In Person (1935)
In Person is a vital feature to chart the rise of actress Ginger Rogers. It was this movie that proved the actress alone could carry a movie without the aid of dancing partner Fred Astaire. And it certainly proves Rogers could elevate the weakest of material as In Person, despite Rogers’ effervescent personality, ends up being far too similar to the superior It Happened One Night (1934).
This comparison is apropos considering the marketing materials for this tout that it’s based on a novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams who wrote, say it with me, It Happened One Night. But where that feature took the screwball comedy and inserted an equally weighty look at Depression-era problems, In Person plays like the early progenitor of the problematic 1980s feature, Overboard.
Carol Corliss (Rogers) is a successful film star who, after a fan encounter gone wrong, suffers from agoraphobia. She soon sets off into the woods with Emory Muir (George Brent) in the hopes of curing herself once and for all. But when Carol attempts to tell Emory she’s a star he refuses to believe her, forcing the actress to play the happy housewife.
I’m gonna spend a lot of time comparing this to It Happened One Night because the movie so obviously hoped to attract fans of that movie. The difference is that Claudette Colbert’s Ellie Andrews is a spoiled, entitled heiress who, through her interactions with the world at large, changes her ways. In Person puts Carol up in an isolated mountain cabin with Emory who spends the entire movie telling her she’s going to be his equivalent of a domestic servant, making food, cleaning the cabin, making beds. At one point, Carol spends the entire day making a meal for the couple only to have him tell her it’s not that good. When she says she’s too tired to wash the dishes Emory doesn’t offer to do them himself; he is willing to stack them by the sink while she takes a nap.
Rogers’ solo efforts seemed to have her typecast in the 1930s as the role of Carol Corliss holds a lot in common with her turn in 1933’s Professional Sweetheart. Like that feature, a similar light and gauzy comedy, Rogers plays a film star with a gimmicky background to fame. This plays out in the first act especially when Carol is revealed in a brunette wig with Jekyll and Hyde (1931)-esque teeth, a disguise so she doesn’t have to interact with the public. Where it differs here is that Carol is trying to break away from fame for her mental health, only to rush headlong back in to prove a point to Brent’s Emory. A fun dance sequence wherein Carol sings and tap dances to the radio proves her star potential solo, which is great because Brent doesn’t give her anything to work with.
I tend to be a George Brent apologist but I wasn’t feeling him at all here. Maybe because he wasn’t rocking his signature mustache. (A clean-shaven George Brent is not what the world wants!) The movie could have developed something interesting with Carol maintaining her brunette facade and compelling Brent’s Emory to fall for her anyway – the movie spends a lot of time making jokes at how ugly Carol is – but that’s quickly abandoned. Carol showcases her Ginger Rogers beauty and Emory becomes the man teaching her how to be a “real” person, though that tends to fall into making her do typical woman’s work like make him dinner and keep house.
Really, the most egregious thing is probably their lack of chemistry. Brent worked so well with Bette Davis because her inner strength and fire was usually tempered by his stoicism. Even acting opposite a similarly tough-talking woman, Barbara Stanwyck in My Reputation (1946), Brent had a similar impulsiveness. But next to the airy Rogers, or airy the way the character is written, Brent just plays any other faux-macho man. In fact, I kept thinking “Fred MacMurray would be perfect for this.”
In Person is worth watching for Ginger Rogers completists. It shows off the talent Rogers had as an actress, but In Person feels in every way like a discount take on It Happened One Night, making me wish I was just watching that.
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Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
I have to agree, Brent’s not at his best here, and yes, totally, he needs his ‘stache. Also making her into a maid really grinds my gears.
What did Carol Corliss call the movie (called it a neat different name) that she attended and spoke at on stage after it ended?