Personal Property (1937): Van Dyke’s Romantic Comedy, Starring Jean Harlow and Robert Taylor (Wedding Movie)

W.S. Van Dyke directed Personal Property, a screwball romantic comedy, based on H. M. Harwood’s play “The Man in Possession,” previously made into a film by MGM under the play’s title.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Personal Property

Theatrical release poster

Co-starring Robert Taylor, it was the last Jean Harlow movie to hit theaters during her lifetime; Saratoga was released posthumously.

Raymond Dabney (Robert Taylor) gets out of prison and is welcomed by his mother (Henrietta Crosman), but his father (E. E. Clive) and brother Claude (Reginald Owen) offer him money to go away.

In London, Raymond goes out and meets Crystal Wetherby (Jean Harlow) at the opera, before she leaves.  Pestered by bill collectors, Crystal is told by a cop that Raymond has a writ to stay there, to make sure no one takes the furniture.

Crystal tells Raymond that her husband shot the trophies and gives him his large pajamas, scaring him into the butler’s room.

She tells Raymond that her fiancé’s parents are coming for dinner, and he offers to “butle” as Ferguson for her; they with Crystal playing Catherine Burns and Lord Carstairs.

Raymond learns that his family is coming, and he announces them. Catherine Burns (Maria Shelton) and Mrs. Burns (Cora Witherspoon) arrive, followed by absent-minded Lord Carstairs (Lionel Braham) and mumbling Arthur (Barnett Parker).

Claude tells Crystal they can marry and share their possessions. After the other guests leave, Claude tells Crystal that Raymond just got out of prison. Raymond says he will leave if Crystal asks him, but she says he can stay so he won’t lose his job.

In the morning Claude asks Raymond to leave before Crystal finds about his identity, and he agrees for 500 pounds. Raymond and Crystal quarrel because she is marrying for money.

In the happy ending, Raymond explains to Crystal that Claude was a fortune hunter and that he is not marrying her. clearing the ways for them.

The movie, a sampler of screwball comedies revolving around a bunch of rich and eccentric characters and mistaken identities, is not one of the strongest pictures of prolific Van Dyke.  As a director, he is best known for launching the popular film series, The Thin Man, in 1934, and helming several of its subsequent chapters.

The central set-piece is a dinner party. in which Taylor serves as a butler, and each of the family members makes a buffoon of himself.

The movie was popular at the box office, reflecting Harlow’s stature as one of MGM’s top stars.  At her most beautiful, Harlow wears several elegant dresses that feature her perfectly shaped figure to an advantage.

This was a crucial year for the then emerging star Robert Taylor, who displayed his versatility as a comedic and dramatic actor, giving a strong performance in his other film, Camille, opposite Garbo. As I have noted many times, Taylor, known for his handsome looks–and perfect profile–was one of MGM’s and Hollywood’s underestimated actors.

Reginal Owen reprised the same character in the 1931 film adaptation of the play, “The Man in Possession.”

Jean Harlow as Crystal Wetherby
Robert Taylor as Raymond Dabney, aka Ferguson
Reginald Owen as Claude Dabney.
Una O’Connor as Clara
Henrietta Crosman as Mrs. Cosgrove Dabney
E.E. Clive as Cosgrove Dabney
Cora Witherspoon as Mrs. Burns
Marla Shelton as Catherine Burns
Forrester Harvey as Herbert Jenkins
Lionel Braham as Lord Carstairs
Barnett Parker as Arthur ‘Trevy’ Trevelyan


Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
Produced by John W. Considine Jr.
Screenplay by Hugh Mills and Ernest Vajda, based on 1930 play “The Man in Possession” by H.M. Harwood
Music by Franz Waxman, Edward Ward
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Edited by Ben Lewis
Distributed by MGM

Release date: March 19, 1937

Running time: 84 minutes
Budget $300,000
Box office $1,731,000


TCM showed the movie on October 8, 2020.