Man-Proof DVD Review: Pidegon Shoots Down Tone Deaf Loy

The Warner Archive Collection unveils an uneven war of the sexes dramedy featuring an unbeatable cast.
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We all know the story: boy finds girl, boy finds another girl to run off and marry, first girl gets drunk at boy's wedding. And that's just the beginning of Richard (Jailhouse Rock, The Scorpio Letters) Thorpe's 1938 B-romance (no, I did not say "bromance," brahs), Man-Proof. Here, the one and only Myrna Loy ‒ diving into her work in order to fight the still-fresh pain of losing her friend, legendary sex symbol Jean Harlow ‒ stars as a surprisingly headstrong for the late 1930s lass named Mimi Swift, daughter of prominent American romance novelist Meg Swift (Nana Bryant), who has such poor luck with the lads, she has resorted to making up silly fiction about love (or, "E.L. James Syndrome," as we quite often refer to it today).

But that isn't to say there's a shortage of men in the lives of either daughter or mother. Meg has a perfectly rational (younger) suitor in the guise of newspaper artist Jimmy Kilmartin (Franchot Tone ‒ who was brave enough to marry Joan Crawford, making his interest in a lovelorn romance novelist seem like child's play), who joyfully comes 'round to not only woo Meg on a regular basis, but to get into arguments with Mimi. After Mimi receives a telegram stating her long-absent beau has returned from Hawaii with a new fiancée ‒ a bride-to-be in the guise of Rosalind Russell, at that ‒ and they want her to be a bridesmaid, well, let's just say things start flying off handles, out of frying pans, and into every sort of electric fan possible.

Sure enough, Mimi's former lover, as played here by a young and moustache-less Walter Pidgeon, is quite the cad. Even after Mimi gets plastered at the wedding and makes a minor spectacle of herself before the bride and groom head off to starts a new life together, she still can't help but feel something for the playboy ‒ despite a newly-formed friendship (to say nothing of healthier) with Jimmy. Yep, it's basically that kind of a story, but while the tale itself may be as rocky as an actual romance with a person with another partner, Man-Proof ultimately benefits from one heck of a fine cast. Loy and Tone make for a surprisingly good duo, while Ms. Russell gets a magnificently noir-ish monologue that makes her (fourth-billed) role well worth it.

Of course, I'm neglecting to mention one of the most important bits of casting in the entire movie. No, it's not the mysterious absence of credited cast members Ruth Hussey and Rita Johnson (they're listed prominently in the credits, but both were cut from the final draft), and it's not even the aforementioned Walter Pidgeon (just three-and-a-half years from starring in another film with a male-oriented title, Fritz Lang's WWII propaganda classic Man Hunt). No, the honor here goes to forgotten B movie and stage actor Leonard Penn, supporting player in over a hundred westerns, television shows, and cliffhanger serials (including the 1949 Columbia chapter play Batman and Robin), appears briefly here as Walter Pidegon's pal, Bob.

Sure, Bob's character is as well-developed as the ones that don't even appear in the film, but any chance to see Dr. Morbius and The Wizard hanging out together makes for a bit of fantasy fun (no, not of the E.L. James kind, you sick bastard). And even though Man-Proof's pitted plot proved to be "Profit-Proof" at the box office upon its release in 1938, there's still something charming about it today (you can't deny its stars of their talent), especially as rom-coms of a far more clichéd class (and stars of far less talent) come and go from multiplexes month after month with even less fanfare. The Warner Archive Collection unveils a nice-looking print of Man-Proof for MOD in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio with the original theatrical trailer (which shows a few alternate takes) as its only bonus feature.

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