They Knew What They Wanted (film)

They Knew What They Wanted is a 1940 film directed by Garson Kanin, written by Robert Ardrey, and starring Carole Lombard, Charles Laughton and William Gargan. It is based on the 1924 Pulitzer Prize winning play They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard. For his performance Gargan was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

They Knew What They Wanted
Poster - They Knew What They Wanted 01.jpg
Original lobby card
Directed byGarson Kanin
Produced byHarry E. Edington
Erich Pommer
Based onThey Knew What They Wanted
by Sidney Howard
StarringCarole Lombard
Charles Laughton
William Gargan
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyHarry Stradling
Edited byJohn Sturges
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • October 25, 1940 (1940-10-25) (US)
  • October 8, 1940 (1940-10-08) (San Francisco-Premiere)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$932,000[2]


When visiting San Francisco, Tony Patucci, an ageing illiterate winegrower from the Napa Valley, sees waitress Amy Peters and falls in love. Returning home, he persuades his foreman Joe, an incorrigible womanizer, to write her a letter in Tony's name. Tony's courtship by mail culminates with a proposal, and when she requests a picture of him, he sends one of Joe. Amy accepts and goes to Napa to be married. Although horrified to discover that her prospective husband is the portly Tony, she decides to go through with the marriage. However, while Tony is in bed after an accident, Amy and Joe have an affair. Two months later, as Tony plans the wedding, she discovers that she is pregnant. Upon learning this, Tony pummels Joe, who leaves the vineyards. but forgives Amy, and insists that they still be married, But she is unable to forgive herself, so she leaves with the priest who's come to marry them, while Tony looks on, hoping that she will return one day.

Main castEdit


The film recorded a loss of $291,000.[2]William Gargan was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Other versions of the playEdit

This marked the only time the play was filmed under its original title. Two previous film versions had been made: a silent film called The Secret Hour (1928), with Jean Hersholt in the Laughton role, and an early talkie entitled A Lady to Love (1930), with Edward G. Robinson in the role.

Years later, in 1956, Frank Loesser turned the play into a semi-operatic musical entitled The Most Happy Fella. This was not filmed, but was videotaped in 1980 and shown on PBS.


  1. ^ "They Knew What They Wanted: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p57

External linksEdit