Beautiful manicurist Reggie Allen has a plan to marry for money. One of her clients, paraplegic ex-aviator Allen Macklyn, is rich and has an eye for Reggie. However, things get a little crazy when Theodore Drew III enters her life. After losing his family fortune in the stock market crash, Ted looks to marry the daughter of a pineapple baron to keep life easy. Ted invites himself over for a prolonged stay at Reggie's and his wacky sense of humor wins her heart. Both must now decide between true love and money.
Carole Lombard ... Regi Allen
Fred MacMurray ... Theodore Drew III
Ralph Bellamy ... Allen Macklyn
Astrid Allwyn ... Vivian Snowden
Ruth Donnelly ... Laura
Marie Prevost ... Nona
Hands Across the Table is the first of four films that Paramount teamed Fred MacMurray and Carole Lombard in. It's one of MacMurray's earliest film and he's playing what he would perennially be typecast as, a light leading man. That is until Double Indemnity showed just how dramatic he could be.
The hands across the table refer to those hands that a manicurist deals with and Lombard is a manicurist. This is the middle of the Great Depression and Lombard working in a hotel figures she can snag a millionaire. She actually does in the person of Ralph Bellamy.
But figuring to trade higher she meets Fred MacMurray who has the nice WASPy rich sounding name of Theodore Drew III. Problem is as he says to Lombard, the family fortune crashed in 1929. He's set his sights on a rich heiress, Astrid Allwyn, who will be able to support him in the style he was previously accustomed to.
Director Mitchell Leisen keeps the proceedings light and airy and its obvious that MacMurray and Lombard are suited for each other on the screen. No accident that they made three successive films, all of them money makers.
Funniest scene in the film how MacMurray scares away William Demarest as a prospective suitor for Lombard. Worth the price of the VHS tape alone.
The Leonard Maltin Guide is pretty funny when it reviews many of Ralph Bellamy's films of the 30s and 40s. Because he was SO often cast as the fiancé who is left by the leading lady for another, the guide often says something like "once again, Bellamy plays the sap". I'd noticed this a long time ago, too, and as soon as I say him in the film, I absolutely KNEW he was going to fall for Carole Lombard but lose her in the end!! In fact, I really like to look for his movies because I am hoping to one day find one of these formulaic films where he actually gets the girl!! So far, after seeing him in the role about a dozen times (in movies such as HIS GIRL Friday, THE AWFUL TRUTH, and so many others), I am yet to see such a movie! It's a shame, really, as he was a fine actor.
So, aside from the obvious role Bellamy plays in the film, the film revolves around the budding romance between Lombard and lazy playboy Fred MacMurray. Both play their usual likable type of character, and it is so obvious that despite appearances, they are destined to wed. While many will dislike how telegraphed the plot is, I for one don't mind it. Sure, I know the "unwritten rules" for 1930s romance, but don't mind because the writing, acting and direction are so fun and enjoyable. But, in a way, watching a light romantic comedy like this is a lot like a lady reading a romance novel--you know what will ultimately happen, but the journey from start to finish is so pleasant and enchanting you don't mind.
While not one of the very best of the genre, it is still a good example and well worth your time.
Carole Lombard was one of Hollywood's finest comediennes; she worked best when she was backed by an equally strong male lead – in this case, it's Fred MacMurray, with whom she must have clicked because they appeared together three more times (two of these films, THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS  and TRUE CONFESSION , are also included in Universal's 2-Disc Lombard collection and I should get to them in the next couple of days).
The comic style of the film falls somewhere between sophisticated and screwball: lavish settings and stuffy aristocratic characters are mingled with the often zany working-class (keeping their chin up during the Depression but, in Lombard's case, harboring a desire to marry into money); the title refers to her job as a manicurist. Typically for this type of film, when she sets her eyes on a gentleman of title – who's young and handsome to boot (MacMurray) – he turns out to be engaged to an even wealthier lady (Astrid Allwyn), because he's himself penniless! Running after her (the term is put lightly here, since he's actually wheelchair-bound) is an ex-air ace played by the actor who cornered the market around this time in "Other Man" roles, Ralph Bellamy, who's naturally got a lot of money and thinks of Lombard as a perfect match – but his love goes unrequited.
The mixture includes slapstick, wisecracks, romance, drama and even a bit of sentimentality (Lombard spends a good part of the last act sobbing). Still, as always in these more innocent times (where, for instance, a woman has to turn around when the man she's living with – albeit platonically, for the moment – is about to wear his pants!), none of the characters are really unsympathetic…so that we don't even despise the jilted lovers, who are understanding enough to know when to give up. The ending of the film is a classic: Lombard and MacMurray cause a traffic jam to look for a missing penny on which they've staked the course of their future! Appearing in one scene as a prospective boyfriend of Lombard's (whom MacMurray scares away) is future Preston Sturges regular William Demarest.
Many cast members in studio records/casting call lists did not appear or were not identifiable in the movie. These were (with their character names): Katherine DeMille (Katherine Travis), Nell Craig and Alla Mentone (Salesladies), James Adamson (Porter), John Huettner (Shoe Clerk), 'Rod Wilson (IV)' (Piano Player), Mary MacLaren (Chambermaid), Herman Bing (Proprietor of Delicatessen) and Oscar 'Dutch' Hendrian (Taxi Driver). A Hollywood Reporter production chart included Russell Hopton in the cast, but he was not seen in the movie. Many of the listed cast are barely visible and have no lines.
Samuel Goldwyn originally bought the story to this movie for Miriam Hopkins. However, she was busy on other projects and Goldwyn then sold the story to Paramount.
Gary Cooper was the first choice for the role of Theodore Drew III but was unable at the time.
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since.