Friday, July 17, 2020

Barbara is Shopworn

Her father's sudden death forces Kitty Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) to take a job in a hamburger joint in the city.  One of her customers is David Livingston (Regis Toomey), a medical student. He and Kitty gradually fall in love, but David's snooty mother, Helen Livingston (Clara Blandick) has other plans for her son than a Shopworn (1932) girl.

This post is part of The Queen of Sass: The Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon hosted by Pale Writer. 

Shopworn is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have a dynamic performance by Barbara Stanwyck, but other elements of the film fall into the banal.  Perhaps the key culprit is the final film itself. There are huge gaps (probably the result of censorship) (TCM article), that make the movie feel helter skelter. In the latter section of the film, we are told that six years have elapsed - it takes a while to find this out - and in the meantime, we are wondering why the sweet Kitty suddenly seems to be such a notorious woman. With almost no transitions between the major sections of the film, one finds oneself bemused by the changes. Regardless, Ms. Stanwyck makes the change easily to accept, and the audience accepts the change because of her skill. Lila Lee was initially considered for Kitty (AFI Catalog); Ms. Stanwyck evidently was sorry the part was not given to Ms. Lee. It probably didn't help that her marriage to comedian Frank Fay was starting to disintegrate. (A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940 by Victoria Wilson).
The casting of Regis Toomey as Kitty's love interest is another problem. Mr. Toomey is fine as a character actor; he also was a good fit for television. He is a more intimate actor, which makes him ideal for the small screen, but opposite a dynamo like Barbara Stanwyck, he seems insignificant and unworthy of her attention. You spend most of the movie wondering what Kitty could possibly see in this momma's boy. Only when he finally stands up to Judge Forbes (Oscar Apfel) do we finally have any regard for David, but it is perhaps too little too late.

Our villains in the piece are David's nightmare of a mother, and her strongman, Judge Forbes. Given this is a pre-code film, no punishment is meted out. In the long run, we longed for the Judge to get his just deserts. There's no question Helen is a horror, but Forbes is a man of the law, and he misuses his position horribly. He's a despicable man, and the only comeuppance his gets is pitifully inadequate. A lurid trial, and the image of him being disbarred would have been a nice conclusion (but that is probably another movie).
ZaSu Pitts is adorable as Kitty's aunt and best friend, Dot. It's a small, but memorable role, and we looked forward to seeing her reappear on the screen. Her polar opposite is Clara Blandick, who creates the ultimate monster mother in Helen Livingston. It's the women who dominate in this film; but the only woman we really care about is Ms. Stanwyck's Kitty.
While the reviews for the film were not great - Variety called it "the clumsiest kind of literary hoke..." (A Life of Barbara Stanwyck, 1907-1940: Steel-True by Victoria Wilson) and Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times said "It is beyond the powers of such capable players as Barbara Stanwyck, Regis Toomey, Clara Blandick and Zassu Pitts (sic) to make their actions in this film convincing or even mildly interesting" - in the long run, the film did well at the box office (Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck by Ella Smith). If you are a Stanwyck completest, you should watch it for her performance. 

We'll leave you with a scene in which Kitty shows her strength of character:

Be sure to visit the other posts that celebrate the Magnificent Missy at Pale Writer's The Queen of Sass: The Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon


  1. I agree, fans will want to see the movie but once is enough.

  2. It's too bad the film itself didn't live up to its promise, considering the premise and the cast. I think the Criterion Channel might be featuring this one, and now that I've read your review, I'm keen to watch it. Thanks in advance! :)

  3. It’s worth watching. It’s not her best, but Ms Stanwyck is so good, you can just watch her. Let me know what you think after you see it.

  4. Yeah, even the great Stanwyck wasn't immune to the occasional not-so-good movie. I still want to see it, though. :-)


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