Barry Granville (Ross Alexander) and Pinky Blair (Lee Dixon) are writers and wannabe theatrical producers.
They’ve had trouble scrounging up funding for their latest production, but they’re finally able to secure a backer… who will give them the dough as long as they hire British actress Jane Clarke (Winifred Shaw) to take on the starring role.
J. Van Courtland (Allen Jenkins) is a theatrical agent, and learns of Pinky and Barry’s deal just after they make it. Desperate to get a piece of the pie, he heads to meet the ship he believes is bringing Jane Clarke to the city.
Courtland instead meets an American girl also named Jane Clarke (Ruby Keeler), and immediately signs her to a contract, mistaking her for the actress. Jane is a college student but has acting dreams, so she considers it a stroke of fate, after some convincing from her friend Angie (Carol Hughes).
But aside from the fact that she isn’t the Jane Clarke they were expecting, there’s another problem for American Jane: she can dance, but she can’t sing, and the production is a musical!
Ray Enright directs 1937’s Ready, Willing and Able. The film was written by Jerry Wald, Sig Herzig, and Warren Duff, featuring music by Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting. It is notable as the final film of Ross Alexander, who committed suicide prior to the film’s release at the age of 29.
As is true of many of Ruby Keeler’s films, Ready, Willing and Able is a great example of breezy, light, musical fluff. It offers a few laughs, but not a total riot. A few moments of drama, but no conflict too serious. It’s one of those films you can sit back, relax, and not think too much about while watching.
The film has two big strengths: its cast, and the song “Too Marvelous for Words.”
“Too Marvelous for Words” is a beautiful tune, a sweet love song that reappears in the film several times. Whether spoken by Ross Alexander, sung during rehearsal, or lavishly performed in the amazing typewriter dance sequence (see below), the song is a definite highlight of Ready, Willing and Able.
Ruby Keeler is always a nice presence on screen, a talented dancer with a sweet persona. Her character is somewhat indistinguishable from many of her others, as is the film on the whole, but she’s still very much enjoyable to watch.
Smaller appearances are made by Louise Fazenda (as American Jane’s mentor, pre-Van Courtland contract) and Jane Wyman (as sassy secretary to the man financing the production). Both make nice additions to the film, however minor their roles may be.
Allen Jenkins is fun to watch, too, as is Wini Shaw. These two share a very funny meeting when London’s Jane Clarke arrives in New York. As it turns out, they have a history together. I could watch a whole film of Jenkins and Shaw battling each other!
I was most impressed, though, by Ross Alexander. He gives an energetic performance in his role of Barry, the talented but struggling co-writer of the play in which Jane Clarke is to star. Sadly, Alexander took is own life in the year of this film’s release, and it was his final role. He made less than twenty films during his time in Hollywood, a real shame since he proves himself here to be a talented fella.
Ready, Willing and Able isn’t a film you’ll remember every moment of, or want to watch over and over again, but fans of the movie musical should seek it out for a lighthearted, easy evening of movie-watching.