Review: Mitchell Leisen’s “Take a Letter, Darling,” Starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray

Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray in “Take a Letter, Darling”
Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray in “Take a Letter, Darling”

After a misstep at Columbia with The Lady is Willing, director Mitchell Leisen returned to form with Take a Letter, Darling at his home studio of Paramount. Although not quite as sharp as some of Leisen’s best work, the comedy is still a marked improvement over his previous couple of films.

Tom Verney (Leisen favorite Fred MacMurray) is a struggling painter in search of a real job to keep him afloat. He lands a position working for A.M. MacGregor, an executive at a top advertising agency. Arriving for his first day, Verney is shocked to discover that MacGregor is a woman (Rosalind Russell), and that he’ll be working as a kind of private secretary under her. “A woman in business faces many problems that don’t confront men,” MacGregor explains to him. “In particular, she faces the problem of men.” MacGregor has Verney pose as a fellow executive to seduce resistance female clients, or as her fiancé to dissuade the jealous wives of male ones.. MacGregor’s one requirement for the position is that Verney can’t fall in love with her—which, of course, we know is only a matter of time. After an attempt to land a large tobacco company owned by a brother and sister (Macdonald Carey and Constance Moore) presents each of them with suitable partners, MacGregor finds herself falling for Verney, despite her own insistence against it.

Fred MacMurray and Rosalind Russell in “Take a Letter, Darling”
Fred MacMurray and Rosalind Russell in “Take a Letter, Darling”

The only time MacMurray and Russell acted together, Take a Letter, Darling is not nearly enough of a chance to show what chemistry they might have had; instead, their characters butt heads in a way that comes off as more combative than charming. Leisen originally wanted Claudette Colbert—she had previously starred with MacMurray and been directed by Leisen several times—but Paramount put her in The Palm Beach Story instead.1 However, Russell is perfect as the tough, business-minded ad executive—making it all the more defeating when the script turns toward portraying her as weak and petty. “You never even asked me for a single dance,” she moans to Verney at one point. Screenwriter Claude Binyon was no match for the writers Leisen worked with in the past, geniuses like Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder.

Binyon wraps the film up in a thoroughly unconvincing way that feels rushed and unsatisfying. Other elements are off as well—the Oscar-nominated score by Victor Young, in particular, plays as intrusive and gratuitous (the film also received nominations for its cinematography and art direction). “I don’t think any of the comedies I made in the ‘40s were as good as the ones I’d done earlier,” Leisen later admitted. “They were still fun to do, and I guess Take a Letter, Darling is about the best. It made a lot of money, at least.”2 Despite that, there are moments of inspiration present—take the creative opening credits, for example. A lesser film for Leisen, Take a Letter, Darling was still a step back in the right direction after a series of misfires.

Where to Watch

Check TCM Listings

For More on Take a Letter, Darling

Read the review in The New York Times

References   [ + ]

1. David Chierichetti, Mitchell Leisen: Hollywood Director (Los Angeles: Photoventures Company, 1995), 165.
2. Chierichetti 1995, 167.