Relatively little has been written over the years about the relationship between Carole Lombard and her Paramount cohort, Claudette Colbert (seen here with Carole at the famed Venice Pier party in June 1935). Perhaps it was because they rarely vied for the same roles, but more likely it was because, like a good umpire whose work is rendered invisible to casual fans, they were on such good terms there was very little for the press to write about.
Both were professionals on and off the set, respected by their peers and co-workers. Their idiosyncrasies were minor, most notably Colbert's adamant demand that her left profile be emphasized by photographers. The public liked and often loved them.
Claudette's triumphs were many, including a pair of classics made under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille -- the steamy pre-Code tale "The Sign Of The Cross" (1932) and her seductive role as "Cleopatra" (1934). But earlier that year, Colbert and DeMille collaborated on another film, one that rarely gets attention -- but that will be rectified Friday night at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles, with a 7:30 p.m. showing of...
...although look how we're first introduced to Colbert:
A far cry from the wicked Poppaea in "The Sign of the Cross," doncha think?
Here, Claudette begins as a mousy schoolteacher from Chicago who's aboard a tramp steamer, and is one of four who escapes a case of bubonic plague on the ship. (Was this caused by the 1930s version of anti-vaxxers?) They wind up on an island where there's rampant cholera, so Colbert and her companions -- a pompous journalist (William Gargan), a married scientist away from his wife (Herbert Marshall) and a socialite (Mary Boland) seek safer surroundings. Oh, and rest assured Claudette doesn't stay mousy for long:
There's even a scene where we see her showering under a waterfall, and we see her (body double's) naked rear. (Perhaps this is why Frank Capra initially planned to use a leg double in Colbert's famed hitchhiking scene from "It Happened One Night.")
Elsewhere among this quartet, Gargan's blowhard is knocked down a peg or two, Marshall begins to gain some courage and Boland provides some proto-feminist comic relief, trying to promote family planning amongst the natives (though the racial undertone to this doesn't hold up well). It's sort of a non-musical, more serious version of Lombard's "We're Not Dressing" (itself derived from "The Admirable Crichton"), released by Paramount a few months later.
This is part of a DeMille doubleheader at the Wilder tomorrow night; the second half of the bill is another modern-day tale, "This Day and Age" (1933), with Charles Bickford, Richard Cromwell, Judith Allen, Harry Green and Bradley Page.
Admission is $10 to the general public, although UCLA students with a valid ID can attend for free. To learn more and for a link to buy tickets online, go to http://www.tft.ucla.edu/event/four-frightened-people-1934-this-day-and-age-1933/