The 1938 film, Lady Behave!, begins with a woman named Clarice (Patricia Farr) getting ready to go out and celebrate Mardi Gras. Even though Clarice invites her older sister, Paula (Sally Eilers), to come with her, Paula refuses. Paula has work to do at home. It’s pretty obvious that this is the way that it’s always been between the two sisters. Clarice has fun while Paula stays home and waits for her to return.
Fortunately, Clarice does return in the morning. As she tells Paula, she had a great time during Mardi Gras. In fact, she had such a great time that she ended up getting married! She married a wealthy northerner named Stephen Cormack (Neil Hamilton). The only problem is that Clarice is already married! She’s totally forgotten that she only recently became the wife of a dissolute playboy named Michael Andrews (Joseph Schildkraut). By getting married a second time, Clarice has committed bigamy! She could go to prison for 10 years!
Whatever is Paula to do?
Well, what if she arranges for Clarice to leave the country?
What if she tries to bribe Michael into accepting an annulment?
What if Paula goes up to New York and pretends to be Clarice (because, after all, Stephen was pretty drunk when he married her)?
What is she does all three!?
Of course, when Paula goes up to New York, she discovers that Stephen is out of the country. She moves into his mansion, where she discovers that his two children — Patricia (Marcia Mae Jones) and Hank (George Ernest) — are convinced that she’s just a gold digger who only wants to steal their father’s money (and, it should be noted, also their inheritance). When Michael shows up at Stephen’s mansion, he explains to Paula that he needs $10,000 for a horse and he’ll only agree to an annulment if he gets the money. However, when he meets Patricia and Hank, he tells them that if they pay him $30,000, he’ll help to break up the marriage between Stephen and Paula (who, of course, everyone but Michael thinks is actually Clarice).
Eventually, Stephen shows up and he assumes that Paula actually is Clarice. Paula and Stephen quickly fall in love and it turns out that Stephen is very serious about his new marriage. He even wants to take Paula on a honeymoon. Of course, he thinks Paula is Clarice and Paula is freaking out because they’re not actually married but she wishes that they were. But, if they did actually get married, Stephen would be guilty of bigamy and then he’d have to leave the country like Clarice and….
Yes, this is one of those somewhat busy screwball comedies where almost every action is motivated by a misunderstanding and where all of the dialogue is extremely snappy. To be honest, it’s all a bit too hyper. Though the film originally had a running time of 70 minutes, most of the existing prints are only 57 minutes long. This film has a lot of plot for only 57 minutes and it’s often difficult to keep track of what’s happening from one scene to the next. That wouldn’t be a problem if this film starred someone like William Powell and Carole Lombard (or, for that matter, Cary Grant and Myrna Loy) but instead, this film features Sally Eilers and Neil Hamilton, who are likable performers but not quite likable enough to carry the film over it’s rough edges.
On the plus side, Joseph Schildkraut has some very funny scenes as the flamboyant Michael. And Marcia Mae Jones and George Ernest both do a great work as Stephen’s paranoid children. They consistently made me laugh. Otherwise, Lady Behave! is a bit too frantic for its own good.