Peter Stanislavsky (Paul Lukas) is a waiter, working and occasionally playing the piano at a Russian restaurant. The gig isn’t permanent — just a way to support his recently-wed self and his wife while he works on a novel.
While Peter has publishing aspirations, the rest of the world has gone crazy for the game of bridge. Marcia (Loretta Young), Peter’s wife, convinces the reluctant man to learn the game.
This new skill comes in handy to Peter later, when he’s catering a bridge party and the hostess, Lola Starr (Helen Vinson) invites him to play. Bridge expert Cedric Van Dorn (Ferdinand Gottschalk) is also in attendance, but Peter beats him at the game.
With the help of experienced ghostwriter Philip ‘Speed’ McCann (Frank McHugh), Peter’s publishing dreams just might come true… with a book about the game he hates!
Grand Slam (1933) was directed by William Dieterle. The screenplay was penned by Erwin S. Gelsey and David Boehm from a book by B. Russell Herts.
A movie about a card game may not sound particularly entertaining, but Grand Slam is surprisingly enjoyable for a film with such a silly premise. And silly, it certainly is. Large parties are held with bridge being played at every table; nights are ruined when three players can’t find a fourth for a game; heated debates are had over which method (or set of rules) is best to play by.
Released at a time when the world truly had gone crazy over bridge, I can imagine the satire must have been even more effective for viewers in 1933. To the modern viewer, the satire still works, for the bridge craze can be likened to any fad. Additionally, just as much fun is poked at the publicity machine as is poked at the game itself.
The film moves along at a frantic pace, full of fast-talking actors and slapstick-fueled laughs. At just over an hour in length, Grand Slam is a quick watch in terms of run-time and pace, with not a dull moment to be found.
A smidge of drama is incorporated, as the Stanislavskys travel the country playing at bridge competitions and the pressures of this new lifestyle begin to weigh on them, but overall the mood is kept light. This touch of conflict thrown into the film has the added bonus of an electric confrontation between Loretta Young and Helen Vinson, who otherwise don’t have much interaction in the film.
The performances are another positive attribute to the film. Loretta Young has become one of my favorite stars of the ’30s. She’s full of charm, with a bright screen presence that makes the film a delight to watch. Paul Lukas, starring alongside Young as the other half of “America’s Bridge Sweethearts,” is very likable as well. The two have sweet chemistry, making a believable and easy-to-love pair.
Don’t let the silly, inconsequential premise fool you: Grand Slam isn’t among the best films of the ’30s, but it’s a fun little watch. I would recommend it for fans of Loretta Young in particular. The score: 3.5/5