Woman Wanted is a quick and fun little 67 minute picture released by MGM in mid-1935. The capable cast is headed by Maureen O'Sullivan, in between prestige productions, and Joel McCrea, just prior to his run of Samuel Goldwyn films, with the pacing held quick by veteran director George B. Seitz, soon to punctuate his long career at the helm of the Hardy family series.
We await the decision of the jury on the fate of Ann Gray (O'Sullivan) at the open of Woman Wanted. Up several floors Ann considers a death leap to solve her troubles, but is mildly restrained from doing so by the court matron. One room over the jury ponders her fate while smiling from the window across the way is Tony Baxter (McCrea) a lawyer involved in another case who's distracted by Ann's beauty and tries pantomiming a date request through two windows. It's a nice distraction for Ann, but the admiring young man soon leaves her mind as the jury comes back with its verdict: Ann Gray is found guilty of murder in the first degree!
As Ann's escorted from the courtroom and placed in an automobile for the trip back to prison a bunch of shady criminal types line the streets making suspicious hand gestures and signals. Through a swirl of traffic one vehicle is sent to block off the car Ann is riding in and we're treated to the first of two pretty intense car crashes as Ann's car smashes through a store and she tumbles to the ground taking all of a moment's thought to decide to bolt the scene. She runs into the street, hops onto the running board of a moving car and slides inside to find herself next to Tony Baxter, of all people, the handsome fellow who'd tried picking her up earlier.
Tony, completely ignorant of Ann's situation, despite the strange way she'd thrust herself upon him and her rag tag appearance from the wreck, brings the girl back to his luxury apartment right under the nose of house dick Sweeney (Edgar Kennedy) who immediately IDs Ann from the newspaper headlines. I don't quite understand what Tony's plans were for Ann once he got her up to his room, but I get the feeling that his man Peedles, played by butler extraordinaire Robert Greig, would happily ignore any scandal his master might involve himself in--McCrea even retains his services for Sullivan's Travels (1941) a few years later. Before Tony is even able to pour Ann a drink she throws him off by asking if she could take a bath and clean herself up some, not only does Tony oblige, but he has Peedles take her clothes away to be cleaned.
Tony's apartment is decorated with photos of the beautiful Adrienne Ames, who soon rings the bell and identifies herself as Betty, an on-again off-again fiance stopping by to turn things back on. With Betty on the scene, and her photos at every corner of his place, it ratchets up my curiosity about Tony's actual motives with Ann. It should be added that he has no idea at this point that Ann's a convicted murderer, maybe he just thinks she's a damsel in distress, though she's working hard to avoid that idea despite her appearance. It's kind of like she jumped in his car so, oh well, he'll do with her whatever he may wish. Not with Betty around though, that's for sure, she's even on to Peedles and his tricks!
More knocking on the door and Sweeney, the "keyhole schnauzer," along with a couple of real cops rush the scene and leave Tony awkwardly trying to sway them away from Ann. Luckily Peedles runs interference for Tony with both the law and Betty, who's pretty sure something is up. It's only after the police rummage through his place that Tony realizes who Ann is, and what she's wanted for. Murder no matter, the girl is cute and I suppose Tony's a pretty decent guy, plus in our brief meeting with Betty we already know she's a bit much, so Tony takes up Ann's cause and tries to protect her from the police and the mobsters led by Smiley (Louis Calhern), whom it's made pretty clear from the start has framed Ann for the murder.
The rest of Woman Wanted is filled with comedy, highlighted by a scene sharing a bottle of applejack with a hick constable (Erville Alderson), chases--car and boat--each bolstered by a reckless series of gun shots which somehow our top stars evade, and blooming romance as we see Ann and Tony grow from what they call a big brother-little sister relationship towards inevitably falling in love by the end of the picture.
O'Sullivan and McCrea shine in Woman Wanted, each helping to elevate a pretty run of the mill story. The supporting cast is up to its usual tricks with Louis Calhern great in limited screen time as his typically sleazy yet refined heavy; Adrienne Ames is as icy and shrill as she is rich and beautiful; Robert Greig gets to do a little more than usual and more Greig is always good Greig; Lewis Stone is fine as the straight as an arrow DA--boy, I hope he liked working with Seitz; and Edgar Kennedy does his thing, even incorporating an frayed cigar into a scene when a door is slammed in his face.
Maureen O'Sullivan's career is at an interesting point at the time of Woman Wanted, with the first two Tarzan pictures behind her, but somehow having avoided being completely typed as jungle girl Jane by MGM's having also included her in a string of quality films including The Thin Man (1934) and Hide-Out (1934) following by parts in classic literary adaptations The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) and David Copperfield (1935). Work was also already completed on Anna Karenina (1935) though it wasn't released until after the quickie Woman Wanted. In all of those other films, except Hide-Out where she played Robert Montgomery's love interest, O'Sullivan played a smaller supporting role.
The rest of the thirties into the early forties would see the well-rounded O'Sullivan continue be the top billed actress in several films, including four more times opposite Johnny Weissmuller as Jane, plus further enhance her filmography in two films about as far from one another as could be in the Marx Brother's A Day at the Races (1937) and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1940). After her final go as Jane in Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942), O'Sullivan would temporarily leave the screen to be with her husband, John Farrow. She'd return from time to time beginning in 1948 to do films and soon a lot of television ranging from 50s' anthology series to 70's made-for-TV movies, and 80's series, even daytime soap operas.
Woman Wanted is just a minor entry on O'Sullivan's resume, but one which shows how good she could be during this peak time of her career. Joel McCrea fans will enjoy Woman Wanted too, as will fans of crime pictures and woman on the run stories. A touch of romance, despite the odd presence of Ames (did Woman Wanted really need her?), with a bit of mobster-crime story mixed in, the two leads give Woman Wanted a whole lot of charm and make it a better time than it would have been otherwise.
Note: I haven't even had the opportunity to transfer Woman Wanted to disc yet, so no screen captures for this article. If you like the vintage movie cards and collectibles shown in the post you can shop for similar items directly from me inside the Immortal Ephemera Store ... don't miss the $2 off coupon at the top of that page!
Great write-up of a film I’d never even heard of. You have to admire a film that tosses together suicide, meet-cute flirtation, a first-degree murder verdict and a car accident all into the beginning! I’m slowly discovering that Louis Calhern is pretty near always great in his supporting roles.
Cliff Aliperti says
Thanks, Rachel. I agree, always a fan of Calhern’s, he can do no wrong. That’s one of the things I love about classic movies, once you find actors you like they’re typically never going to let you down.
Yes, a lot happening here fast! So many fun and forgotten titles from the 1930’s come in at under 70 minutes but cram so much into the limited run time that you can’t help but to be entertained.