Hold Your Own (1933): Sam Wood’s Pre-Code Romantic Drama, Starring Jean Harlow and Clark Gable

The third of six films Jean Harlow and Clark Gable made together, Hold Your Man  was a pre-Code romantic melodrama, directed by Sam Wood, and based on Anita Loos and Howard Emmett Rogers’ script.

C+ (** out of *****)

Hold Your Man
Hold Your Man 1933.jpg

Lobby card

Gable plays small-time con man Eddie Hall, hiding from his latest victim and the police in an apartment occupied by Ruby Adams, a cynical, sexually loose woman. Eddie wants to get Ruby better, and after resisting, she falls in love with him.

Eddie’s partner Slim scheme to catch one of Ruby’s married admirers and blackmail him, but Eddie cannot bear to have her involved in the sordid idea.

Breaking into Ruby’s apartment, he punches the would-be victim, and accidentally killing him. Eddie escapes, but Ruby is caught and sentenced to reformatory for two years. One of her fellow inmates turns out to be Gypsy Angecon, Eddie’s former girl.

When Eddie learns from a Gypsy that Ruby is pregnant, he visits her.  Though the authorities become suspicious, Eddie is determined to marry Ruby. While the police closes in, he persuades a minister to marry them.  Caught, he is sent to prison. When he gets out, Ruby welcomes him with their son and promise for a legit job.

The song Harlow sings, “Hold Your Man,” written by Nacio Herb Brown (music) and Arthur Freed (lyrics), was sung at the reformatory, which made Harlow quip, “My singing would be enough to get me in, but I’d never be able to sing my way out.”

Harlow and Gable made six films together, and Hold Your Man was their third, after the great success of Red Dust, in 1932. Harlow and Gable’s other films together include The Secret Six and China Seas, both with Wallace Beery, Wife vs. Secretary with Myrna Loy and James Stewart, and Saratoga with Lionel Barrymore. Harlow would soon become Hollywood’s biggest female star, able to carry her next  picture, Bombshell (1933), without a male star.

This was the second of five films Harlow and writer Anita Loose made together; their first was “Red-Headed Woman.”

Under the tightened reign of the Hays Office, Harlow’s character had to be punished for her sins (pre-marital sex), so Loos invented the subplot of the reformatory, and arranged for Ruby and Eddie to get married.  Some of the critics complained about “the sudden transition from hard-boiled wisecracking romance to sentimental penitence.”

However, despite censorship, the film was a smash success, grossing $1.1 million at the box-office on a budget of $260,000.

Jean Harlow as Ruby Adams
Clark Gable as Eddie Hall
Stuart Erwin as Al Simpson
Dorothy Burgess as Gypsy Angecon
Muriel Kirkland as Bertha Dillion
Garry Owen as Slim
Barbara Barondess as Sadie Cline
Elizabeth Patterson as Miss Tuttle (reformatory matron)
Inez Courtney as Mazie (reformatory inmate)
Blanche Friderici as Mrs. Wagner
Helen Freeman as Mrs. Davis


Produced and directed by Sam Wood
Written by Anita Loos and Howard Emmett Rogers from their story
Music by Nacio Herb Brown (song – music), Arthur Freed (song – lyrics)
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Frank Sullivan

Production and distribution company: MGM

Release date: June 30, 1933 (NYC); July 7, 1933 (U.S.)
Running time: 87 minutes


TCM showed the movie on October 8, 2020.