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They Knew What They Wanted (RKO 1940, Carole Lombard, Charles Laughton)



In They Knew What They Wanted, when a beautiful, but poor, waitress (Carole Lombard) agrees to a mail-order marriage with a wine grower (Charles Laughton), she discovers he has misrepresented himself–and has even sent her a picture of one of his workers (William Gargan) as himself. Though she swears to be true to him, she ends up in a torrid affair with the worker despite her best intentions, and even becomes pregnant by him.

In an ending surprising for its time, her husband forgives her and the movie ends on a relatively happy note. The film was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Sidney Howard.

Other film versions which included The Secret Love (1928) with Pola Negri and A Lady to Love (1930) with Vilma Banky (and Edward G. Robinson), were resisted by the censorship board, which altered the husband’s forgiveness for his wife’s adultery. The 1940 version was the most true to the play.

production details
USA | RKO | 96 minutes | 1940
Director: Garson Kanin
Script: Sidney Howard, Robert Ardrey,

Charles Laughton as Tony Patucci
Stephen Soldi as Restaurant Customer
Marie Blake as Waitress
William Gargan as Joe
Harry Carey as The Doctor
Tom Ewell as New Hired Hand
Karl Malden as Red
Nestor Paiva as Tony’s Pal at Table
Bobby Barber as Tony’s Pal at Table
Frank Fay as Father McKee
Carole Lombard as Amy Peters
Joseph E. Bernard as The R.F.D.
Janet Fox as Mildred
Lee Tung Foo as Ah Gee, the Cook
Victor Kilian as The photographer
Demetrius Alexis as Restaurant Customer
Ricca Allen as Mrs. Thing
Effie Anderson as Nurse
Antonio Filauri as Customer
Millicent Green as Waitress
Bobbie Hale as Restaurant Customer
Paul Le Pere as Hired Hand
Grace Lenard as Waitress
Patricia Oakley as Waitress
Paul Panzer as Proprietor of Italian Restaurant
Joe Sully as Father of Family