Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jean Moves to the City

Three Wise Girls (1932) stars Jean Harlow as Cassie Barnes, a small-town beauty who is sick of being badly paid in a local soda fountain so her boss can paw her.  Encouraged by the success of a another young woman from town, Cassie moves to New York City, where she finds more of the same kinds of bosses.  One day, she finally decks the latest sexually abusive boss, gets fired, but manages to get her pending pay with the help of Jerry Wilson (Walter Byron), a visitor to the shop.  Cassie's life turns around when her inspiration for her move, Gladys Kane (Mae Clark) helps her get a job as a model.  Cassie begins to date Jerry, not knowing that Jerry is a married man, and that her life is taking the same sad path as that of Gladys - in love with a man who can provide nothing but a fancy apartment. 

The film is very reminiscent  of the previously discussed Our Blushing Brides, which starred Joan Crawford as a woman facing challenges similar to those of Cassie. Harlow is quite good in her first starring role as a young woman with drive, but with scruples.  Our introduction to her, as Cassie walks home after her date attempts to go too far, gives us an immediate insight into her character.  We were also very amused at the scene in which she tries to get a job as a model.  Her idea of how a model would walk is a hoot.
Marie Prevost is wonderful as Dot, Cassie's roommate.  Dot is content to find happiness with an ordinary man and to live within her budget.  Prevost's turn of phrase is always amusing, and she makes a good counterpoint to the more ambitious Cassie. It's a shame that Marie Prevost didn't have a more substantial career in the sound era.  Though active in silent films (she made a total 121 silent films); her career never really seems to have taken off in talkies.  After 1933, offers began to peter off, and she found herself unable to get roles.   She died in 1937, at age 38, the result of alcoholism and malnutrition.  Interestingly, her sad life was one of the motivating factors for the creation of the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital.

We also enjoyed  Walter Byron as Jerry.  He too started in the silent era, most notably in Queen Kelly, starring Gloria Swanson in the title role.  Byron had a fairly busy career in the 1930s, but by the end of that decade, he was appearing primarily in uncredited roles.  So, in 1942, he retired.  He died in 1972 at age 72.

It was enjoyable to see Andy Devine in a small role as Callahan, Jerry's chauffeur and Dot's love interest. And the lovely Mae Clark as Gladys was very good.  One forgets that Mae did a lot more than get a grapefruit shoved in her face.  She worked widely in the 1930s, in such films as Frankenstein (as Elizabeth), the 1931 Waterloo Bridge (as Myrna), and Penthouse.  Later in her career, she worked in supporting roles and in television until 1970.  She died in 1992 at age 81.

Though the film was not as well received as the studio would have liked, as this TCM article points out, Harlow hit a popular note, and a star was born.