If remembered at all, William Dieterle is remembered as the director of prestigious bio-pics of Emile Zola, Louis Pasteur, Florence Nighingale, Paul Ehrlich, Andrew Johnson, and Juarez, which is more about Maxmillian and Carlotta than about Benito Juarez. Dieterle had worked for Murnau and the German expressionist visual language pops up in Juarez,The Devil and Daniel Webster, and in “Man Wanted” (1932, photographed by Gregg Toland, seemingly influenced by von Sternberg’s photographing Dietrich).
Most of the movie does not have an arty look. The clothes horse Kay Francis has her usual extravagant gowns, and in an outdoors scene, a hat so big and floppy that not even she can make it work. While not a great actress, she photographed strikingly and was a pioneer in portraying career women on screen (a “woman doctor” in Mary Stevens, M.D. and “Dr.Monica,” and as a successful magazine publisher in “Man Wanted”), trying to “have it all” decades before that phrase was coined.
The first thing that workaholic publisher Lois Ames (Francis) wants in “Man Wanted” is a secretary who will work as late as she wants and to whom she can delegate some work. Tom Sherman (David Manners, who had played the hero in Dracula) is sent to show her a rowing machine and volunteers to take dictation for her (having taken down lectures at Harvard in short hand and not doing very well as a sporting goods salesman).
Tom has a shallow, verbose socialite girlfriend, Ruth (Una Merkel), who is suspicious of the late nights working with a female boss. Eventually, she has good reason, as Lois and Tom fall in love, and Lois’s philandering, polo-playing, sponge of a husband Freddie (Kenneth Thomson) becomes infatuated with one of his own playmates. In contrast, Tom is entirely besotted by Lois, eager to please.
Freddie and Lois have a casual attitude about infidelities that would not have been allowed a few years later when the Production Code was enforced. Even without that, the married couple has twin beds (as married couples had to have after the Production Code was enforced). Moreover, though Lois falls in love with Tom and he with her, they have not done the sexual deed by the end of the movie, when they are preparing to wed. The female sexual freedom is not as great as Mick LaSalle implies in Complicated Women. (Kay Francis’s technical adultery in “Mary Stevens” is punished in a way quite like post-code productions, too.) There is a strong implication that Lois’s sophistication is a veneer, and that like the characters Katharine Hepburn made a reputation on, really wants to be dominated and devote herself to a husband (possibly even the one she has, certainly the one she angles for).
Andy Devine (playing Andy Doyle) was already a side-kick, though not yet a western one, and has a particularly funny interrupted/prolonged shower scene – and that froggy voice of his.
Kay Francis conveyed unspoken feelings very effectively in “Man Wanted.” In 1932 (before the ascendancy of Bette Davis) she was the queen of the Warner Brothers lot. She also made her best-remembered movie in 1932, Ernst Lubitsch’s “Trouble in Paradise.” I prefer the other 1932 movie in which she portrayed the rich owner of jewels being robbed, “Jewel Robbery,” which was also directed by Dieterle and had the more interesting debonair jewel thief (than Herbert Marshall), William Powell. Since only Trouble in Paradise is available on DVD, it seems that it will continue to be the movie with Kay Francis anyone who does not subscribe to TCM will have a chance to see. Obviously, I think that is too tab and agree with LaSalle that the early-1930s portrayals of women who don’t take their marriage vows too seriously and/or pursue careers are interesting documents. “Jewel Robbery” is also very funny. It and Man Wanted are also striking visually, more so than “Trouble in Paradise,” in my opinion.
Both Francis and Dieterle are underappreciated. Not that the work of either was invariably good, but Dieterele’s 1949-52 noirs “Dark City” (that introduced Charlton Heston), “Accused” and “The Turning Point” deserve more attention, along with “Juarez” and “Jewel Robbery” and the version of The Maltese Falcon he directed as “Satan Met a Lady” (1936). (“Elephant Walk” is a guilty pleasure, as is “Doctor Socrates,” and the Laughton version of”The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is beloved by many.)