THERE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN. Columbia Pictures, 1938. Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas, Mary Astor, Frances Drake, Jerome Cowan, Thurston Hall, Walter Kingsford, Lester Matthews. Screenplay: Gladys Lehman, based on the short story “There’s Always a Woman” by Wilson Collison (American Magazine, Jan 1937). Director: Alexander Hall.


   A disappointment. After the success of The Thin Man in 1934, there were any number of attempts by Hollywood to cash in on its success, and There’s Always a Woman was one of them.

   Woman, in fact, was intended to be the first in a long series of adventures of PI Bill Reardon (Melvyn Douglas) and his daffy wife Sally (Joan Blondell), but there was only one followup and no more. (I’ll get back to that later.)

   After quitting his job with the D.A.’s office, Bill Reardon starts up his own private eye agency, but business is so bad and in spite of his wife Sally’s encouragement to stick it out a while longer, he decides to stop beating the dead horse and go back to work for the D.A.

   Of course, no sooner does he go out the door but a client walks in. A wealthy society lady (Mary Astor) has a task for the Reardon Agency: to find out if her husband is having an affair with his former paramour, now engaged to another man.


   Sally, you will not be surprised to learn, accepts the case, and not so incidentally, the three hundred dollar retainer that goes with it. (Three hundred dollars paid for a lot of groceries in 1938.)

   When the husband gets murdered, the game is on, but good. Sally is determined to solve the case on her own, while Bill on his part has all the resources of the D.A. (Thurston Hall) for whom he’s now working.

   While it’s a decent enough murder mystery, many viewers may not even notice. What this movie really is is a screwball comedy all the way, with all the stops let out and the battling Reardons in fierce competition from beginning to end – if not all out war.


   And here’s where we came in, and where I begin to quibble and shuffle my feet a little. To my mind, the Reardons are far too antagonistic and aggressive in their struggle to outdo the other, and when I say aggressive, I mean physically.

   There are one or two times when Bill Reardon appears all but certain to rear back and give Sally a punch, and once, after a yank on Sally’s hair that’s a little too fierce, there is a glare in Joan Blondell’s eye in return that definitely does not speak of love.

   It’s been quite a few years from 1938 to now, and I wonder if bringing up today’s attitudes toward spousal abuse as opposed to almost 75 years ago is a point worth mentioning. But while there are scenes in this movie that are funny – how could there not, with bright and sassy Joan Blondell in one of the two primary roles? – most of the humor seems a little too forced for me to give you the full thumbs-up for it which, given the two leading stars, I entirely expected to.

   There was a second movie in the series, There’s That Woman Again, made in 1939, but while Melvyn Douglas returns, Joan Blondell did not; Virginia Bruce played Sally in the sequel. I’ve located a copy, and a look at the second installment of the series will be in order when it arrives.