Watching the racy but very mature NO MAN OF HER OWN the other night led me to speculation on whether or not our whole modern day concept of “falling in love” wasn’t handed to us hook line and sinker by the new censorship code of 1934. In the early days of Hollywood sound film–known with naughty glee as the “pre-code” years–women were allowed to dress and act smart, be sexually active without being married, carry revolvers, dally in and out of prostitution as the bread lines demanded, and all without having to die or join a convent for her “transgressions.” Not only did this keep her men interested, it kept them sharper and sassier too, lest they fall behind on the experience curve. Nowhere is this ability of smart to beget smarter more apparent than in NO MAN OF HER OWN, which also features the only romantic pairing of real life couple Gable and Lombard.
Gable is so young he looks like a typical “juvenile” from central casting. He plays a gambler whose philosophy of life is based on a strict adherence to randomness of chance to determine his course of action; he’s a living John Cage composition. Lombard’s character is a small town librarian who is instantly enamored of our city slicker antihero but also shrewdly aware that if she gives him what he wants too soon, he’ll never want it again and she’ll be just another notch on the brim of his fedora. The battle of seduction hasn’t been better played since, and it’s a damn shame. Readers, if you want to see a movie that offers genuine insight into the process of love between equals, don’t waste your time with the chick flicks out there. Go pre-code, and pop NO MAN OF HER OWN into your shopping cart or netflix list. Just don’t mistake this early film for the 1950 Barbara Stanwyck soaper – this film has NOTHING to do with that one, aside from the misleading title.