Linda Lawrence (Priscilla Lane) is a career girl, working for a big New York ad agency known as Americo. She works as an assistant to one of the agency’s executives, Mr. Bates, but dreams of rising up the ladder to become an executive herself some day. She works hard to reach her goals, and therefore has little time for anything but work.
Some folks wish she’d make time for romance, though. Jimmy Hall (Wayne Morris), who is very persistent in pursuing Linda, constantly badgers her about going on dates with him and marrying him. She’s amused by him, but doesn’t give in very easily, much to his chagrin. In order to win Linda over, Jimmy must contend with the fact that her career is her number one priority, and must also deal with competition from other men who are interested in her. Harry Galleon (Humphrey Bogart), another executive whom Linda works with, in particular proves a formidable rival in the fight for Linda’s affections.
1938’s Men Are Such Fools was directed by Busby Berkeley for Warner Bros. It’s based on a story by Faith Baldwin, which gave me very high expectations — her novel Skyscraper is a favorite of mine.
The plot certainly has some trademark Faith Baldwin elements at work, as seen in films like Wife vs. Secretary (which Baldwin co-wrote) and Skyscraper Souls (adapted from Baldwin’s novel, Skyscraper). Many of Baldwin’s works use a similar premise: a career-oriented person (usually a woman) contends with the jealousy of a significant other or spouse (usually an oppressive husband) over a coworker (usually a hunky, rich man). The conflict of marriage versus work is a common topic for her stories and novels, especially among glamorous and well-paid folks, as is the case in Men Are Such Fools.
The jealous man in this case is Jimmy, and boy is he an obnoxious man. Before the conflict between Jimmy and Harry even materializes, Jimmy seems far too pushy to appeal to anyone as a love interest. This is no fault of Wayne Morris, who gives a solid performance in the role – it’s the character himself. He can’t take a hint when Linda turns down his advances. If you have to threaten a girl with a train accident or try to drown her in order to convince her to marry you, I’d say you’re doing something wrong.
When Linda finally does give into his wishes and agree to marry him, Jimmy becomes the controlling husband, convincing her to give up the job that she loves and was so determined to find success in. It’s obvious that he has no trust in her, becoming jealous of her male co-workers even though she’s obviously focused on the work itself.
But Linda is no peach either. Priscilla Lane gives an enthusiastic performance that comes close to winning over the audience early on in the film, but soon she begins to easily give into Jimmy’s wishes, giving up her job over a misunderstanding so he won’t divorce her. This makes her character almost as unlikable as Jimmy himself. All of the strength and perseverance that she showed at Americo flies out the window.
The constant back-and-forth between Jimmy and Linda seems to have been meant to endear them to the audience. Many great screen couples have disagreements and witty banter. Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man films are a prime example – bickering and taking little jabs at each other, but always lovingly and with a whole lot of chemistry to back it up. Where Nick and Nora succeeded, Jimmy and Linda fail miserably, coming off as two people stifling each other rather than a cute, witty pair.
Because these characters are so problematic, the film was engrossing, but not in the usual way. It keeps the viewer interested because they’re waiting to see whether or not these characters will somehow redeem themselves and become stronger and/or morph into more likable people. Linda and Jimmy are a pleasant enough couple once she quits her job and spends her days tending house for him, but the way it all played out has left a bad taste in the audience’s mouth, so their “nice” marriage is no triumph. And of course, the calm doesn’t last long. Conflict springs up again, just as things start going smoothly for Jimmy and Linda.
There are no real standout performances or lovable characters in this film. Of course, Lane and Bogart each have a whole lot of magnetism on screen (Bogie especially). But Bogie is underutilized, given quite a small amount of screen time, while Lane is brought down by both her own character’s poor qualities and her character’s anger-inducing relationship with Jimmy.
Men Are Such Fools includes a decent amount of conflict and a few comedic moments, but I wish there was more “oomph” to it. With such high expectations for both the performers and the writer of the story, I was left feeling underwhelmed. (Granted, I haven’t read the originally story even though I’m quite familiar with Baldwin’s work, so the problem could lie within the writers who adapted it for screen.)
The score: 2.5/5