North country girl: Frances Farmer wonders whether to slip Edward Arnold a mickey, in COME AND GET IT (Hawks/Wyler, 1936).

1. The first 40 minutes. This is a boisterous depiction of hard-scrabble life in a lumber camp. Drinking, eating, hard-driving bosses, footage (stock, maybe) of trees being cut, logs being rolled around with giant tongs, fifty-foot piles of logs, giant sluice gates opening, rivers of logs being transported down V-shaped wooden channels and natural streams and rivers. Tough lumberman Barney Glasgow (Edward Arnold, perhaps the James Gandolfini of his day) works his men hard but treats them to the occasional smorgasbord and all-you-can-drink saloon bash. One ends in an all-out furniture-smashing donnybrook in which Barney, his Swede best pal Swan, and hard-luck torch singer Lotte are overcome by laughter as they whizz copper serving trays around to break all the glass in the house.

Then twenty years pass in a second and we resume in a world where  has become a titan of industry, one of Wisconsin’s most powerful men, complaining about Roosevelt and his damned trust-busting. The writing is good but the things that happen at home and at the office are far from captivating. His ensuing love triangle is half-hearted, and it’s strange how little time by comparison is given to his cutie-pie daughter Ewie and her modern style of socks [Andrea Leeds of Stage Door fame]. I was sure her quips about her rich dud fiance would pay off, but no.

2. Frances Farmer as Lotte Morgan. Her performance here puts flesh on the bones of her legend. I don’t know anything about acting techniques, but for the 20 minutes or so that she’s on screen as Lotta, recipient of a million “How’d a classy lady like you wind up in a place like this?” remarks, she seems more alive than everyone else. Edward Arnold reacts with his face, then he says his line, then he does some physical transition into someone else’s line. Frances Farmer does all those things at once.

Sadly she spends the last 60 minutes as Lotte’s eponymous daughter, gazing prettily and following a basic “1. Resigned to gold-digging. 2. Wait, a happy ending is possible!” character arc. I don’t like the “One actor plays two roles, and other characters are amazed at how similar they look” maneuver under any circumstances; this movie is a damned sight better than The Legend of Lylah Clare, but come on. This isn’t a fairy tale. Identical twins can’t be born 20 years apart.

3. Walter Brennan in a serious, non-Western role as the emotional anchor of the movie, Swan [was “Sven” really americanized as “Swan”?]. Brennan is 41 here and Arnold is 45. Brennan seems 25 years older than Arnold when they’re both young men, and 15 years older than Arnold in the later scenes. It’s a paradoxical performance. By throwing himself fully into the El Brendel yumpin-yiminy accent he gives the yes-man character vitality, and he has a stooped posture that makes him look more dignified. He’s a pathetic figure in the sense that he feels he’d go from a king to a peasant if he leaves rural Wisconsin. He’s strong and sharp but knows he can be taken advantage of.

4. Mady Christians’ owl hat.

5. It’s a good sign when a formulaic-looking movie is based on a popular novel [in this case by Looney Tunes favorite Edna Ferber]. This is a standard titan-of-industry family melodrama, but individual scenes are just a little more unpredictable for being adapted from idiosyncratic source material. [Of course I haven’t read the book and this might just be what Wikipedia means by “cluttered with Hawks-like improvised bits of business”.]

One crucial conversation is interrupted by a boiling candy spill and resumes during a comforting, semi-erotic bout of taffy pulling. Another major conversation takes place while two people are playing with one of those proto-yo-yo toys where a wooden doorknob-spool-thing spins on an outstretched cat’s-cradle. One of the few things we know about Barney Glasgow’s inner life is that he really enjoys the behaviour of his daughter Ewie. A real firebrand, she calls him by his first name even though her mother doesn’t, she wants to marry a Bohunk machine operator, she abhors all silence. He has three children and this is the one he likes. But still he’s an autocrat. His son is just another employee to be manipulated and ignored. (Joel McCrea bounds around like a young Dick Van Dyke in the role but has little to do other than the candy-making scene and a little bit where he invents the disposable paper cup, in an eerie presage of Sturges’s The Great Moment.)

However, the second part of Come And Get It really rushes to its climax. Scenes at the family house, either Barney’s mansion or Swan’s comfortable cabin, proceed thoughtfully and carefully at the risk of claustrophobia. Then they finally get to an aristocratic social gathering with fancy outfits, in other words a ball, there’s a brief glimpse of dancing and dining, and then confrontation after confrontation in the space of minutes 91 to 99, then sudden forgiveness and the banging of the great dinner gong.

Some stark differences in emphasis between scenes set in different places make evident the film’s tortuous construction process. There’s one exhange in which Lotte Jr. tears into her cheerfully provincial aunt, giving in the whole “I’m too ambitious for this two-horse town, you and Pop can stay here but I’m headed for better things, this 50-year-old millionaire is my ticket out of here and he’s already wrapped around my finger, just you wait.” In every subsequent scene, including another private dialogue with he aunt, Lotte Jr. is wide-eyed and either conflicted or simply naive about the nature of Barney Glasgow’s interest in her. Either she’s under very deep cover, such that she’s actively trying to dispute the aunt’s recollection of their earlier argument, or the earlier scene was some hideous miscommunication between writers, directors and actors, left in because otherwise the emotional pitch of the last 60 minutes would be barely a whisper compared to the first 40.