Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Classic Films in Focus: THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. (1941)

One does not generally think of Bette Davis as a comedienne, but The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941) provides a rare glimpse of the actress as a screwball heroine of the type more frequently played by Katharine Hepburn or Claudette Colbert. Directed by William Keighley and co-starring James Cagney, The Bride Came C.O.D. is not one of Davis' better known films or one of her best, but it's still a fun picture, especially because it offers such a different perspective on its two stars.

Davis plays oil heiress Joan Winfield, a spoiled rich girl whose whirlwind romance with a publicity-hungry band leader (Jack Carson) leads to an elopement. Joan's father (Eugene Pallette) opposes the match and accepts a deal with the couple's hired pilot, Steve Collins (James Cagney), to thwart the wedding. In order to keep Joan from tying the knot, Steve kidnaps her in his plane, but the two end up stranded in a desert ghost town where the only resident is an eccentric old man called Pop (Harry Davenport). Stuck with each other, Joan and Steve bicker their way toward romance, much to the amusement of Pop, but a widely publicized search for the missing bride makes Steve a wanted man.

In Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, biographer Ed Sikov writes this movie off as "the worst screwball comedy ever made," but that's really an unfair assessment of the film. Davis looks great and seems to be having a wonderful time, and Cagney's own tremendous personality perfectly matches hers. It's a shame that they didn't make more films together. Admittedly, some of the gags wear thin by the movie's end; Bette Davis' rear seems magnetically attracted to every cactus in the desert, and the jokes about her weight won't get laughs from many female viewers. Davis does, however, get to cut loose for a change, and she and Cagney have the right chemistry for screwball romance. Cagney, of course, had more experience with comedy than his leading lady, and he also looks like he's enjoying himself quite a bit. He and Davis are both experts at salty, derisive dialogue and a well-timed, mocking laugh, and the relationship between Joan and Steve builds on these shared aspects of their temperaments.

Look for reliable character actors Eugene Pallette and William Frawley in supporting roles. Harry Davenport is very funny as Pop Tolliver, the crusty loner whose dilapidated hotel serves as a refuge for Joan and Steve. Davis and Cagney also star together in the 1934 film Jimmy the Gent, directed by Michael Curtiz. Contrast Davis' performance here with her better-known performances in Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), and All About Eve (1950). See classic Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931), Footlight Parade (1933), and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938). For more from director William Keighley, try The Prince and the Pauper (1937) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

An earlier version of this review originally appeared on Examiner.com. The author retains all rights to this content.