I kinda have a thing for George Raft. I love his combination of toughness and sweetness, his sexy eyes, slender frame, and elegant body language. And he sure knows how to wear a hat. Raft’s a man who started out on the wrong side of the street, rubbed elbows with gangsters, and then danced in the chorus. But he also made it to the bigtime as a dashing gangster on screen. Sure, he turned down a role or two he shouldn’t have in retrospect, but I do enjoy his films.
What a delight to find a film I haven’t seen in which he gets to be gangster, tycoon, tough guy, and romantic lead, all while showing his talent for comedy. She Couldn’t Take It (1935) is a light-hearted screwball comedy about wealthy businessman Daniel Van Dyke (Walter Connolly) who dies in self-exile in prison to escape his maddening family, from his dotty wife who spends money like water to a spoiled son and daughter who are always in the papers for one bad decision or another. On his deathbed, Van Dyke asks his gangster cellmate and friend, ex-bootlegger Spot Ricardi (George Raft) to be his trustee and get his family in line after he’s gone. Ricardi resists but finally gives way. He does his best to use his tough-guy skills to bring widow and children to heel, even as he falls hard for flighty (but not stupid, as she says herself) daughter Carol (Joan Bennett). The rest is a screwball delight, involving a stolen car, farmers with guns, blackmail, and a rescue that shows little Carol can take care of herself…she just doesn’t want to when Ricardi’s around.
The film has an incredible cast, directed by Tay Garnett — director The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), among others. In addition to the rare delight of seeing Raft and a blonde Bennett in a comedy, there’s also:
- Walter Connolly as befuddled Mr. Van Dyke
- Billie Burke as air-headed Mrs. Van Dyke
- Alan Mowbray as pompous thespian/golddigger Alan Bartlett
- Lloyd Nolan as villain Tex
- Plus Wallace Ford and Donald Meek as members of Tex’s gang
While watching, I was surprised to find the film has a lot in common with My Man Godfrey, which it predates by a year:
- Rich patriarch overwhelmed by his family
- Ditzy wife who spends too much and has unscrupulous proteges
- Second child who looks for trouble out of boredom
- Dizzy blonde who falls for a man she shouldn’t
- Leading man trying to make amends for his past and getting caught up in another family’s troubles
Of course, there were a lot of these character types (Burke made a career out of the flighty wife) and similar scenarios throughout 30s Hollywood comedies. Still, I don’t see why this film isn’t better known. Raft and Bennett aren’t Powell and Lombard, but they’re thoroughly enjoyable together!
Ultimately, I find the film a delight and recommend it highly. Because it’s not available on DVD, I’m happy to say it can be found free online at www.rarefilmm.com for your viewing and downloading pleasure.