Ad man Tim Willows (John Hubbard) and his wife Sally (Carole Landis) are well-to-do, but money can’t buy happiness, and their marriage is proof of that.Their most common arguments are over early-morning exercise and Tim’s dog, a beastly-large but very friendly pup that Sally compares to a cow. Sally wants the dog out of the house, and wants to be able to sleep in every morning, undisturbed by Tim and his work outs. She and Tim battle over these issues so often that their house staff (including Marjorie Main) make bets about whether the dog will stay or go.
One day, when Tim arrives home from work, he and Sally get into a particularly heated argument. During the argument, they both say that they wish they could trade places, in order to understand each other.
The next morning, when the Willows awake, they find themselves in a “turnabout.” They’re trapped in each other’s bodies!
Turnabout (1940) was directed by Hal Roach, based on the novel of the same name by Thorne Smith (who also wrote the source material for 1937’s Topper). This film was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in the 1990s.
The oddball premise of Turnabout and the fact that it comes from the same source-writer as Topper gave me high hopes for this body-swapping comedy. Once the swap occurs, the film lives up to those expectations.
A positively wacky chain of events takes place when Tim and Sally switch places. The gimmick is pretty well-executed, with Carole Landis’ voice dubbed over John Hubbard’s lip-synching and vice-versa. Hubbard and Landis capture each other’s mannerisms very well, which (combined with the voice-dubbing) is hilarious to watch. Both of the stars do a wonderful job with the material here. I was impressed with Landis in particular, with her strong screen presence and confident portrayal of “Tim.”A tad bit more physical comedy would serve the film well, but as it exists, there are plenty of outlandishly funny moments — one of which involves a pregnancy, a plot point that gave the censors a stir!
Ample time is spent showcasing the lives of Tim and Sally pre-swap. We see Tim working at his agency, putting up with the oddballs that serve as his business partners, while Sally spends part of her day with the partners’ wives, and the rest of it running the house. Their differences and “grass is greener” attitudes are emphasized during these scenes, which drag on a little longer than they need to in order for the audience to get the picture.
Laughs can be had during the first half of the film, though, so all is not lost. In one scene, Tim hopes Sally will let him keep his dog if he gets her a small dog of her own; he accidentally brings a baby bear home from the pet store.
Strange, silly, and more than a little bit ridiculous, Turnabout is a very funny watch. Any fan of screwball comedy should enjoy it, but particularly those with an interest in gender-swapping films. The score: 4/5
NOTE: Turnabout is airing on TCM tomorrow at 2:45 pm as a part of Adolphe Menjou’s Summer Under the Stars day, if you’re interested in tuning in!