“Bill, what should I wear?”
“How ‘bout a straight jacket.”
I always like a good romanticized spy story. Ever since I first watched Alias I have thought that spy stories with their agents sneaking around and cracking codes and being uber intelligent were so interesting. When I read that Rendezvous with William Powell and Rosalind Russell was a comedic spy story I could not wait to see it. I was just imagining William Powell in a pre- James Bond- type role… come on I cannot be the only one who thinks Powell would have made an excellent Bond if they had been written and made earlier. He was the ultimate slick charmer he would have been a great James Bond. Powell is kind of James Bond-esque in this film but the story is set during World War I with the film having been made in 1935.
Bill Gordon (Powell) used to be a newspaper man before the Great War began. He enlisted and made lieutenant. At a party one night, a young woman named Joel Carter (Russell) mistaken him for a Russian diplomat so Bill plays along and pretends to be a Russian. Joel is upset over the mistake but after a few moments she does not mind and actually finds herself liking Bill. Her aunt announces that for a good cause she will be auctioning off a kiss from Joel. Joel is not too pleased until Bill begins to bid for her. In the end Bill loses and most likely purposely just to get her riled up.
An acquaintance of Joel’s named Captain Nicholas Neiterstein (Cesar Romero) seems like a nice young man but he is part of a German spy ring who are out to decode top secret military codes. Major Charles Brennan (Lionel Atwill) works for British Intelligence. He has been creating the codes that are unfortunately being decoded.
One day Bill just so happens to be in the same area where Joel is picketing for the suffragist movement. He begins to mess her when a police officer comes over to her and tells her to go away. Joel gets really mad and starts hitting the police officer. Bill steps in and accidentally hits Joel in the eye. The police officer then hits Bill in the eye. After they get their eyes taken care of Bill and Joel go out to lunch together. Bill suckers Joel into going to the train station with him saying he has to go to the front that day. They kiss then he tells her he is not leaving until the next day. Needless to say they fall in love
The next day before Bill even gets onto the train he receives orders that he is to report for desk duty. Bill is furious he wants to join other men on the front and fight for his country. He reports to the head of the War Department who turns out to be Joel’s uncle. Carter tells Bill that he will be working as a decoder since he wrote a book about cryptography under the name Anson Meridan. He is to work with Major Brennan to come up with a code and to decode a message the Germans have sent. All through the night Bill and other cryptographers work on the German code. When they finally crack it Brennan tells them it was a dummy message he has sent to see how the Germans would code it. He suspects that someone stole the code from him and gave it to the enemy. He realizes that someone stole the copy of his book that he had written. Only him and one other person have the code book but the other person had theirs. On his way home Brennan suspects his mistress Olivia Karloff stole it from him. His suspicion proves correct but when he goes to confront Olivia she kills him.
Since Bill is working with top secret information and knows what the decipher is the War Department puts him on the case. Joel has no idea that Olivia is suspect in the murder case so when she sees Bill with her she gets so jealous. The deeper Bill gets into the case the more danger pursues him. He winds up getting kidnapped and because she cannot leave Bill alone so does Joel. Bill saves them by calling his office with a codes message and the police arrive in the nick of time.
William Powell was wonderful. His character was very well put together; he was perfect for the part. Powell was so smooth and charming and so well put together in all his films and that is exactly what the character of Bill had to be. From the first time I had ever seen Powell in The Thin Man I have thought him such an incredibly talented actor and although the film was not too great he was so good.
Rosalind Russell… her performance was not bad but her character was such a pain in the rear!! Joel was such a pointless character her scenes were so annoying and so unnecessary. I can see where the writers were trying to make her the comic relief but she was not she was just awful. As I said Russell’s performance was not bad she was good with what she was given but the character was a pain. The role of Joel Carter was originally intended for Myrna Loy. She had began to film it but she hated the character so she went on strike for MGM to give her better roles and for more money. At first I was upset that Loy was not in it but the more I saw of Joel I was so thankful that she walked away from the role. Loy would have looked so stupid. There were some scenes and lines that were so obviously written with Myrna Loy in mind. In some of those certain scenes Russell almost sounds and looks like Loy! The only scene I would have liked to have seen Loy play was at the end of the film when Bill is about the leave on a train again and he gets called to desk duty again. He chases after her on the platform. I can see that see scene with Powell chasing after Loy as being so adorable. For as annoying as the character of Joel was she did have some funny scenes. The funniest was when Bill called for a warden to take Olivia’s clothes so he can look for certain chemicals on them. Joel walks in acting like the warden. Rosalind Russell played this scene so great she was so funny.
Lionel Atwill in his short time in the film was as usual so good. I enjoy seeing him in films. He could be the perfect bad guy or the perfectly good guy.
Rendezvous has its faults but it is not a complete blunder. If you can get around the character of Joel Carter you will be fine. The story is very interesting and there are some very cute scenes. If Rendezvous airs on TCM again give it a go or if you really love William Powell or Rosalind Russell Warner Archives just released it on DVD.