Here’s something a little odd. Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice play a married couple who deal in rare books, and solve mysteries on the side. This movie was followed by two sequels, but in each of them the couple was played by different actors. There was Fast and Loose in 1939 with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell, and Fast and Furious, also in 1939, with Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern. That just doesn’t make economic sense to me, so I’m assuming it had something to do with availability. If they could have stuck with the same people we might have had an enduring franchise like the Thin Man movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy. There were six of those between 1934 and 1947.
In fact, it’s impossible to see this one without thinking of Nick and Nora Charles. About all they needed was a little wire fox terrier named Asta to make it complete. Joel and Garda Sloane are happily married. In fact, the lovey-dovey stuff gets laid on a little thick at times. The dialogue is breezy and sophisticated, and Joel treats everything with cavalier disdain, as though life is one big joke. No situation is too dire for him not to joke about it. You know the type, from movies, anyway, though not from real life. Tied to a chair with a gun to his head, he’s still smiling and cracking wise.
He sells rare books, but sometimes ferrets out stolen ones that someone is trying to pass off, and turns the book thieves in for the reward money from the insurance company. His main, ruthless competitor is murdered and Joel’s friend is implicated, because he is angry that the competitor allegedly framed him for some stolen books, and he served a couple of years in prison for it. (I can only imagine the hell his life must have been behind bars. I can see the hardened multiple murderers, baby rapers, hit men, and jaywalkers in Sing Sing, hearing with horror what he’s in for. “Stealing BOOKS?” And then they all back away, terrified.)
It all unfolds pretty predictably, though amusingly. I was entertained. One remarkable thing, though. He’s shot from ambush, and the slug enters his … well, his … they didn’t actually say, but it was clearly his butt cheek. He shrugs this off, too, but for the rest of the picture he carries one of those inflatable rubber donuts used when someone has hemorrhoids. That was pretty funny, and not something I’d ever seen in a 1938 picture, back when they couldn’t even show a toilet.