Why a Woman Won’t Marry an Idle Man: Hands Across the Table (1935)

hands-across-the-tableIdleness is “an inclination not to do work…”1 Synonyms include laziness, indolence, and sloth.In Mitchell Leisen’s Hands Across the Table (1935), Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray) is an idle man who has never worked to earn a living. An important theme in the film is that a woman will not marry a man who refuses to get a job.

One reason why Theodore doesn’t want to work is he is a man-child. When Regi Allen (Carole Lombard) first meets him, he is playing hopscotch in the hallway. Later, when she lets him stay in her apartment, he asks to be tucked into bed. Years earlier, he joined the navy, but his father pulled him out. Theodore is a man-child because his father never taught him to be responsible for his own financial needs.

Theodore’s refusal to work forces him to choose between marrying for money or marrying for love. Before he met Regi, he planned to marry Vivian Snowden (Astrid Allwyn) and live off of her wealth. However, when he falls in love with Regi, he wants to break off his engagement, and be with her, but she refuses.

There are two unstated reasons why Regi sends Theodore away. As a manicurist, she is a low-income earner, and doesn’t want to remain poor by marrying a man with limited job prospects. She tells him he’ll have to “scratch for a living.” Secondly, she may fear that she will have to support him financially.

In the end, Regi agrees to marry Theodore because she realizes how much she loves him, and he promises her that he will find work. The film suggests that a man must take financial responsibility for his own life if he wants to attract a wife. This was true in 1935 and is still true today.

According to a 2011 survey by ForbesWoman and YourTango, 75% of female respondents said they would never marry a man who was unemployed.3 Women today may not want a man to financially provide for them, but they are reluctant to marry a man they will have to provide for, especially if he is healthy and able to work.

While there are valid reasons for a man being unemployed including health issues, raising children, and the need to retrain for a career, if a healthy, able-bodied man refuses to work, he may ruin his chances of getting married. Women (on average) earn less money than men do,4 and hence are less likely to want to financially support a husband. Therefore, if an idle man wants a wife, he should start looking for a job.


  1. Merriam Webster, s.v. “Idleness,” accessed February 12, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/idleness
  2. Ibid.
  3. Megan Gibson, “Study: 75% of Women Wouldn’t Marry A Man Who Was Unemployed,” Time, June 23, 2011, http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/06/23/study-75-of-women-wouldnt-marry-a-man-who-was-unemployed/
  4. “Women’s earnings 83 percent of men’s, but vary by occupation,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 15, 2016, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/womens-earnings-83-percent-of-mens-but-vary-by-occupation.htm

How Trust is Restored: The Awful Truth (1937)

awful-truth-posterTrust is a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone.”1 Trust is a choice to believe in someone (often based on the evidence of their past behavior), and the stronger the belief, the greater the feeling of trust.

In Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937), Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) no longer trusts his wife Lucy (Irene Dunne) after learning that she stayed at an Inn with Armand Duvalle (Alexander D’Arcy). Jerry’s trust is restored when he takes a risk: He believes Lucy’s denial of infidelity.

The two most common ways to respond to a trust violation are “apology and denial.”2 Lucy denies cheating on Jerry, but he doesn’t believe her. While it is possible that Lucy slept with Armand, he has no proof that she is guilty. Jerry no longer trusts her because of circumstantial evidence: “evidence not drawn from direct observation.”3 Instead of trusting her, he becomes suspicious, which causes their marriage to implode.

During their legal separation, Jerry and Lucy realize how much they love each other. Love is demonstrated when a person does something good to another person, in particular a selfless act. When Mrs. Leeson (Esther Dale) shares a rumor that Lucy had an affair, Jerry comes to his wife’s defence, saying that he was unfaithful, not Lucy. Jerry does this to protect Lucy’s public reputation, which is unexpected, given that he still believes she had an affair with Armand. Jerry’s selfless act (making himself the bad guy) is a demonstration of his love for her, and Lucy’s love for him is re-awakened.

When two people love each other, they need to trust each other, or their relationship will not last. Lucy says, “You can’t have a happy married life if you’re always going to be suspicious of each other.” Without trust, there can be no intimacy, and without intimacy, there can be no happy marriage.

Because trust is a belief which can never be 100% certain, it always involves taking a risk. The reward of risking to trust someone is intimacy. In the end, Jerry decides to let go of his suspicion that Lucy had an affair. Realizing that he still loves her, and having no evidence that she did anything wrong, he chooses to trust her again, and their marriage is restored.


  1. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “Trust,” accessed January 21, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/trust
  2. Peter H. Kim et al., “Removing the Shadow of Suspicion: The Effects of Apology Versus Denial for Repairing Competence Versus Integrity-Based Trust Violations,” Journal of Applied Psychology 89, no. 1 (Feb. 2004): 105.
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Circumstantial Evidence,” accessed January 21, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/circumstantial-evidence

The Philosophy of Non-Attachment: Heat (1995)


A central theme in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) is non-attachment: a “transcendent evenness of mind which enables one to participate in the temporal process without attachment.”1 Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) lives by this philosophy. To avoid going to prison, he is prepared to let go of anything he is emotionally attached to when the police are onto him.

For a career criminal like Neil, the worst form of suffering is going to prison. He tells Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), “I am never going back.” In prison, he is no longer free to do what he loves most in life: to “take scores.”

When Neil believes the police are aware of his plans, he lets go of his emotional attachment to carrying out a specific crime. He says, “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything …  if you feel the heat around the corner.” For Neil, the financial gain from a robbery is not worth the increased risk of getting caught.

Neil holds to his philosophy of non-attachment when he attempts to rob a precious metals depository. He hears a noise coming from a van across the street, and immediately leaves with his crew. However, he abandons his philosophy when he decides to rob the Far East National Bank.

Neil is unable to let go of his desire to rob the bank because of another desire: He is in love with Eady (Amy Brenneman), and wants to run away with her to New Zealand. He doesn’t have enough money to live with her (without working), so he reasons that the robbery is “worth the stretch.” When a person has a strong desire for something, they are more likely to take risks to obtain it. Neil decides that the reward of living with her is worth the risk of getting caught.

When a person practices non-attachment, they are not ruled by their desires. An overpowering desire can impair a person’s ability to think logically. Neil survives the bank robbery, and could have had the life he dreamed of with Eady, but he can’t let go of his desire to kill Waingro (Kevin Gage). Neil’s desire for revenge leads him to the same place as Vincent, and he pays the ultimate price: He loses his own life.


  1. Winfield E. Nagley, “Thoreau on Attachment, Detachment, and Non-Attachment,” Philosophy East and West 3, no. 4 (January 1954): 307, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1397288

Three Reasons Why Women Have An Affair: The Letter (1940)

The Letter 1940

In the opening scene of William Wyler’s The Letter (1940), Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) murders the man she was having an affair with. The film reveals three reasons why women cheat on their husbands: boredom, loneliness, and an emotional connection with a male friend.

In research by Allen et. al, “boredom in the marriage”1 was cited as one reason why men and women were unfaithful to their spouses. One predisposing factor in Leslie’s unfaithfulness is boredom. Throughout the film, she is seen doing lacework. She finds the activity “soothing”, and took it up because she “had nothing else to do.” Although she has been married for 10 years, she has no children, and does not work outside the home. Even in her own home she has little to do. She says, “the boys take such good care of us.” Leslie has no major responsibilities as a housewife. An affair brought a feeling of excitement to her life.

Another factor in Leslie’s unfaithfulness is loneliness. As the manager of a rubber plantation, her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) works long hours, and is sometimes away on business for “a day or two.” Leslie accepts the reality of her husband’s absence, saying “I never mind being alone. A planter’s wife gets used to that.” However, the reason Leslie is “used to” being alone is because she has been cheating on Robert for many years. With an absent husband, she felt lonely, and her affair filled that emotional void.

While it is more common for men to have an affair due to lust (physical attraction), women are more likely to be in love with the man they have an affair with. According to Spanier and Margolis, “Women report a significantly greater emotional involvement with their extramarital partners than men.”2 In their research, 51% of the men and 72% of the women reported that they “had some emotional commitment” or it was a “long-term love relationship.”3 Leslie confesses to Robert that she has been “in love for years.” Her extra-marital relationship began as a friendship seven years prior, but at some point she fell in love, and it became a sexual relationship.

A central theme in The Letter is that a married woman who is idle and has an absent husband is more likely to cheat. Robert loved Leslie, provided for her, and gave her everything that she needed, but she was bored, lonely, and had no goals or dreams of her own. With no children to care for, and no job, she turned to another man to find meaning in her life. Then, when her lover suddenly abandoned her, she murdered him.


  1. Elizabeth S. Allen et al., “Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Contextual Factors in Engaging in and Responding to Extramarital Involvement.” Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice 12, no. 2 (June 2005): 109.
  2. Graham B. Spanier and Randie L. Margolis, “Marital Separation and Extramarital Sexual Behavior.” The Journal of Sex Research 19, no. 1 (February 1983): 23, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3812417
  3. Spanier and Margolis, “Marital Separation and Extramarital Sexual Behavior,” 36.