Vivacious Lady (1938) Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, Charles Coburn, Beulah Bondi. Dir: George Stevens.
Do not watch this movie if you don’t like things that are entertaining and hilarious.
What I should tell you…no, what I MUST tell you, is that this movie contains the best fight scene ever filmed. Ever. And, being made in 1938, that’s saying a lot. And also, it was between two women, and that’s saying a lot more. It’s very funny. You will probably watch it a couple of times before you allow the movie to advance.
This is the film that pushed me over the edge to designate Ginger Rogers as my idol. Well, this and her pig-latin version of “We’re in the Money” from Gold Diggers of 1933 (the recommendation of which is here). Now, because Rogers was a big deal at this point, her legs were insured for $500,000. And because her legs were insured for $500,000, they taped them to cushions and boards during the aforementioned fight scene. Which makes it even more amazing. I’d like to see Brad Pitt try and fight with pillows and wood strapped to his legs in that movie nobody’s supposed to talk about.
Another benefit of Rogers being a big deal was that she was able to pick her co-star. And she picked a guy that she had never worked with before, someone who hadn’t had many leading-man roles previously, someone she happened to be dating at the time- James Stewart. They probably worked better together onscreen than off, since they didn’t marry each other.
Now, after they had begun filming for a few days, Stewart got sick and they had to shut down production. Then he went to work on another movie. They replaced the people who were originally cast to play his parents with Charles Coburn and Beulah Bondi. Bondi ended up playing Stewart’s mother in several movies after this one. I wonder if Fay Bainter hadn’t been recast, would she have been his mother in future projects? We will never know.
Maybe I should take a break from your history lesson to give you a vague plot summary thing. Stewart is a guy with a ne’er-do-well brother who is hanging out in “the city”, clubbing and going to raves and such. Stewart is charged with retrieving his brother and goes to a nightclub to get him. Ginger Rogers plays the girl who sings one song and goes to sit down with the patrons (because that’s clearly how it worked back then). So then other things happen, chaos ensues, families are divided, and then it’s all resolved and “The End” comes onscreen. You move on. Maybe with a happy tear in your eye.
I extolled the virtues of Charles Coburn during Summer Under the Stars in August, with a quick mention of this movie (and its fight scene). So just know that I stand behind every word about him that I won’t be repeating.
I don’t always mention directors in my recommendations, but when I do, I say words about them. So here are some words about George Stevens: Alice Adams, Annie Oakley, Swing Time, Quality Street, Gunga Din, Penny Serenade, Woman of the Year, The Talk of the Town, The More the Merrier, I Remember Mama, A Place in the Sun, Shane, Giant, The Diary of Anne Frank. These words are about him because these are just some of the movies he directed. This is proof that he was awesome. This, on its own, should compel you to watch Vivacious Lady.
But if it doesn’t, we will just go back to my old standby: Watch it because I say so. Because you and I have a mutual trust that cannot be broken, and you know that what I say to you is truer than a lot of things other people say to you. Yes, that is the relationship that you and I have, whoever you are.
Vivacious Lady will be on TCM on Friday, November 8, 4:30am eastern/3:30 central.
And as an added bonus, TCM Essentials is showing Gold Diggers of 1933 on Saturday night at 8 pm eastern/7 pm central. Watch that too.