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. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Jean is Jealous of Loretta

Though Loretta Young (as Gallagher, the young reporter with no first name) is listed as the star of Platinum Blonde (1931), it's Jean Harlow as socialite Ann Schuyler who steals the film.  When reporter Stew Smith (Robert Williams) visits the Schuyler home to determine the validity of rumors about Ann's brother Michael, Stew is instantly smitten by the lovely Ann.  She is less impressed, but when Stew is able to retrieve (and return to the family) some incriminating letters written by Michael, Ann discovers that Stew is appealing indeed.  Their elopement is an anathema to her family, but Ann is determined to have Stew fit into HER world, whether Stew likes it or not.

This is a very enjoyable film, with good performances by Jean Harlow and Robert Williams.  As we mentioned, Young's name is above the title, but she doesn't stand a chance once Harlow shows up.  Harlow's Ann is quite appealing, perhaps because she doesn't seem as upper class and snooty as the rest of the Schuyler family.  This TCM Article discusses the problems Harlow had with sounding "sophisticated."  She especially had some difficulties with the word "library".  While director Frank Capra must have despaired at getting her to sound right, in the long run, it works in her favor.  We want to like them as a the couple, despite the fact that Ann is doing all she can to make her young husband into an upper-class twit.
That this is a pre-code film is readily apparent by the relationship between Stew and Ann. It's really one of lust more than of love.   Though Stew is clearly his own man, Ann is determined to tame him, and make him an appendage to her lifestyle.  She has no clear understanding of his career goals (he wants to write a play, for one thing) and would be quite satisfied if he stayed home and played at being a society husband.

Louise Closser Hale, a character actress we've admired before, is terrific as Ann's horror of a mother.  Mrs. Schuyler couldn't be a bigger snob, and her disregard for anyone not in her social circle makes her unlikeable AND humorous.  Her "consort" of sorts is Reginald Owen as lawyer Grayson.  Grayson does all of Mrs. Schuyler's dirty work, and enjoys every minute of it.  The character provides someone at whom Stew can direct his animosity, and Owen does an admirable job of keeping the character distasteful.  Also well worth watching is Halliwell Hobbes as Smythe, the butler.  We would expect this character (really, the only one in the house with any class) to be the worst snob, but Hobbes gives us a likeable fellow who really is open to all classes.  The party scene in which he interacts with Stew's friends is a riot.

Robert Williams, who played Stew, is also delightful.  This, unfortunately, was his last film. He died at the age of 37, the result of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix.  He had only made 7 films - two shorts and 5 full-length films (one a silent).  We've actually reviewed two of his talkies: Devotion and The Common Law.  This film demonstrates his breezy style and screen presence. 

Though Ann is the one with most of the good clothing, our Loretta gets one smashing evening dress that takes your breath away.  It's amusing that Stew specifically asks HOW she got a dress like that (on a reporter's salary).  We wondered the same thing.  The name of the costumer is not provided, but this dress proves his/her talents.

Interestingly, the film was originally called "Gallagher" after Young's character, but was changed to demonstrate the power Harlow had in the film.  Directed by Capra and written in part by Robert Riskin, it provides an early example of their collaborative genius.

As we mentioned before, one scene that particularly stuck with us was the singing argument between Ann and Stew.  As referenced in the TCM article above, it does seem almost improvised. It also appears that Harlow and Williams are having quite a good time: