Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Classic Films in Focus: MAN WANTED (1932)



Lovely Kay Francis plays a career woman in director William Dieterle’s Pre-Code romance, Man Wanted (1932), but the office is just as good a place to find love as the bedroom, especially with handsome David Manners as Francis’ leading man. While Man Wanted is relatively tame compared with other Pre-Code pictures like Baby Face (1933), its casual treatment of adultery and winking depictions of sexual desire mark it as the kind of film that couldn’t have been made later in the 1930s when moral censorship of the movies became more commonplace. Aside from the titillation of Pre-Code themes, Man Wanted offers a very good look at Francis and Manners as well as entertaining performances from supporting players like Kenneth Thomson, Andy Devine, and Una Merkel.

Francis stars as Lois Ames, the dedicated editor of a successful magazine who rarely sees her playboy husband, Freddie (Kenneth Thomson). When Lois fires her secretary for refusing to work late hours every night, Tom Sherman (David Manners) happens to be on the spot, and he ends up getting the job. Soon Lois and Tom are spending almost all of their time together at work, much to the disgruntlement of Tom’s fiancée, Ruth (Una Merkel). Freddie, meanwhile, seems to have found the attention he lacks at home in the arms of another woman.

Francis and Manners look splendid together, while their mismatched partners are so obviously wrong for them that the audience knows immediately that some serious reorganization is needed. The comic relief characters, played by Una Merkel and Andy Devine, seem fated to pair off, while Thomson’s Freddie takes matters into his own hands by finding a more suitable partner for his life of leisure. The movie attaches no blame to any of these characters for their romantic choices; we get the feeling that Lois and Freddie have shared some good times but just don’t work as a lifelong bond. It’s a very modern attitude, which may surprise viewers more accustomed to the classic movies of the 1940s.

Although she is less well-known today, Kay Francis was a major star in the 1930s and appeared in more than 60 feature films. Her large, expressive eyes and slender figure perfectly capture the ideal feminine look of the day, with all the grace and wit required to hold the screen against costars like the urbane William Powell. David Manners made fewer pictures than Francis but is probably best remembered today for his roles in classic horror films, including Dracula (1931) and The Mummy (1932). His horror costar Edward Van Sloan makes a brief appearance in Man Wanted as Tom’s boss in the sporting goods store.

Man Wanted is available on DVD from Warner Archive as part of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume 4. You’ll find more of Kay Francis in that collection in Jewel Robbery (1932). David Manners also stars in the collection feature, They Call It Sin (1932). See more of comic character actor Andy Devine in Westerns like Stagecoach (1939) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Viewers might also recognize his trademark rasp as the voice of Friar Tuck in Disney’s 1973 adaptation of Robin Hood. Look for Kentucky native Una Merkel in Destry Rides Again (1939), It’s a Joke, Son! (1947), and Summer and Smoke (1961). 

This review was originally posted on Examiner.com. The author retains all rights to this content.