Wednesday 9 April 2014

Movie Review: The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)

A romantic comedy with two stars operating out of their normal zone of comfort, The Bride Came C.O.D. is vaguely likeable but rarely sparkles.

In Los Angeles, heiress Joan Winfield (Bette Davis), daughter of tycoon Lucius K. Winfield (Eugene Pallette), agrees to marry bandleader Alan Brice (Jack Carson), much to the disgust of her father. Looking for a scoop, gossip reporter Tommy Keenan (Stuart Erwin) convinces the couple to fly to Las Vegas and elope. Financially strapped independent airline operator Steve Collins (James Cagney) strikes a deal with Lucius: Steve will kidnap Joan to prevent the marriage and deliver her back to her father in exchange for a much-needed monetary reward.

The plan goes sideways when Steve's plane, with the kidnapped Joan on board, crash lands into the desert near the border between California and Nevada. Steve and Joan make their way to the almost-abandoned mining town of Bonanza, where they find "Pop" Tolliver (Harry Davenport), the one remaining resident. As Lucius, Alan, Tommy and police authorities scramble to make their way to Bonanza, some to proceed with the wedding, others to prevent it, and the cops to arrest Steve for kidnapping, a thorny romance blossoms between Joan and Steve.

The Bride Came C.O.D. is a pleasant diversion, with some good dialogue, passable comedy and an efficient running time of just over 90 minutes. Joan frequently tangles with cactus, the detour to an abandoned town is a fresh angle, and the character of Pop, making up the population of one, instills a healthy dose of caustic humour.

But casting the queen of drama and the king of gangsters in a romantic comedy was always going to be a risky proposition, and The Bride Came C.O.D. does not escape the predictable pitfalls. Davis and Cagney do their best, and are never less than engaging, but the required chemistry simply never materializes, and the lack of heat is not helped by pedestrian character sketching.

At least three writers had a hand in the slight script, which nevertheless forgets to flesh out Joan and Steve. She's a flighty heiress fighting for independence from Daddy, he's a scrappy pilot fighting to save his business, and that's all that Davis, Cagney and director William Keighley have to work with. As they stumble through the desert and then tangle with Pop and the mine tunnels of Bonanza, precious little else is revealed about the supposed lovers. Joan and Steve have to end up together because they are the two lead characters, and not because they ever come close to finding true feelings for each other.

The film ends with some prolonged confusion regarding the exact location of Bonanza: whether it's in California or Nevada may decide if Steve can be arrested and whether Joan and Alan can get legally married. The Bride Came C.O.D. is similarly caught straddling the fence, with some good elements but not enough momentum to decisively stake out its territory.

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