’s world. She is the Captain of her own ship and is respected by the men who sail under her command. Jean captures and conveys to us that Anne has to be doubly tough, doubly harsh etc to feel that she is one of the men. Anne cannot afford to be seen as a weak woman by them, lest that should make her men lose faith in her and feel that she is no longer one of them. There are times when we see she wants to break down and cry, wants to accept comfort, but she can’t afford to do anything to destroy the crews perceived image of her.

Jean really makes you admire this woman’s strength and determination. As the film goes on Anne falls in love, and she fights an internal struggle over whether she should let herself be a woman, or whether she should deny her feelings and remain the Captain and leader of her crew. Captain Anne Providence (Jean Peters)commands the pirate ship, The Sheba Queen. In revenge for her brothers murder at the hands of the English, Anne hunts down British ships and makes their crews walk the plank.

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Anne and Pierre. Image source IMDb.

One night, whilst taking a British ship, Anne and her crew find a Frenchman aboard kept as prisoner. This man is Pierre LaRochelle (Louis Jourdan). Anne spares his life and keeps him on as her sailing master. Pierre claims to have been the Captain of an Irish ship captured by the English over a year ago. One of Anne’s most loyal crew members is Dougal (James Robertson Justice),and he is suspicious of LaRochelle’s story. Famed pirate Blackbeard (Thomas Gomez)also has doubts about LaRochelle, but even he cannot place doubt in Anne’s heart or mind. Anne and Pierre fall in love, and for the first time in many a year, Anne allows herself to just be a woman. Heartbreak, betrayal and some genuine surprises await just around the next cove.

This film has everything, a good story, lots of action, adventure, romance and it captures the pirate life quite well. You see them sharing the spoils of war, you see the larger than life personalities and see the danger and violence of their way of life.

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Jameson tends to a wounded Anne. Image source IMDb.

I really love the relationship between Anne and her ships doctor, Jameson (Herbert Marshall)he is a father figure to her, and he is the only one with whom she can be vulnerable. The pair have several touching moments and he can see long before she is perhaps aware of it, that she is falling for LaRochelle. Jameson is also the one person aboard her ship who is not afraid to be openly compassionate or to speak his mind; even if his opinion will put him against Anne and the rest of her crew.

The cast all give solid performances. Jean Peters is defiant, strong and tough. Louis  Jourdan has to create a sense of mystery around LaRochelle, and manages to do so very well. It’s also not hard to accept that his dashing mystery man could capture Anne’s heart (he is gorgeous! 🙂 ). James Robertson Justice is observant and reliable as the loyal Dougal. Thomas Gomez is larger than life as the fearless and fun loving Blackbeard. Herbert Marshall is gentle and likeable as Doctor Jameson.

While I love this film for the story and setting, I love it even more for the psychological approach it takes towards the character of Anne. That is quite a unique angle for a pirate film to take, and it’s also quite unusual to have a woman pirate Captain as the main character. These two make this film very different from so many other films of this genre.

My favourite scenes are the following. Anne asking LaRochelle where he has been (after he leaves the Blackbeard party.) Jameson tending to Anne’s injury. Anne and LaRochelle sharing a kiss on the beach. Anne looking out to sea and finally accepting that she and her men have been betrayed. The final scene between Jameson and Anne. Anne and Blackbeard’s play swordfight battle.

This is a film that deserves to be much better known today. It lasts for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, and packs a great deal into a fairly short running time. I hope my post will encourage those of you who have never heard of this one to seek it out. I’d love to hear what you think of this film. Please leave your comments below.

I’m also listing below my five favourite pirate films.

1- The Black Swan

2- Treasure Island

3- Anne of the Indies

4- Pirates of the Caribbean

5- Captain Blood