- Film & Year: Havana Widows (1933)
- Type: Comedy, Pre-Code
- Studio / Production Company: Warner Bros / First National Studios
- Starring: Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, Guy Kibbee, Allen Jenkins, Lyle Talbot
- Director: Ray Enright
- Production Notes: Cinematography by George Barnes, Written by Earl Baldwin
Two broke chorus girls, Mae Knight (Joan Blondell) and Sadie Appleby (Glenda Farrell), are visited by a former friend in the chorus line, also once strapped for cash but who now is incredibly wealthy. The girls beg for her secret and she tells them that she hit the jackpot in Havana by suing a rich lover for breach of promise after he wouldn’t marry her. Mae and Sadie, tired of barely making the rent payment, decide to follow in their friend’s footsteps, but how to afford the trip? Here’s where the plot sort of overcomplicates itself…
The girls con friend Herman Brody (Allen Jenkins) into getting them the money by pretending they need it to go visit Mae’s “sick” mother in Kansas. He agrees to help, borrows it from his bruiser of a boss Butch (Ralph Ince), then quickly gambles it away before he even makes it out of the building. He tells his troubles over a pint to Otis (Hobart Cavanaugh), an insurance salesman one sale away from a big bonus, who offers Herman the money to buy a policy insuring Mae’s life. Money now in hand, the girls head to Havana posing as rich widows.
They arrive at the hotel to find a man in their bed, and not just any average bed crasher, a rich one – what luck! The man, Deacon Jones (Guy Kibbee), mistook their room for his and, not wanting a scandal, rushes out after introducing himself. The girls have their mark and latch on, but the scheme is complicated when they realize Deacon’s already married so will not be proposing…plus, Mae’s fallen in love with his handsome (but inconveniently broke) son Bob (Lyle Talbot).
With Bob too poor to count and a marriage proposal out of the question from Deacon, the girls realize that they can get their money by blackmail instead. With the help of their persistently drunk lawyer Duffy and Herman, who by now has caught on to the ruse and chased them to Havana to collect the money, they set about their plan to trap Deacon…
Even though I watched the film through uninterrupted, the plot was so unnecessarily twisty that I missed a few key points along the way. 1). I completely missed the conversation justifying the fllm’s title, in which their scheme involved them posing specifically as widows. Because of this, throughout the entire film I was waiting for the one or both of them to get married only for their husbands to croak. When neither one of those things happened, I actually had to go back and watch it again to clear that up. 2). I’m still not 100% sure why they had to travel all the way to Havana to bag rich husbands. I guess because that’s where their friend got lucky and because Havana is more exciting than Wyoming? It just seems like a lot of trouble and additional expense for something they could have done a bit closer to home.
Havana Widows is a bit sad to watch because you are struck with the simultaneous thoughts of how great Blondell and Farrell are as a duo and how mediocre the actual film is. With a better plot and more interesting characters to play off of, Blondell and Farrell’s dual energy would have had somewhere to go. Unfortunately, the plot seemed to sort of just give up halfway through. Blondell and Farrell’s scenes pre-Havana, before everything became truly convoluted, are fantastic. Blondell is especially on her game, wisecracking, gum chewing, and sauntering about in a fabulous array of barely-there gowns. Can we also talk about one of the cutest negligees I’ve ever seen on film and Blondell’s adorable way of modeling it? Considering how competitive the 1930s film negligee game is, this is saying a lot. Blondell looks so amazing in this frothy leg revealing number, that it makes me want to simultaneously google diets and classic underthings.
Blondell and Farrell would make 5 of these types of comedy duo films together for Warners, each with basically the same plot. Though I can’t confidently state how this stacks up as I’ve only seen one other of the five (Kansas City Princess which has less oomph in the one liner department, but held up a bit better in terms of plot), I can say that I would give them a shot anyway. Blondell and Farrell are too much fun together to pass up!