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Wedding Rehearsal

Wedding Rehearsal(1932)

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teaser Wedding Rehearsal (1932)

A sophisticated romantic comedy in the tradition of Ernst Lubitsch, Wedding Rehearsal (1932) was the flagship production of Hungarian-born producer/director Alexander Korda's London Films, the independent studio that would go on to create such Brit classics as The Four Feathers (1939) and The Third Man (1949).

Roland Young (Topper [1937]) stars as Lord Reginald of Buckminster, who savors the life of leisure that wealth and class have afforded him. When his grandmother, Lady Buckminster (Kate Cutler) insists that he marry, Reggie engages in a series of evasions and distractions calculated to protect his freedom. When given a list of eligible young ladies, Reggie plays matchmaker, hooking them up with male suitors and leaving no one for himself. Quietly observing the shenanigans is Lady Buckminster's bespectacled secretary, Miss Hutchinson (Merle Oberon), who may not be as disinterested in Reggie's romantic travails as she appears.

Reggie's greatest feat is arranging the marriage of the Roxbury twins: Lady Mary Rose (Wendy Barrie) and Lady Rose Mary (Joan Gardner), who have landed a couple of working-glass beaus: "Bimbo" (John Loder) and "Tootles" (Maurice Evans). But Reggie's machinations run afoul when the wedding rehearsal breaks down over whether or not the brides must "promise to obey" their husbands-to-be.

Wedding Rehearsal may resemble a Lubitsch sex comedy, but Korda does not share the master's flair for sly innuendo. Never truly risqu, Wedding Rehearsal is, at best, a trifle saucy, playing upon the laugh-value of British repression, when stuffed shirts and stiff upper lips are confronted with ideas of modern marriage. No scene better exemplifies this brand of humor than one in which the slightly clueless mother of the brides (Lady Tree) clumsily attempts to explain to them the facts of life (much to the twins' amusement).

Originally, the role of the dutiful Miss Hutchinson was to have been played by newcomer Ann Todd (The Seventh Veil [1945]). But when Todd was injured in an automobile accident during the production of another film, she was forced to bow out of the Korda project.

Being a filmmaker of limited means trying to make a splash in the British market, Korda was keen on "discovering" new talent, since it was difficult to afford the established stars, especially those under contract to other studios. When Todd was struck from the cast list, Korda turned his attention to an aspiring actress he had first seen in a studio commissary. Born in 1911 as Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson, she had appeared in a few bit parts, without credit, but Korda instantly recognized her potential. Korda and Thompson wrestled with her name, trying to find something suitable to a rising star. For a time, Thompson had used the moniker Queenie O'Brien, when working as a club hostess. Korda proposed she call herself Stella Merle, about which the actress was unenthusiastic. Finally, they agreed upon a more exotic spelling of her surname, and Merle Oberon's career was born.

When asked why not stick with O'Brien, Korda tartly responded, "All the bobbies in New York are named O'Brien." And so, Oberon it was.

Oberon was one of Korda's biggest finds. He cast her as Anne Boleyn in 1933's The Private Life of Henry VII, which proved to be a breakthrough for actress and director alike, being the first British film ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Korda cultivated Oberon's career for years, casting her in several other London Films productions, then marrying her on June 3, 1939.

Filmmaking, to the Korda clan, was definitely a family affair. Alexander's brother Vincent Korda was one of the production designers on Wedding Rehearsal. Joan Gardner, who plays one of the Roxbury twins, had married another brother, Zoltan Korda, in 1930. While she went on to appear in other Korda productions (such as Harold Young's The Scarlet Pimpernel [1934]) and could have appeared in many more, Gardner's career lasted less than a decade, as she chose to leave the film business to care for her and Zoltan's child.

Two rising stars in the cast who were not married to a Korda were Wendy Barrie (The Hound of the Baskervilles [1939]) and Maurice Evans, who holds a place in the thespian record books for delivering more Shakespearean performances on Broadway than any other actor. However, he is more famous to the general public for his role in TV's Bewitched (where he played Samantha's warlock father) and for playing Dr. Zaius in two of the Planet of the Apes films.

Wedding Rehearsal was well received upon its initial release but has lost some of its lustre in the intervening years. In Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors, Linda Wood lumps the film together with Korda's Service for Ladies (1932) as "undemanding comedies, the kind of stories which were being produced in most British studios. What strongly differentiated these fledgling efforts from their British counterpart was their polished production. These were, however, more a consequence of Korda's input as a producer rather than as a director."

Indeed, there is little to distinguish the directorial style of Wedding Rehearsal. The most memorable flourish (which may have been devised by any number of contributors) was an aural device. When the film cuts to stock footage of newspaper presses churning out new editions, we hear the headlines in a vocal chant: "Roxbury Twins Engaged... Roxbury Twins Engaged..." This device perfectly suits the comedy, since cutaways to newspaper headlines traditionally serve as a Greek chorus of sorts anyway.

Director: Alexander Korda
Producer: Alexander Korda
Screenplay: Arthur Wimperis and Helen Gardom
Based on a story by Lajos Biro and George Grossmith
Cinematography: Leslie Rowson
Production Design: Vincent Korda and Oscar Friedrich Werndorff
Music: Kurt Schroeder
Cast: Roland Young (Reginald, Lord of Buckminster), Merle Oberon (Miss Hutchinson), George Grossmith (Earl of Stokeshire), Wendy Barrie (Lady Mary Rose), Joan Gardner (Lady Rose Mary), Lady Tree (Countess of Stokeshire), John Loder (John "Bimbo" Hopkins), Maurice Evans (George "Tootles" Thompson), Kate Cutler (Dowager Lady Buckminster).
BW-84m.

by Bret Wood

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