They Knew What They Wanted: Garson Kanin Directs Howard Play Starring Carole Lombard and William Gargan in Oscar Nominated Performance

Directed by Garson Kanin, They Knew What They Wanted is adapted to the screen from Sidney Howard’s 1924 Pulitzer Prize play.

A Lady to Love (1930), with Edward G. Robinson in the lead, was an early talkie version of the film.

When visiting San Francisco, Tony Patucci (Charles Laughton), an aging illiterate winegrower from the Napa Valley, falls for waitress Amy Peters (Carole Lombard)

Back home, he persuades his foreman Joe (William Gargan), a womanizer, to write her a letter in Tony’s name. Tony’s courtship by mail culminates with a proposal, and when she requests a photo, he sends one of Joe.

When Amy goes to Napa to be married, she discovers that her prospective husband is Tony, but she goes through with the plan.

However, while Tony has an accident, Amy and Joe have an affair. Months later, as Tony plans the wedding, she realizes she is pregnant. Tony pummels Joe, who leaves the vineyards, but forgives Amy.

But unable to forgive herself, Amy leaves with the priest who’s come to marry them, and Tony hopes that she will return one day.

The film was a commercial flop, and is now mostly known for Gargan’s Oscar nominated performance.

In 1956, Frank Loesser turned the play into a musical, The Most Happy Fella.

Karl Malden made his feature debut in this film as Red.


Carole Lombard as Amy Peters

Charles Laughton as Tony Patucci

William Gargan as Joe

Harry Carey as doctor

Frank Fay as Father McKee

Janet Fox as Mildred