DAY-TIME WIFE shows that not every entry from fabled 1939 was a classic. Sleek and glossy romantic comedy makes a nice showcase for 20th Century Fox’s freshly arrived Linda Darnell, paired up with the studio’s crown prince Tyrone Power. But other than revealing that the new girl (and still a girl) had beauty and charm to spare, the vehicle, sporting a classy chassis of movie-star looks and a grille of handsome art direction, is missing spark plugs in the script department, bumping along on flat tires for 72 minutes. Power, 25, had major hits that year in Jesse James and The Rains Came, but audiences left this jalopy disguised as a limo sputtering into 99th place.
Two years into their marriage, it would seem ‘Jane Norton’ has it made. She has a great-looking husband ‘Ken’ (Power) with a successful business, and an elegant apartment with a maid. Then a poison-minded gal pal convinces her that Ken’s cheating on her with his secretary. Going undercover, Jane is hired as secretary to Ken’s architect friend ‘Dexter’ (Warren William) who is a practiced philanderer, bound and determined to land Jane, not knowing she’s Ken’s wife.
The actors are game, their material lame. Genre staple add-on’s from the period include swank apartments (big enough to store a yacht in), a cute terrier (with little to do), a wisecracking receptionist (the jokes are feeble) and a “colored” maid, played here by Mildred Gover, handy with pithy, down-to-earth observations and the ‘wisdom’ of the loyal underclass. Achingly outdated, of course, and not at all clever in the bargain. *
Power has little to work with, his character here is a simp. William does slightly better by the slimy but smooth hound. In only her second appearance, Darnell more than holds her own with the veterans, she’s quick and light with the repartee, and glowing with youthful beauty. She was, in fact, just sixteen (the studio added a few years to shoo away negative press), but you’d never know it by her poise and confident delivery.
Though the tame gross of $2,500,000 was below-par, Fox read tons of fan mail that showed Linda & Ty scored as a pair and quickly put them together again, with more success, in Brigham Young, The Mark of Zorro and Blood and Sand.
Flimsily written by Art Arthur and Robert Harari, this trifle was one of six assignments directed by Gregory Ratoff in ’39; the most successful was Rose Of Washington Square (with Power), the most notable Intermezzo, Ingrid Bergman’s Hollywood debut. Credit where due, though: that swell Art Direction was the work of Richard Day and Joseph C. Wright.
In supporting roles are Binnie Barnes, Wendy Barrie, Joan Davis, Leonid Kinskey, Marie Blake/Blossom Rock, and Robert Lowery.
* Mildred Gover (1905-1947) eked out a 15-year career bringing what dignity she could to demeaning bit roles as maids or servants: 28 of her 51 parts (38 of those without credit) list her as “maid”.