Let me list some names for you. Barbara Stanwyck, Herbert Marshall, Glenda Farrell, and ERIC BLORE! Intrigued? Too good to be true, you say? Not at all! In fact this amazing cast can be found in BREAKFAST FOR TWO from the Warner Archive.
Morning comes to the apartment of rich playboy, Jonathan Blair (Herbert Marshall), and the staff goes about their daily routines. Jonathan’s valet, Butch (Eric Blore), enters the master suite and is surprised to find that there is a strange woman (Barbara Stanwyck) in the shower and his employer is sleeping on the couch with various party favors tucked around him. It seems that Jonathan had too much of a good time the night before and he needed to be escorted home by the mystery woman exiting the bathroom. She is prevented from leaving by Jonathan’s massive dog and so has no choice but to accept his invitation to get to know him better. The two sit down for breakfast while Jonathan tries to remember the events of the previous evening. The pair are progressing marvelously, much to Butch’s delight, and it is quite obvious that the young woman is smitten with Jonathan. Their stroll down memory lane is interrupted by the arrival of Jonathan’s girlfriend, actress Carol Wallace (Glenda Farrell). The mystery woman takes this as her cue to exit, leaving Jonathan scrambling after her.
After breakfast, and seeing Carol safely out the door, Jonathan begins trying to find out the identity of the mystery women. He is interrupted by the arrival of his company’s banker who is supposed to be bringing with him Jonathan’s monthly check. This month is different and Jonathan’s banker informs him that due to his absentee managerial style, the family shipping company has decided to revoke his paychecks and find a new owner. It is at this point that the phone rings and a man on the other end demands to know where Mr. Ransom’s niece is as she was seen leaving a party with Jonathan. Using this piece of information Jonathan has flowers sent to Ms. Valentine Ransom, right before he completely freaks out due to the fact that he now has no money.
Valentine meanwhile has arrived back at her hotel room and is preparing to get on a train back to her home in Texas. She is also receiving an earful about the true nature of Mr. Jonathan Blair from her own banker, along with her guardian. It is at this moment that the flowers arrive, along with a charmingly worded note, and Valentine’s anger begins to fade. In fact she has decided that she is going to marry Jonathan and in order to do that she has to start by taking over his company.
This screwball comedy is a lesser known one but still a film that is charming, witty, and fun. Clocking in at a brisk sixty-eight minutes, this gender reversed “Taming of the Shrew” is really quite enjoyable. Barbara Stanwyck’s Valentine, her first role after winning the Oscar for STELLA DALLAS, is not your traditional scheming heiress. She falls for Jonathan but she wants him to make something of himself, without relying on her or anyone else to do it. She sets about making him miserable but doing so because she cares for him and she wants him to become the man she believes he can be. While the troupe of the woman tricking a man into falling in love with her is nothing new, in BREAKFAST FOR TWO it is given a far more intelligent spin allowing Barbara Stanwyck to have good reason to climb into the boxing ring with Herbert Marshall, as well as run circles around him in the office. This was her first true screwball role and she is magnificent in it. Showing all the talent and charisma that made her a star, as well as a flair for physical gags and comedic timing that would go on to serve her well in such films as THE LADY EVE and THE MAD MISS MANTON.
Herbert Marshall is great as the immature playboy. It is a nice callback to his role in TROUBLE IN PARADISE, except now he is the rich mark being taken for a ride. He does a great bit with ventriloquism and his reactions to Glenda Farrell’s less than bright Carol are just hysterical. He also leaps into the comedic fray with complete abandon and seems to be enjoying himself immensely. Also, his mammoth Great Dane companion steals several scenes often just by lying down.
Let’s also take a moment to appreciate the supporting characters. Eric Blore is of course fantastic as the put-upon Butch. As soon as Eric Blore comes on screen you can’t help but smile and know that you are in good hands. Donald Meek shows up as a long suffering Justice of the Peace who practically has a nervous breakdown before the end of the film. Glenda Farrell doesn’t have enough scenes in this film, in my opinion, because her ditzy performance as Carol is a highlight.
With a cast that I would happily watch sit around and read the dictionary to each other, BREAKFAST FOR TWO is a fun screwball comedy from RKO that deserves to be better known. If you get a chance to see it definitely make an effort to!