In Name Only joined our holiday watch list four years ago after watching it in early 2018 during one of our Cary Grant binges and realizing that it has a key scene on Christmas Eve. On several levels this is an unusual film. Two of the finest romantic comedy stars from the 1930s (Carole Lombard and Cary Grant) appear in a nearly tragic melodrama, and both show their acting range. Another fine group of character actors add to the interest.
Cary Grant is stuck in a loveless marriage with Kay Francis when he meets a vibrant widow, Carole Lombard. We learn that Francis married Grant only because of his wealth and position and has carefully manipulated everyone, even his father (Charles Coburn) and mother (Nella Walker), into believing that Grant is a cad. Francis pretends to agree to give Grant a divorce after an extended trip to France (with his parents no less), but when Grant learns that she will never let go, he sinks into despair. In the last scene, despair turns to hope, when Francis’s malicious plans are overheard by Grant’s parents.
NEW YORK CONNECTION
The film’s second half is set in New York, with establishing shots of the skyline and Washington Square, as well as specific addresses (Lombard’s apartment at 5 W. 10th St.), a New York bar on Christmas Eve, and a dive hotel.
The film’s denouement begins on Christmas Eve with a drooping tree and then one of the bitterest surprise parties you can imagine. The film continues through Christmas Day with Grant in a stupor in a seedy hotel. But hope triumphs, at the last minute, after much travail.
Charles Coburn, who plays Cary Grant’s father, appeared in Bachelor Mother. Coburn was a fine comic actor with a résumé of great films, such as The Lady Eve, The More the Merrier (for which he received an Oscar as best supporting actor) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. My favorite role of his, in which he also plays a department store owner as he did in Bachelor Mother, is The Devil and Miss Jones (1941). Coburn worked on Broadway from 1901 to 1937, acting, directing and producing plays with his wife, Ivah Wills, with whom he had a touring repertory company that performed Shakespeare, Greek tragedies, and French comedies. After her death in 1937, Coburn moved to Hollywood.
Helen Vinson (who plays Kay Francis’s catty best friend, Suzanne, in In Name Only) is also seen in Beyond Tomorrow (1940).
Nella Walker (who plays Grant’s mother) had roles in such grand films as Stella Dallas (1937), Kitty Foyle (1940) and Sabrina (1954).
Grady Sutton, who appears briefly as Suzanne’s escort in a scene on the train, appeared in numerous films. He played Carole Lombard’s brief fiancé in My Man Godfrey (1936). He also has a brief scene White Christmas, dancing with Rosemary Clooney at the engagement party at the general’s Pine Tree Inn.
Another brief but important role is played by Maurice Moscovich as Dr. Muller. He appeared one year later as Mr. Jaeckel in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.
Charles Coburn was a fellow member of The Lambs Club, and along with Fred (and dozens of other stars who moved from New York to Hollywood in the 1930s), he was known by those who stayed behind as the “Lost Sheep” or “Coast Cousins.”
George Rosener, who plays the seedy hotel doctor, appeared on a Shubert Sunday Concert bill with the Astaires on September 15, 1918, during the run of their second Broadway show, The Passing Show of 1918. Note: This was just around the time the Spanish Influenza starting to hit New York City, so there is an ironic link to his character diagnosing Grant as having the flu.
Frank Mills, who plays the bartender on Christmas Eve, appeared in several Astaire films. He was a waiter in the opening scene of The Gay Divorcee (1934) and again was a waiter in the Lido in Top Hat (1935), as well as one of the gambler’s stooges in Swing Time (1936). He’s also a soldier with Astaire in You’ll Never Get Rich (1941). He appeared as the park bum in Holiday Affair (1949).
Richard Sherman, who wrote the screenplay for In Name Only, wrote the screenplay for the last of the Astaire-Rogers RKO musicals: The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
Cary Grant and Carole Lombard are two of our favorite actors, and seeing them together is a joy, even if the story is terribly sad. Ultimately it is a fine, well-acted film, so we will keep it in future Christmas cinema rotations, especially since it adds a contrasting touch of sadness to the mostly upbeat films on the list.