Petticoat Fever (1936)

Dascom Dinsmore (Robert Montgomery) is a telegraph operator working and living in an isolated cabin in the snowy north. His only human contact is with his occasional Eskimo assistant, Kimo (Otto Yamaoka).

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(Image via All Movie)

Dascom’s cabin is about to get a lot more social, though. Sir James Felton (Reginald Owen) has had to make an emergency  landing nearby in his small plane. Accompanying Felton in the flight is Irene Campion (Myrna Loy), a captivating woman who immediately catches Dascom’s eye.

Set on impressing Irene, Dascom cleans himself up and puts together a dinner party. He’s set on winning her heart, after so many lonely months spent in the near-wilderness. But Felton is also in love with and planning to marry Irene, complicating matters.

Petticoat Fever was directed by George Fitzmaurice. The film was written by Harold Goldman, from a play by Mark Reed.

I stumbled upon this film while indecisively browsing WatchTCM one evening. I’d never heard of it, but the description had me at “Myrna Loy in Alaska.” (Most synopses list the film as taking place in Labrador rather than Alaska, including TCMDb’s own synopsis, but “Alaska” was in the description.) Add Robert Montgomery to the mix, and I jumped at the chance to watch it, with fairly high expectations.

The premise for this film could have just as easily made for a horror movie rather than a comedy: weary travelers trapped in a remote cabin with a man who behaves oddly after years of near-isolation! Despite the landscape’s beauty, it’s been a lonely and dreary life for Dascom in the wilderness. He passes time playing tic-tac-toe against himself and has very little human contact. The mere suggestion of a woman in the vicinity of the cabin sends him into a frenzy!

And when that woman is Myrna Loy, of course, he’s smitten. For the audience, though, it’s a different story. This was the first Myrna film I’ve seen where I wasn’t totally sold on her performance. The entire cast’s work is passable here, but many of them (including Loy) seem like they’re phoning it in.

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(Image via TCM)

As a consequence of this, the film has several fun moments and got a few chuckles out of me, but it didn’t come close to living up to my expectations. Montgomery and Loy have sweet chemistry and some amusing banter. (One favorite scene has Loy pointing a gun at Montgomery, as he professes, “I think this is a suitable occasion to tell you that I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you!”) But, on the whole, I was just underwhelmed.

I can’t say I’d strongly recommend tuning in for Petticoat Fever. It’s worth a look for fans of Robert Montgomery, or for Myrna Loy completists, but otherwise pretty skippable.

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