Following up my 5 Favorites Alan Hale post of the other day I turned the calendar to see another character actor favorite, Wallace Ford, has a February 12 birthday.
Ford, born 1898, came to the stage in 1921 and found his way on screen by 1930 beginning a long career in movies and then television which pretty much stretched to his death in 1966. He appeared in five films directed by John Ford (no relation to the British-born Wallace) and was a regular in Westerns in the later part of his career, but I’m going to stick with what I know best today and count down my five favorite Wallace Ford pre-code roles.
Let me preface this by saying I really wish I’d seen Central Park (1932) with him and Joan Blondell. It looks destined to make a future list if I can come across it!
5 - Goodbye Again (1933) with Warren William and Joan Blondell. A bespectacled Ford spends most of his screen time shoulder to shoulder with Helen Chandler arguing at the two stars about William’s involvement with Chandler’s screen sister, Mrs. Wilson, played by Genevieve Tobin. Ford’s a humorless lawyer on the scene to play straight to William’s barbs, wrinkle his face at Hugh Herbert’s Mr. Wilson, who’s largely underwhelmed by his wife’s extracurricular activities, and generally be laughed at by audiences for being so straight-laced.
4 - Possessed (1931) I felt bad for Al Manning when he came back into Marian’s life, but he shows his true colors by the time he disappears from Possessed ironically trading his affections for a business opportunity and with a lot less class than innocent Marian used to land Mark Whitney. You can tell it’s early into Wallace Ford’s career when he’s involved with someone the magnitude of Joan Crawford, and to think, he nearly wrested her from Gable’s Whitney!
3 - The Beast of the City (1932), an early gangster film from MGM, stars Walter Huston as top cop in town and underachieving Wallace Ford’s big brother. Ford has a fantastic scene with Jean Harlow where they trade small talk while getting drunk before Harlow performs a seductive little dance for him. The Beast of the City has been covered in detail elsewhere on this site.
2 – Employees’ Entrance (1933) features Ford as Martin West, department store manager Kurt Anderson’s right hand man. Anderson, played by Warren William, seduces West’s young bride (Loretta Young) and generally overshadows the rest of the entire cast in this movie, but Ford is amusing in spots as an unlikely Anderson-in-training. He’s a good kid, but adapts some of Anderson’s tactics which causes problems at home. Ford’s most enjoyable scene is an awkward one where Anderson more or less adopts young West, though his best scene is his office showdown with Anderson at the film’s climax.
1 - My Woman (1933) makes top of the list because it brings us Wallace Ford as a total lout. At its opening his Chick Rollins rests in a hammock and takes lessons in laziness from his father-in-law, Pop Riley (Raymond Brown). When his singer wife, Connie (Helen Twelvetrees), flirts her way to a New York audition with network bigwig John Bradley (Victor Jory), Chick makes the assumption that she’s set things up for him and manages to wrest the try-out for himself. When Chick makes good his head swells to ridiculous proportions and he starts playing around with pre-code favorite Claire Dodd right under Connie’s nose. Wallace Ford is just a first class jerk in My Woman and he does it naturally, compared to some of his nice-guy roles which can at times seem forced.
Honorable mention: I originally intended to Ford’s Phroso in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) on this list, but while I love Freaks I’m not particularly a big fan of Phroso’s. It’s one of those roles I just referred to where Ford grates on my nerves a little bit more than I can stand.
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