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Film / Hands Across the Table

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Hands Across the Table (1935) is a Paramount Screwball Comedy about Regi Allen (Carole Lombard), a gold-digging manicurist who thinks love is for suckers and doesn’t want anything to do with it.

Working at a barbershop, she comes across lonely millionaire, Allen Macklyn (Ralph Bellamy), a recluse former flyer who, after an aviation accident, now uses a wheelchair. He doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him, so he never goes out. Regi’s visits make him less grumpy and have a better outlook on life, and he laughs at her cynical nature towards love, knowing that she’s probably a closeted romantic.

Meanwhile, Regi literally bumps into Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray), a millionaire worth trying to nab. Luckily, she gets a date with him. Unfortunately, Regi finds out that he’s engaged to the pineapple heiress, Vivien Snowden (Astrid Allwyn), and the Crash affected the Drew’s cash flow. To add insult to injury, he’s so drunk after their date, she has to keep him in her apartment for the night. When Regi gets back from work, it turns out that Ted missed his boat to Bermuda, and asks Regi to let him stay so his soon-to-be father-in-law and fiancée don’t find out.

They both realize that they’re after the same thing: money. Love is something that can’t exist to them, so they become friends.

But being strictly friends proves to be difficult.

Directed by Mitchell Leisen, this is a stand-out screwball comedy that not only added to Lombard’s stardom, but made Fred MacMurray her frequent co-star: they appeared in four films together.

Hands Across the Table shows the following tropes:

  • Almost Kiss: While Regi is tucking in Ted into bed.
    Ted : You're almost as good at this as my mother was.
    Regi: Was there anything else your mother did?
    Ted: Mhmm... Before she turned out the lights, she always used to kiss me good night.
    Regi: I'm only almost as good as your mother was.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Happens on the rooftop. Regi rejects it, but then changes her mind to only find that Ted has left.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: A very of its time joke when Ted pretends to be Regi’s “Japanese boy” (servant).
  • Cry into Chest: When Regi goes to do Allen’s nails, she confesses that she fell in love like a sucker and cries accordingly.
  • Chiaroscuro: During the roof scenes (and nighttime ones), the lighting is very like what would later be used for Film Noir, so much so that taking the scenes out of context, they have a noir sensibility. However, for the tone of the film, it creates more of a romantic mood.
    • Ted Tetzaff did the cinematography for this film, and was Carole Lombard’s favourite cinematographer; he did 10 of her films.
      • In one scene, you can see Lombard’s scar due to the lighting.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Regi wears light coloured clothing whereas Vivian tends to wear darker, less becoming shades.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Ted all the way.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Ted’s Vivian Snowden, the “pineapple queen”.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Poor Allen falls in love with Regi, but she only considers him a friend, and he never tells her he has feelings for her.
  • Domestic Abuse: Ted pretends to be one to scare away Regi’s date, and she joins in!
  • From Roommates to Romance: Ted suggests that he should be Regi’s roommate while he pretends to be in Bermuda, and all is fine and well until romantic feelings begin to boil…
  • Flowers of Romance: Allen sends Regi daffodils, and yet, she still doesn't realize he's in love with her.
  • From Roommates to Romance: Ted suggests that he should be Regi’s roommate while he pretends to be in Bermuda, and all is fine and well until romantic feelings begin to boil…
  • Golddigger: Regi is a cynical one, and Ted is a rare male example.
    Regi: We're exactly alike.
    Ted: No, ha ha, oh no, your hair is much prettier than...
    Regi: We are! We're both trying to do the same thing: marry for money.
    Ted: Is that what you want to do?
    Regi: Mm-hmm.
    Ted: Oh, no, you're too nice for that.
    Regi: Well, I don't want to spend the rest of my life working in a barber shop.
    Ted: Well, but to go out in cold blood and deliberately marry somebody for money, that's no good.
    Regi: Well, what are you doing?
    Ted: Well... Well, it's different for me: I'm a heel!
    Regi: Well, did I ever say I wasn't one?
  • The Great Depression:
    Ted: Oh, father's living abroad. He has an amazing ability for borrowing money from practically total strangers. Unfortunately, that ability isn't hereditary.
    Regi: How could the Drews be broke?
    Ted: Well, do you remember that thing called the Crash?
    Regi: Yes.
    Ted: Well, that was us.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Vivian’s response to Ted being with Regi. Interestingly enough, once she realizes he’s in love, she understands and breaks off the engagement, wishing him luck.
  • Heads, Tails, Edge: Ted tells Regi that he’ll get a job (something he doesn’t want) if the coin lands on the edge. They’re on a moving bus, and it falls onto oncoming traffic. They block up traffic trying to find the coin, and it turns up, miraculously, on its edge, landing in a crevice of a manhole.
  • Hiccup Hijinks: To get rid of Regi’s hiccups, Ted says that she needs to stand over a glass of water and sip from the other side to get rid of them. It works until her hiccups come back seconds later.
  • Idle Rich: Ted was, but now he has to either marry Vivian or get a job. The latter being the worst possible choice for him.
  • Literal-Minded: Oh, Ted:
    • Regi: Well, I'm not that unconventional.
      Ted: Aw, don't be old-fashioned. What are conventions anyway? Just a bunch of salesmen sitting around and telling stories.
    • Ted: Mother says I'm a throwback to my great-grandfather. He was a pirate.
      Regi: Honest? (meant as, “really?")
      Ted: No, a pirate.
  • Longing Look: Quite a few between Regi and Ted, but they won’t admit it.
  • Meet Cute: Coming out of Allen’s apartment, Regi bumps into Ted while he’s playing hopscotch on the checkered floor. She’s not impressed.
  • The Operators Must Be Crazy: On the phony call from “Bermuda,” Regi pretends to be the operator, and keeps interrupting Ted’s conversation with Vivian.
  • Rich Bitch: Vivien certainly acts like one, but she had reasons to be jealous.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Allen is the lonely millionaire, and Ted is the crazy, formerly rich one.
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Romantic False Lead: Allen. Played by Ralph Bellamy, so that should’ve tipped everyone off.
  • Scenery Censor: While pressing his pants, Ted walks around in his underwear for a while, but when he bends down, there’s a strategically placed plant to stop any peeping eyes from seeing something extra.
  • Screwball Comedy: A wonderful one with the "Queen of Screwball", Carole Lombard.
  • Shirtless Scene: Ted needs to look like he was in Bermuda, so Regi gets a tanning lamp from the barbershop. He’s then shirtless for a long period. Regi doesn’t seem to mind, however.
  • Smoking Is Glamorous: The chiaroscuro lighting in the rooftop scene makes their smoking look good.
  • Stupid Sexy Friend: Regi and Ted try their best to maintain a strict no “love” relationship, but it doesn’t work out.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Fred MacMurray.
  • Tomboyish Name: A bonus Two First Names: Regi Allen.