Everyone wishes they could get away from their life and live one they always dreamed about and have a great romance with the person of their heart’s desire. What girl has never wished to live a Carrie Bradshaw life in New York City among fabulous people and fall in love with their Mr. Big? Well, I know this girl has. I would not be a girl if I were to deny I did not I dream about one day finding a good job in the city and finding my great romance. I live close to New York City but that is not the same as actually living there. Anyway, Irene Dunne’s character in her 1941 film Unfinished Business had the same romantic notion as we all do today.
Nancy Andrews (Dunne) has been taking care of her younger sister Katy for a long time in their small town of Messina, Ohio. Katy has just gotten married and she and her husband want Nancy to come live with them so they can take care of her. Nancy has other plans. All her life she has heard the train speed through town and it has become her hopes and desires of leaving the small town and having the great romance of her life. She decides to finally leave and live her own life.
On the train is a man named Steve Duncan (Preston Foster). He and his friend are bored and make a bet they can find a woman and bring her back to their compartment first. Steve finds Nancy walking on shaking legs as the train sways back and forth. She winds up hurting her ankle and he brings her back to his compartment. Steve flirts with Nancy but she sees right through him and becomes uncomfortable being alone with him. As the train speeds passed small towns and their lights Nancy talks about how romantic she finds trains. Steve comes over to her and kisses her. When they come to New York Steve tells Nancy he will call her but he never does. Weeks and months go by without Nancy hearing a word from Steve.
Nancy goes on an audition for an opera but does not get the part. She gets a job as a singing telegram girl. One day she is given a birthday call to a man named Billy Ross who runs a night club. Billy likes what he hears and tells Nancy to come to his office. He gives her a job as a telephone operator who sings the name of the club when someone calls.
A frequent patron at the club Billy runs is Tommy Duncan (Robert Montgomery). Tommy is the younger brother of Steve. Steve shows up at the club much to Tommy’s dismay. Billy asks Nancy to go sing Happy Birthday to Steve’s table. She is surprised to see Steve after so long. Steve does not seem to remember her which breaks her heart. Tommy thinks his brother did something to her and goes to check on her. He wants to take her out for some air away from the club and Billy allows her to go since she works so hard. They go out for a carriage ride where Tommy tells Nancy that Steve was with his fiancé whom he has known since they were little.
Instead of going to Steve’s wedding, Tommy takes Nancy out for some drinks. She talks about how she wants to marry someone she loves. Tommy asks her to marry him to which she answers that she does not love him. A few drinks later and the next morning Tommy wakes up to his butler Elmer telling him that he (Tommy) got married the night before. Tommy does not believe his old friend until they knock on the door to a spare room and Nancy comes out. The newlyweds are very uncomfortable and nervous around each other. They both confess they do not really love each other.
Over time Nancy becomes someone she is not. She constantly wants to go out and according to Tommy is a nuisance wherever they go and she does not remember a thing the next day. One night Tommy asks Nancy if they can just stay home he is tired of going out. They sit down at a piano and she plays a song. After this she decides to stay home for the night.
Since they are now staying home more Tommy wants to have some of their friends and family over including Steve. Steve is still a sensitive subject for Nancy she still hears the train whistle whenever she thinks of him. The night of the party Steven walks in and sees Nancy and remembers who she is. They go out onto the terrace and talk. Nancy gives Steve a kiss goodbye since she did not get to the last time they saw each other at the train station. Unfortunately Tommy’s old girlfriend sees them and immediately spreads the word about what she saw. Everyone leaves the party. Tommy threatens to beat up his brother but never gets to it. Instead he gets drunk and wakes up the following morning to find Nancy has left him.
A year later, Tommy and Nancy are not together but not divorced. He has joined the army and comes home to New York City on a two week leave. His aunt takes him to the opera. He finds Nancy is one of the singers in the chorus of the show. Tommy waits for Nancy and goes home with her. They talk and somehow they manage to both make each other angry. Nancy says that there is someone else in her heart that will make her not love him as much as she can. Tommy thinks Nancy is still in love with his brother and it hurts him because he loves her very much.
The ending to me was predictable and one I was actually waiting for. I will not give it away though.
Irene Dunne, as always, was wonderful. The woman was such an incredible actress. She was not once over dramatic. I liked seeing Dunne as this dreamer who wanted so much a life that was romantic and perfect but never really got it. I liked seeing her play this nervous, unworldly character. Her pairing with both Robert Montgomery and Preston Foster was great. She gave both men a bit more class than they already had. Montgomery I was not too crazy about. He does a great job playing drunk characters but I was not a fan of his character too much. Foster played his character very well. I kind of wish he was not a jerk and wound up with Dunne.
Unfinished Business is not that good. The story is predictable and a bit boring. Had it not been for the cast I am sure the film would have gone unnoticed and not be known today. The only reason to watch Unfinished Business is because of Irene Dunne, Robert Montgomery, and Preston Foster. I can only hope my New York City dream will not end up as badly as Nancy’s.