The film opens on a movie poster of Annabel Allison's (Lucille Ball) latest film, Behind Prison Bars. Annabel, her publicity agent Lanny Morgan (Jack Oakie), and the film's producer, Howard Webb (Bradley Page), are gathered in Webb's office, where he is worriedly reminding Annabel that said latest picture cost a lot of money to make and her last picture didn't do so hot. She reminds him that he's never lost money on her yet, but he insists that they have to make the public interested in her again, which sets off a light bulb in Lanny's brain. Ah! It's a prison picture, so they'll send Annabel to prison for a couple of days and garner some great publicity. She'll be the next Joan of Arc! For some reason, Annabel thinks Lanny's brilliance is second only to the brilliance of his polka-dot bow tie and exuberantly agrees to the scheme.
|Can we pause for a minute to appreciate how fabulous Lucille Ball looks here? I want this outfit.|
It doesn't go as well as planned, as Annabel is there longer than she expected to be, and when she finally is released, no reporters show up. Lanny explains that the prison frowned on the idea, and Annabel is understandably ticked off at him. He follows her to her car and tries to explain, but she's having none of it, shoves his face out of the window with her gloved hand, and drives off.
|This is what it looks like when you're trying to placate someone and it isn't going well. (Lucille is sporting another great outfit by Renié, though, and there's the bow tie I mentioned earlier.)|
Annabel storms into Webb's office at Wonder Pictures Studio to talk to him about firing Lanny. Webb's secretary Josephine (Ruth Donnelly) shoos everyone out of the Art Deco'd reception area, including a Vladimir Dukov (Fritz Feld), who looks somewhat like a Muppet and who has been wanting to see Webb for six months and rather testily wonders if he even exists. Josephine calls Lanny and informs him that he's about to be fired, which news Lanny takes rather cheerfully, as it seems this sort of thing happens often and apparently never sticks. They gather once again in Webb's office and Annabel rants about how none of Lanny's publicity stunts ever work out well. Lanny counters that he built Annabel into a big star and that he's tired of her ungratefulness. Webb fires Lanny and orders him to get the heck out of Dodge. On the way out, Lanny quickly devises a way to get rehired with the help of Mrs. Hurley (Leona Roberts), an actress who has arrived at the studio to see if there are any "mother" roles available. They give an elaborate performance (during which they surreptitiously haggle over what Lanny will pay her for this bit as his mother), which moves Annabel to convince a perplexed Webb to rehire Lanny. Lanny promises to do a better job with the whole publicity thing.
|These two are really working it, but I was distracted by that strange-looking hat. The back is a flap that comes over the top and buttons in the front? Ok then.|
Annabel leaves, and Webb tells Lanny about the new picture he has in mind for Annabel, in which she plays a servant girl who falls in love with a rich man. Lanny hears "servant" and comes up with another bright idea--Annabel will be a maid for awhile to get some experience for her new picture--again. Webb is amazed at Lanny's chutzpah, but Lanny is already off and running with this new scheme and gets Annabel hired as a maid at the home of one Mrs. Margaret Fletcher (Elisabeth Risdon). Lanny heads to Annabel's house with flowers to break the news to her. (It's obvious a woman did not write this screenplay, or else he would have been carrying chocolate too. At least, that's my personal catnip.) He enters Annabel's room just in time to see her throw a guy over her head in a sweet judo move.
|Just look at how cute she is learning martial arts from Dr. Rubnick (Maurice Cass).|
Undeterred by this evidence of what she can do to him if he pisses her off, Lanny informs Annabel that her prison picture has been shelved, but it's okay, because she's going to star in The Maid and the Man. He builds it up to sound absolutely fantastic, then tells her that it's unfortunate that the public won't find Annabel Allison believable as a maid. Annabel falls for this manipulative crap hook, line, and sinker, and indignantly states that she would be the best maid in the world if she so chose, and couldn't he find a position for her, just for a week? Enter Scarlet (Mildred Gover), the former maid at the Fletchers', whom Lanny has hired as Annabel's new maid. (Gover, by the way, is great in a short telephone scene with Oakie earlier in the film.) Annabel, suddenly aware that Lanny has done it again, flips him over her shoulder using the move she just learned. It was at this point that I mulled over learning some of these moves myself to use on Stephen whenever he acts up.
Annabel arrives at the Fletchers', where she is greeted by their adolescent son Robert (Lee Van Atta, in one of his last film roles) and the sound of dishes breaking. Mrs. Fletcher's brother, Major (Thurston Hall), who fits the "amiable but crazy old uncle" bill, is working on an invention to prevent plates from breaking when dropped. Corelle didn't exist until 1970, so there was still a need for that sort of thing in the 1930s. The Major's idea is to put a ring of rubber around the edge of each plate, which to me seems like it leaves a whole lot of plate susceptible to breaking, but hey, it's just a movie.
Annabel doesn't find her new job easy and demands that Lanny help her out, so he shows up as a brush salesman.
|It blows my mind that people used to just let traveling salesman into their homes without a second thought. Also, Jack Oakie kinda reminds me of Jack Carson. (I just watched My Dream Is Yours the other day.)|
That night, Annabel waits for the stuffed squab Lanny was supposed to send over for dinner, forcing the family to drink tomato juice and eat bread in the meantime. This delay exasperates Mr. Jim Fletcher (Granville Bates), who is a curmudgeonly old soul about basically everything and who is therefore my spirit animal. A cop (James Burke) shows up while making his rounds in the neighborhood and flirts with Annabel. Lanny finally arrives with the dinner, interrupting the one-sided love-fest. The Major arrives with two gentlemen (Anthony Warde and Edward Marr) who are supposedly the financial backers for his invention, but they aren't all they seem to be. Hijinks ensue the next morning, and Lanny comes to the house to find out why Annabel won't meet him at the studio. I don't want to give away too much, but it becomes necessary for Lanny to hatch yet another of his crazy schemes; this one involves fifty actors in costume. Webb approves of the plan and insists on having a director oversee the whole thing; Lanny runs out and picks the first guy he sees. The scene goes down, Annabel's judo training proves not to have been in vain, and the entire story shows up on the front page of newspapers all over the world, giving Annabel some fantastic publicity.
Days later, Annabel, Lanny, and Webb are in Webb's office. Webb has just received news that the title of Annabel's picture is being changed from The Maid and the Man to The Diamond Smuggler. Lanny has a lightbulb moment and rushes out. Later that day, Annabel, thankful that everything has calmed down, picks up a box left at Josephine's desk for her and leaves the studio to head home in peace, but as long as she has Lanny in her life, that won't ever quite happen, if the ending is any indication.
|One more outfit shot. Ah, the life of a movie star. Also, Lucille Ball could really wear a hat. She rocked every single one she wore in the film.|
Lucille Ball was known as the "Queen of the B's," since she starred in so many B movies. This film is no exception, but it's funny and pleasant enough. The pace does slow a couple of times, but there are more than a few funny lines in the script, and the cast all have generally good comedic timing and do well with what they're given. There are some great character actors in this one, many of whom showed up in a hundred or more films (some in hundreds of films) during their careers, and many of whom are uncredited here. Ruth Donnelly as the secretary, Josephine, plays a fine secondary comic foil to multiple characters. Fritz Feld steals his scenes as energetic Mr. Dukov. James Burke gets a couple of fun scenes as blockheaded Officer Muldoon. Charles Coleman, who I think was in every film that Thomas Mitchell and Ward Bond weren't around to be in, even shows up for a minute as Annabel's butler (an occupation he played many times over). Look for Stanley Blystone as a cop in the climactic scene. Other uncredited actors I haven't mentioned yet include George Irving, John Sutton, Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Claire Du Brey, Kane Richmond, Gino Corrado, and Wade Crosby.
Lucille Ball and Jack Oakie play off each other well; in fact, they were put together in this film because they showed comedic potential together in their previous films. RKO considered this picture good enough to warrant a sequel, Annabel Takes a Tour, which was released a mere two months after The Affairs of Annabel. I always think of Lucille Ball as a sort of female Donald O'Connor when it comes to her films; the studios just didn't quite know how to use either actor's talents to their full potential. Lucille was already showing her comedy skills this early on. Watch when she gets angry at Lanny in the prison scene; it'll look and sound very familiar to fans of I Love Lucy. She delivers her funny lines with perfect inflection and comedic timing, and I recognized many of her facial expressions from her I Love Lucy days, where she would truly come into her own. This film isn't quite on par with that Emmy-award-winning show, but it's enjoyable, and watching it wouldn't be a bad way to pass a lazy summer afternoon.