This rarely seen pre-Production Code gem has its charms. Don’t expect a marvelous, grand or lush motion picture. If the abundance of riches presented by the prospect of watching Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper together in a love story entices you and the opportunity comes up, make the effort to see I Take This Woman (1931; not the 1940 version of the same name).
Miss Lombard portrays a lively, modern society woman. She parties and plays, including with the affections of a suitor who knows he’s ordinary and seeks to marry this liberated heiress, whose father disapproves of her lifestyle, yet something about her is straight, upright and wants to be moored. Enter Gary Cooper as cowboy ranch hand Tom McNair, a lanky, loose-limbed and loose-lipped man who works at the ranch her family owns out west in Wyoming. This is where Daddy sends the young temptress, under threat of disinheritance, to cool her jets after a scandal.
Imagine what happens next.
Despite direction that fails to capitalize on the magnetism these two movie stars generate, I Take This Woman takes off. Not everyone agrees with me, as evidenced after I saw the film at the TCM Classic Film Festival (after TCM’s hostess introduced the wrong version). But there’s enough, much and even more to appreciate in the performances and chemistry of its stars alone.
Amid scenes of running water, a smoldering kiss by a departing train and the sexual tension and conflict between the blue jean-wearing cowboy and the satin-skinned heiress, Cooper and Lombard shine. This makes it easier to forgive I Take This Woman its mistakes, gaps and flat transitions. And, ultimately, there’s something in this tale of hard labor, mixed thoughts and feelings and contrasting lifestyles (watch to see which one triumphs in the end) to win you over and make it all worthwhile.
Whether it’s the way Carole Lombard looks directly into the camera or storms up, not down, the stairs, or the way Gary Cooper puts his woman in her place, or the way she reclaims him in a softer, sweetened mea culpa, I Take This Woman highlights the shine in its stars. It flattens at the end, when it should have swept up for a finish with an epilogue in romantic Western pictures. Yet when Mr. Cooper and Miss Lombard wake in the dead of winter, in the worst of times, to wish another ‘Merry Christmas’ and discreetly exchange presents, the movie, based on the novel Lost Ecstasy, earns its emboldened title.