Sunday, February 12, 2012

If You Could Only Cook (1935)

If You Could Only Cook is an obscure 1935 Columbia screwball comedy that starts a bit slowly but ends up being good lightweight entertainment.

Herbert Marshall is automobile magnate James Buchanan, owner of Buchanan Motors, and also their chief designer. He’s rich and successful and he’s about to get married. So I guess he’s pretty happy, right? Well he isn’t. You see his board of directors have turned down his designs for a revolutionary new line of cars.

And then there’s the marriage thing. It’ all very sensible - he has the money, she has the family connections. But there’s no zing to it. No romance. James Buchanan didn’t realise he was a romantic sort of chap but it turns out that he is.

Buchanan heads to the park and sits on a bench to have a think about all this. He happens to sit next to attractive blonde Joan (Jean Arthur). She has her troubles as well. She can’t find a job and her landlady is about to kick her out. She assumes that Buchanan is down on his luck as well, since he seems a bit glum. Joan has noticed that there are actually plenty of job openings for married couples. There’s one in that day’s paper, for a cook and butler. Buchanan remarks whimsically that if only she could cook she could apply for the cook’s job.

Now Joan is in fact an excellent cook and she now gets a brilliant idea. If they pretend to be married then with her cooking skills they’d be sure to get the position. Since this is a Hollywood movie he decides that being a butler might be more fun than running a car factory and he agrees.

Their employer is Mike Rossini. He lives in a big house with his buddy, a guy named Flash. Rossini is a cheerful sort of guy and he’s rather a gourmet. In fact good food is his passion. He’s mightily impressed by Joan’s culinary skills.

Flash seems a bit rough around the edges but he’s friendly enough. All goes well until Buchanan discovers that Rossini is a big-time racketeer and Flash is his chief henchman.

Now when I say Mike Rossini is a gangster I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. He’s a pretty nice guy. OK, from time to time he has to have someone rubbed out when they step out of line and Flash has to organise it but that’s just business. In his personal life he’s charming and generous and rather kindly. And Flash isn’t a bad guy either.

Rossini takes a bit of a shine to Joan and when he finds out that his presumably married cook and butler don’t share a bed he figures maybe they’re not really married so he makes a move on her. You see Mike’s idea of the perfect woman is someone who can cook the way Joan cooks. If they’re pretty and blonde as well that’s a bonus but really it’s all about the cooking.

She gently rebuffs him. He doesn’t take offence. Like I said, he’s a nice guy and he’s a gentleman. Of course pretty soon things start to get confused and crazy in standard screwball comedy style. There are stolen car designs, Joan gets arrested, James Buchanan nearly gets rubbed out, his society wedding turns into a kidnapping and everyone gets their wires crossed. And of course James Buchanan and Joan realise they’re in love.

It’s all good-natured silliness and despite its slow start it does get more and more amusing and more and more fun. Don’t expect to be rolling on the floor with laughter but it’s still very enjoyable. Herbert Marshall is impossible to dislike, as is Jean Arthur, and they make a pretty good team. Leo Carillo as Mike Rossini and Lionel Stander as Flash are both terrific and they get the bulk of the laughs.

This movie is part of the first volume of the Icons of Screwball Comedy series. Each of the two boxed sets contains four Columbia screwball comedies and the nice thing is they’re all movies that have previously been difficult if not impossible to find on DVD. In fact I don’t think any of them have been released on DVD prior to this. They’re decent transfers and both sets are superb value for money.

If You Could Only Cook is certainly recommended. It’s not in the same league as the best of the Carole Lombard screwball comedies or masterpieces of the genre like It Happened One Night or Bringing Up Baby but it’s still warmly recommended.

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