William A. Seiter's If You Could Only Cook is a lightweight screwball comedy with a checkered history, through no fault of its own. Made at Columbia in 1935, it would have been considered a "B" picture at almost any other studio, but for its cast -- Herbert Marshall, Jean Arthur, and Leo Carrillo made it a kind of a "nervous A" in the relatively modest surroundings of Columbia, despite its short running time. Marshall is his usual charming self, and Arthur is all pluck and spirit as the down-on-her-luck working girl willing to give a wild idea a try, if he'll only cooperate by pretending to be her husband, so that they can land two jobs on an estate. Seiter's handling of the material is smooth enough, but the material itself is another matter -- the script is decidedly sub-par and uneven; the first section, telling of Jim Buchanan's impending marriage-of-convenience, and his dispute with his board of directors, is fine as far as it goes, and his chance meeting with Joan Hawthorne is logical. But the transition of the story to the estate of Mike Rossini Leo Carrillo is abrupt, and there's not enough learned about the characters in the course of their settling in at the estate -- and then, suddenly, we're in the middle of a kind of gangster comedy, a kind of prototype Guys And Dolls, and a plot that lurches forward at high-speed, with some serious (and distracting) shifts in tone in the script. What one finally ends up with is an A-movie cast in a B-movie script, without enough of a plot, or an interesting enough array of characters -- apart from the two leads -- to provide lingering interest or entertainment. The movie ended up becoming a serious bone of contention between Frank Capra, who had nothing to do with it, and Columbia Pictures when the latter released it in England as "A Frank Capra Production," as his movies tended to earn bigger fees from exhibitors than anyone else's at Columbia. Capra filed a lawsuit which came close to costing studio chief Harry Cohn his job, before it was settled in Capra's favor.
by Bruce Eder review