In William A. Seiter’s If You Could Only Cook (1935), the negligence of Herbert Marshall’s otherworldliness is almost unbearable. He’s cast as a romantic lead opposite Jean Arthur, but Seiter’s approach to him is painfully matter-of-fact: he strips Marshall down of all the dreamlike quality that embedded him in Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Blonde Venus (1932). It’s a great disservice – suddenly, we are being confronted with all the rough edges of his screen presence (the main one being the lack of flexibility in his posture). Von Sternberg and Lubitsch had sense enough not to move Marshall around too much; and if they did, they played it safe and went for his sliding walk, which got him from A to B even though his shoulders didn’t testify to any muscle work being done. Here, Marshall’s hands are frequently mishandled; his posture frequently lacks grace. This rare bird, a marvel of a screen presence, needed to be caged to look his best.
PS. Funny how this movie uses cooking as a way of class survival and/or advancement – here’s one Nora Ephron might have watched before writing Julie & Julia (2009).