Vivacious Lady (1938)

“And dad, I might add that she’s the finest wife any man could hope to have!”

Vivacious Lady Poster

Synopsis:
A young professor (Jimmy Stewart) falls for and marries a nightclub singer (Ginger Rogers), then must get up the nerve to tell his strict father (Charles Coburn) and nervous mother (Beulah Bondi).

Genres:

Review:
Two years after eliciting a nuanced performance from Ginger Rogers in Swing Time (1936), George Stevens directed her once again in this frothy romantic comedy about a mismatched couple who fall in love at first sight, marry immediately, and (only in Hollywood) struggle through a series of misunderstandings before finally being able to “legitimate” their relationship. Several scenes are genuinely amusing: I get a kick out of Rogers’ all-out catfight with Stewart’s presumed-fiancee (Frances Mercer), for instance, and Stewart and Rogers’ visual tussle with “Walter” the pull-down bed is fun. But many of the broader plot devices — including Rogers posing “incognito” as one of Stewart’s biology students, and Coburn’s fear that Stewart’s marriage to a nightclub singer will irreparably damage the reputation of their college — simply strain credulity, and ultimately fall flat. Fortunately, the genuine chemistry between Rogers and Stewart (former lovers in real life) bolsters the film; they make a sweet, if unconventional, screen couple. Film fanatics take note: RKO-regular Franklin Pangborn plays an amusing but too-small role as a fastidious hotel clerk determined to keep Stewart away from his new wife.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Genuine chemistry between Rogers and Stewart
    Vivacious Lady Chemistry
  • Franklin Pangborn in a bit role as a hotel clerk
    Vivacious Lady Pangborn
  • Robert DeGrasse’s luminous b&w cinematography
    Vivacious Lady Cinematography
  • Several amusing sequences — such as Rogers’ catfight with Frances Mercer (hidden here)
    Vivacious Lady Catfight

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly recommended for one-time viewing.

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One Response to “Vivacious Lady (1938)”

  1. Tiresome.

    Tedious.

    That’s how I felt about this a mere five minutes in. I only stayed with it ’cause I realized I’d never seen it.

    Painful.

    Endless.

    The script is troublesome. Oh, brother, is it.

    Stevens’ direction – or lack thereof… And when he does seem to direct here, he tends to force matters.

    There is a bit of a reprieve late in the film when three main characters kick up their heels and dance. At least things get lively.

    And, of all cast members, charming Beulah Bondi comes off best as a woman who ultimately tires of 30 years of marriage that were more like slavery.

    Yes, it’s an eye-opener to see Franklin Pangborn doing something semi-obscene with a pencil in his mouth.

    That is soon followed by a scene featuring a make-out ‘orgy’ in a packed cluster of rowboats. My mind boggled at so many couples necking in such close proximity…in 1938.

    But things flatten out considerably from there.

    I was SO HAPPY when I felt this one coming to its conclusion.

    Sheesh!

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