Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

They Knew What They Wanted Reviews

Lombard is a waitress in San Francisco whose life is going nowhere quickly. She begins a correspondence with an Italian vineyard owner, and, after he sends her a picture of himself, accepts his proposal of marriage. The picture, however, is not of her fiance, Laughton, but of his handsome hired man, Gargan. Lombard is shocked and upset when she learns that she is engaged to marry Laughton, a fat, boisterous, unattractive fellow. On the eve of their wedding, Laughton falls and breaks both legs. The wedding delayed while he recovers, Lombard nurses him, but her resentment of him grows daily. She becomes involved in an affair with Gargan, who seduces her, then tells her he won't marry her because he doesn't "owe no man nothing--or no woman." Lombard is pregnant by Gargan, and shortly afterward he and Lombard argue and he leaves her for good. Laughton, who has always loved her, forgives her transgression and she realizes that she loves him too. She goes away to have the child, but clearly she will return to Laughton. Lombard shows the dramatic range she was too infrequently able to exercise. Laughton, on the other hand, is as hammy and overbearing as usual, his portrayal of the Italian immigrant just short of insulting with his pidgin English, greasy hair, and ridiculous mannerisms. Gargan was good enough to garner an Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, while Fay (Barbara Stanwyck's first husband) is downright bad. Among the supporting players only veteran Carey, as a kindly country doctor, is good. Karl Malden makes his screen debut in a small role. The story had its first incarnation as a play, in which Amy is married to Tony before she goes to bed with Joe, but the Breen Office (the successor to the Hays Office) would allow the story on the screen only if the sin were seduction, not adultery. Twice before, in 1928 and 1930, the story had been filmed in bowdlerized versions (THE SECRET HOUR and A LADY IN LOVE) under the strictures of censorship, which removed any real point from it. It was only after years of negotiations with the Breen Office that the story was allowed to be filmed under its own title and mostly intact.