I'm always in the mood to watch a James Garner movie and the Warner Archive has cooperated nicely by releasing his 1963 comedy "The Wheeler Dealers" which pairs Garner with the lovely, talented (and somewhat underrated) Lee Remick. The movie presents Garner in his signature role as a lovable rogue. This time he plays Henry Tyroon, a Texas millionaire investor in any and all business deals that might turn a fast profit for him and his partners. When we first meet Henry he has been a downward spiral. His latest speculation on an oil rig delivers about a gallon of "Texas tea" before it starts gurgling up dust. Henry's accountant warns him that he'd better start raising a couple of million dollars for new investments or he'll be flat broke. Heeding the warning, the ever-confident Henry arrives in New York and pretentiously dresses like an innocent Texas good ol' boy, complete with string tie and cowboy hat. It's all part of the charm offensive to make him look as honest and unassuming as possible. In short order he meets with Molly Thatcher (Lee Remick), an assertive young securities analyst who is part of a small group of brave females who are trying to break the glass ceiling on Wall Street. They are finding it's actually made of concrete but Molly has landed a job at a financially-challenged securities firm headed by Bullard Bear (Jim Backus), who takes a paternal liking to her. However, in order to cut costs he's been advised to fire Molly, largely because the notion of a female handling the stress of a finance job is regarded as an amusing but improbable idea. Bear can't bring himself to actually fire her so he gives her a "Mission: Impossible"-type assignment: find a buyer for some virtually worthless stock in a widget company that Bear has lost a considerable amount on. Henry charms Molly and takes on her cause, offering to help offload the stock with some loyal investors of his. These turn out to be three Texas millionaires who follow him around in their private jet (complete with built-in saunas!) in the hopes of being able to invest in his next big idea.
The movie quickly becomes "Doris Day and Rock Hudson Lite", with Henry trying to seduce savvy big city girl Molly who assures him that while she is not "pure as the driven snow", she's also not one to go for a one-night stand. In the realm of 1963 Hollywood comedies, sex was often hinted at, as it is here, but it's rarely consummated between unmarried couples. As Henry and Molly take road trips trying to unload the widget stock, they end up spending the night in the same hotel (gasp!) but when the quarters prove to be too close, Molly makes Henry sleep in his convertible (which at least is equipped in 007-style with a phone and built-in bar.) So much for the sexual sophistication of New York city female circa 1963, at least in the minds of Hollywood screenwriters. The script follows all the predictable aspects of a Day/Hudson comedy: double entendres, mistaken motives and at least one good temper tantrum on the part of the leading lady (caused here when she discovers that lovable ol' Texan Henry is actually a Bostonian with a Harvard degree). The film represents the second feature film directed by the soon-to-estimable Arthur Hiller but despite his attempts to keep the action light and breezy he's saddled with a confusing script that is far too labored with Wall Street jargon that seems confusing today let alone in 1963. It's also unclear whether Henry is an outright con man or just a guy who doesn't mind gnawing at the ethical edges of financial dealings. Indeed, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote of the film, which opened at Radio City Music Hall, "If
you're one of those people who doesn't know the difference between a 27 per
cent depletion allowance and a 50 per cent override—then you'd better not look
to this fun thing to cause you to split your sides." At times the financial aspects of the banter would seem to appeal only to people who wear green eyeshades in their professions. Fortunately, Garner (who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance) is in top form, as is Remick, who was certainly one of the most beautiful leading ladies of the era. The film also boasts an impressive cast of familiar second-bananas in amusing supporting roles: Chill Wills, Phil Harris, Vaughn Taylor, the aforementioned Jim Backus, Louis Nye (as a modern artist who makes money by selling junk paintings to pretentious millionaires), John Astin, John Marley and Howard McNear. Even Alan Sues, Bernie Kopell and James Doohan turn up in blink-and-you'll miss them roles. Patricia Crowley is funny as Molly's more sexually liberated roommate who is willing to trade a night under the sheets for a big night on the town.
The most interesting aspect of "The Wheeler Dealers" is a sociological one. The treatment of women who try to exercise their brain power through business careers comes across as a 1963 horror show. At best they are viewed in a patronizing manner by male bosses who treat them in a childlike manner. At worst they are driven from their jobs by misogynistic knuckle-draggers who advise them to stay home and cook, clean and look after the kids. Sadly this was the overwhelming sentiment of the era. Perhaps younger women should watch films like "The Wheeler Dealers" so they get a greater appreciation of what their mothers and grandmothers had to endure simply to hold down a professional job. It's also rather interesting to see the social protocols of the time- young women dress to the nines for a date (complete with those elegant gloves that stretch up their arms) and guys feel free to light up giant stogies in fancy restaurants without even earning so much as a disapproving glance from other patrons.
The movie is not exactly a gem and it's lacking in real belly laughs, but it is consistently amusing enough to recommend it largely because you can do worse than to spend 107 minutes with the engaging members of the cast. The Warner Archive Blu-ray boasts a fine transfer that does justice to the impressive opening credits and zippy title song. An original trailer is included but don't watch it until after you've viewed the entire film as it gives away a key scene in the climax.
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