Today we reminisce about
The Wheeler Dealers (1963)
Directed by Arthur Hiller
Starring: James Garner & Lee Remick
* Published specifically for The James Garner – He Thrilled In Them All – Blogathon hosted by Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews *
“You don’t go wheeling dealing for money. You do it for fun. Money is just how you keep score.” – Henry Tyroon
Henry Tyroon (James Garner) is a wealthy Texan from Midland who is constantly looking for ways to increase his bankroll. His latest project is the lease of a sizeable portion of land in Paradise Basin where he hopes to make a bundle by striking oil. Unfortunately, each one of the three wells that have been dug turn out to be “dusters”, meaning they are completely dry. In order to pay back the money that he borrowed for the project, he is notified that he will have to raise $1.2 million in a week’s time, otherwise he will go broke. His accountant advises him to go to “the big city” in order to obtain funds, so off Henry goes to New York City. Straight away after his arrival, he buys a taxi and the services of its driver to be at his beck and call during his stay. He then goes to visit some business acquaintances with whom he has done past business in order to get their help on advancing his some money. As the story will tell, Henry has had an innumerable amount of harebrained schemes in the past and has connections with people all across town. Luckily for him, everything seems to always turn out in his favour.
Meanwhile, Molly Thatcher (Lee Remick) is one of the very few women workers on Wall Street and is the sole female employee at the firm of Bear, Osgood & Whitby. She was hired by the recently deceased Osgood much to the dismay of Bear (Jim Backus) who cannot wait to give Molly the boot. Fortunately, Whitby is able to talk some sense into Bear and allow her more time, especially since legally they cannot fire someone without just cause. They decide to assign her to the account of Universal Widget, a company in which they own a reasonable portion of stock. The problem is that Universal Widget, founded in 1844, has had no figures recorded since 1894 and, as it will later be revealed, has not made a widget since 1854. Bear knows that making a success out of the stock will be near impossible and will give him a valid argument for firing Molly. When Henry comes to visit the firm to talk business, he admires Molly and feigns interest in Universal Widget simply to have a reason to be around her.
At first glance, Molly has reservations about Henry’s overall presentation of himself, considering it too good to be true. Essentially Henry gets whatever he goes after, doing it in a lawful fashion and usually without anyone getting hurt. Not only that, he displays extremely polite and thoughtful southern charm. She is convinced that he is hiding something about himself but seemingly forgets all about her suspicions as she gradually starts falling in love with him. Being a career-oriented businesswoman, Molly is able to suppress her feelings so that she and Henry can work as a team on the Universal Widget project. Henry is honest in saying that he has no need for the company’s stock but that he is willing to invest in them to help Molly prove her bosses wrong. Together, they make the stock’s value skyrocket and Molly becomes the toast of Bear, Osgood & Whitby.
Will this happy chain of events continue or is there an antagonist looming in the shadows?
Thoughts & Discussion
A picture from the delightfully pastel early 1960’s, The Wheeler Dealers is a classic example of romantic comedies from this period of time. Women’s clothing was chic yet colourful with soft tones and a style that was slowly leaving conservative behind. Apartments and hotel rooms were adequately spacious and furnished from head-to-toe from the fluffy carpet to the patterned wallpaper. Convenient and “advanced” gadgets were introduced to provide humour but also to give people ideas of what could be. Most of all, the subject of sex was nearly an obsession to many characters yet nothing beyond a chaste, close-mouthed kiss was produced. These were changing times when the sexual revolution was at America’s doorstep and traditional gender roles were being challenged.
Henry’s 1963 Chrysler Imperial Crown convertible, complete with a scotch & bourbon dispenser (along with ice & soda) plus his & hers telephones.
Molly and her roommate Eloise’s apartment. It is actually quite moderate considering that this is an MGM production but the studio did go all out on the decorations. How can you go wrong with so many pastel shades?
While this film is not a testament to the women’s liberation movement by any means, it does contain some interesting scenes in regards to some of the discrimination that women experienced at the time. Many of them revolve around bossy partner Bear’s misogynistic complaints about having to share an office with a woman as well as his suggestions on how to restrict their freedom so that they won’t start “getting ideas”. One exchange between Bear and Whitby paints a picture that is sadly crystal clear:
Whitby: “If we let any of the boys go there will be talk.”
Bear: “Right, if we let any of our boys go. But… well, what about our girl?”
Whitby: “Well the girl seems to be doing pretty well. A lot of bright ideas… a lot of energy… It’s kind of unusual around here.”
Bear: “Well, what’s the difference? That’s one way we can cut expenses without causing talk. Besides, everyone knows that taking on that girl was just an experiment.”
Unfortunately, the writers stopped well short of continuing to lay positive ground for career-driven women. While Molly was bright and ambitious, she was also extremely gullible in the department of romance. She has no real boyfriend although she spends practically every evening with a man named Leonard who we learn is married and is in constant psychotherapy. Since he has a miserable home life and does not like his wife, he comes to seek moral support from Molly by having her fix him dinner and talk about his personal problems. Where is there any sense in this situation? When Leonard discovers that Molly is in love with Henry, he attempts to ruin their chances by exposing Henry’s true background/identity in the hopes that she’ll run back into his arms. (If any of this sounds familiar, this part of the plot is reminiscent to 1959’s Pillow Talk although Tony Randall’s character was a 3-time divorcé instead of being married.)
As a pure source of entertainment, The Wheeler Dealers works very well and enjoying the company of James Garner and the ever beautiful Lee Remick is hardly a strenuous effort. If you enjoy this genre of film, you will be perfectly happy. As my friend and fellow classic film lover Laura put it in her own words: It’s sort of the movie equivalent of cotton candy, tastes good yet quickly melts away. (1)
James GarnerThe role of Henry Tyroon was a perfect fit for James, known to many of his friends as Jim, since he was born in Norman, Oklahoma, and spoke with natural southern-like drawl. Now, there were moments when Jim’s accent went in and out but that was mostly a question of him no longer being accustomed to speaking with an accent. Jim would explain in an interview with Johnny Carson (2) during the 1970s that the first director he worked with advised him to read Shakespeare outloud over the sound of crashing waves. That man was none other than the celebrated Charles Laughton who was directing Jim in his first role, along with the equally great Henry Fonda, in a stage version of The Caine Mutiny. Laughton’s method helped Jim to speak in a more neutral tone and also strengthened his voice. Never too far from his roots, however, Jim was able to jump back into “speaking Oklahoman” whenever he went back home or was around friends and family from the area.Aside from the speech aspect of the film character, Jim also shared similar personality traits with Henry. For instance, both men were very calm and always had a sense of light, witty humour about them. You get the impression that it was relatively easy for them to shrug off difficultly and then look to making positive changes. This was obviously not always the case for Jim as he had some very public struggles with his employers, particularly with Universal Studios and his fight over compensation for The Rockford Files. Nonetheless, Jim was known as being quite laid back and personable, especially on-set for his acting parts. Much like Victor Mature’s lack of self-appreciation, Jim never really took himself too seriously as an actor despite the fact that he had veritable talent and a whole lot of appeal. Acting always remained something that he sort of walked in to and from which he was able to make a good living. Still, that attitude worked for him in that he never sought to be a major star or huge box office draw, preferring to do projects that he wanted to choose. Jim Garner was just a down-to-earth country boy.The Wheeler Dealers opened before The Thrill of It All and after Move Over, Darling while all three films were released within 5 months of each other in the latter part of 1963. Before this time, the majority of Jim’s films were dramatic in nature rather than light-hearted romantic comedies. His transition to comedy was very natural and he lucked out in being paired with the reigning Queen of Rom-Coms, Doris Day, for Thrill and Move Over. Not only did the two make an extremely attractive couple, their chemistry was undeniable and they played off of each other very well. Jim already had a knack for making crazy facial expressions; a flair that was surely put to good use with Doris around! When it came to talking about his experience on The Wheeler Dealers, Jim had only this to share:
A broad comedy in which my character is a lot like Bret Maverick: a Texas con man, only this time in New York City. I guess audiences liked it, because for years people came up to me and quoted lines from it. (2)
Speaking from my own perspective, I can confirm Jim’s sentiments that I personally did enjoy this film and had I been given the chance, it would have indeed been a pleasure to quote him one of Henry’s lines. 🙂
2) James Garner on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”, date unknown
3) The Garner Files: A Memoir by James Garner with John Winokur, pg. 254