Like its predecessors, this third cinema version of Sidney Hoiward's Pulitzer Prize-winning play They Knew What They Wanted suffers from Hollywood censorship. Still, this story of the grim consequence of a misbegotten mail-order marriage has much to offer. Carole Lombard is superb as the waitress who lies about herself while carrying on a romance by correspondence with the Italian-born owner of a Napa Valley vineyard. Equally fine (if a shade too effusively hammy) is Charles Laughton as the grape grower, who also misrepresents himself in his letters, going so far as to pass off a photograph of handsome hired hand William Gargan as a picture of himself. Vowing to be loyal to her new husband Laughton, despite her distaste for him, Lombard nonetheless enters into an affair with Gargan. For the most part, the film moves along harmoniously. It falters only in the censor-dictated alterations (why is Lombard crying at the end?) and the horrendous performance by Frank Fay as a sanctimonious priest. Keep an eye peeled during the engagement party for a young, unbilled Karl Malden and Tom Ewell. Previous versions of They Knew What They Wanted included The Secret Hour (1928) and A Lady in Love (1930).
by Hal Erickson synopsis