REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

WEDDING PRESENT. Paramount Pictures, 1936. Cary Grant, Joan Bennett, George Bancroft, Conrad Nagel, William Demarest, Gene Lockhart, Edward Brophy. Screenplay: Joseph Anthony, based on a story by Paul Gallico. Directed by Richard Wallace.

BIG BROWN EYES. Paramount Pictures, 1936. Cary Grant, Joan Bennett, Walter Pidgeon, Lloyd Nolan, Alan Baxter, Marjorie Gateson, Isabel Jewel, Douglas Fowley, Henry Brandon, Joe Sawyer. Screenplay by Raoul Walsh, Bert Hanlon, based on the stories “Big Brown Eyes” and “Hahsit Babe” by James Edward Grant. Directed by Raoul Walsh.

   These two early Cary Grant starring vehicles are both bright genre films mixing screwball comedy, crime, and adventure and both co-starring Joan Bennett still a blonde, just before dying her hair dark in Tay Garnett’s Trade Winds would change her career forever.

   Wedding Present is a screwball comedy about Chicago reporters Charlie Mason and Monica “Rusty” Fleming who as the film opens are flirting with marriage, but cold feet on both their parts as well as an addiction to elaborate practical jokes are the bane of their long suffering City Editor George Bancroft, who would fire them if they weren’t such good reporters.

   Which they prove in short order by angling an interview with a visiting Archduke (Gene Lockhart), taking him on a monumental toot where they end up at the lake house of aviator George Meeker. Not only do they get an exclusive interview with the Archduke, they rescue New York gangster Smiley Benson from drowning earning his eternal gratitude, and learning a ship is lost in a storm on the lake hijack Meeker and his plane managing to find the missing ship and get a double headline before the noon edition.

   When Bancroft can no longer put up with either of them he retires and Grant finds himself promoted to City Editor which infuriates Bennett when she comes back from a vacation. She heads off to New York where she meets obnoxiously obvious self-help author Roger Dodacker (Conrad Nagel) and gets engaged to him so Grant quits and heads to New York to win her back with the help of Smiley and a bit of kidnapping, false fire alarms, and a renewed sense of insanity.

   Appropriately the films ends as they are carried away on top of a firetruck headed for Hillview Sanitarium.

   It’s almost, but not quite a prequel to His Girl Friday as you can easily see Charlie and Rusty maturing to become Walter and Hildy.

   
   Crime is central rather than incidental to Big Brown Eyes.

   In this one Bennett is Eve Fallon, a manicurist who becomes a hot shot reporter and teams with her cop boyfriend Danny Barr (Grant) to solve the murder of a child after their bickering gets her fired from her job as a manicurist.

   Walter Pidgeon is Richard Morey a slick lawyer who gets Lloyd Nolan’s gangster Russ Cortig off when a stray shot results in the death of a woman’s baby (Marjorie Gateson). The bickering Eve and Danny reunite when a disgusted Danny quits the force to get Nolan and crooked lawyer Pidgeon and the result is a fast moving, fast talking, surprisingly tough little film in a minor hard-boiled key — the kind of thing George Harmon Coxe, Dwight Babcock, and Richard Sale used to write — with Grant surprisingly good as a tough smart cop operating mostly like a private eye.

   Raoul Walsh was one of the most capable action directors of all time and no mean hand at comedy, so this one moves hardly pausing for a breath as the action gallops by. Maybe it wouldn’t make the pages of Black Mask, but I can imagine it in Dime Detective  or Detective Fiction Weekly.

   The interest here is in seeing two major stars both on the cusp of breaking big in a pair of fast acting genre films and backed with first rate co-stars in the kind of thing the studios used to turn out seemingly effortlessly.

   Wedding Present recently showed up streaming on Classic Reels and Big Brown Eyes can still be found on DVD from its 2014 release. Neither movie is a classic by any means, but both stars are well represented in these films that are fast, funny, and smart full of bright dialogue, wit, and movement.