by Elizabeth Stoddard
Cinapse Pick of the Week
Exactly what it sounds like, the Pick of the Week column is written up by the Cinapse team on rotation, focusing on films that are past the marketing cycle of either their theatrical release or their home video release. So maybe the pick of the week will be only a couple of years old. Or maybe it’ll be a silent film, cult classic, or forgotten gem. Cinapse is all about thoughtfully advocating film, new and old, and celebrating what we love no matter how marketable that may be. So join us as we share about what we’re discovering, and hopefully you’ll find some new films for your watch list, or some new validation that others out there love what you love too! Engage with us in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook! And now, our Cinapse Pick Of The Week…
I was a kid when Breakfast for Two first introduced me to actress Barbara Stanwyck, who quickly became a favorite. This underrated screwball comedy stars Stanwyck as a wily Texan heiress who falls for bankrupt playboy Jonathan Blair (Herbert Marshall, Trouble in Paradise) after they share a raucous night on the town.
Despite warning from a banker friend and her uncle Sam (character actor Frank M. Thomas, who doesn’t quite pull off a Texan accent), Valentine Ransome (Stanwyck) decides to buy Blair out of home and business so he will get his act together. Meanwhile, Blair has an actress friend on the side (played by the flawlessly amusing Glenda Farrell) who may mess with Valentine’s plans for the man.
Stanwyck and Marshall have great chemistry as they flirt and argue with each other. Strangely enough for a comic romance, they only spend about half the film in scenes with each other. Eric Blore, a masterful comedic character actor who tended to play butler-types, is trusty retainer Butch and shares as much time with the couple as they do with each other. He, and we as viewers, can tell how well-matched the pair of them are.
The plot is slightly risque for the Hays Code: a woman spends the night in a man’s suite of rooms and then takes charge of his shipping business. Blair gets so upset at Valentine that he says at one point, “You’re the type of woman who wants to wear the pants…” Stanwyck plays up Valentine’s determined nature and serious wit, yet gives her character a slight air of fragility. She will box with Blair and attempt to win him over using her money and wiles, but what occurs after her schemes is not exactly what she expected.
IMDB lists eight (!!) writers for Breakfast for Two, including Viola Brothers Shore (her bio), Charles Kaufman and Harry Segall (who’d later win an Oscar for Here Comes Mr. Jordan). However many people collaborated on it, the resulting script is full of hilarity and silliness. Farrell, as ditsy actress Carol Wallace, might have the best lines in the film. She uses air quotes to quote lackluster reviews of her performance in a play, and asks Blair if she looks “chick.” Farrell is utterly game as the gauche, bubbleheaded actress.
The script, the actors (I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful character actors who portray the flighty judge and soft-spoken businessman), and direction from Alfred Santell combine to make this ridiculously humorous film. Stanwyck may be best known for her dramatic work, but her comic performance in Breakfast for Two is still one of my favorites.
Breakfast for Two is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.