“GIRLS ABOUT TOWN” (1931) Review

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“GIRLS ABOUT TOWN” (1931) Review

When he first arrived in Hollywood in 1929, New York stage director George Cukor served as a dialogue coach at Paramount Pictures and occasionally, at other studios like Universal. Then in 1930, he co-directed three movies, two of them with Cyril Gardner. He had to wait a year later to serve as sole director for his first two movies. One of them turned out to be the 1931 comedy called “GIRLS ABOUT TOWN”

Written by Zoe Akins, Raymond Griffith, and Brian Marlow; “GIRLS ABOUT TOWN” is about two gold diggers named Wanda Howard and Marie Bailey who entertain stody, but wealthy Midwestern businessmen visiting Manhattan. However, Wanda has tired of her demeaning lifestyle until she meets the handsome Jim Baker during a yacht party. Also on board is Jim’s friend, stingy tycoon Benjamin Thomas, who is the richest man in Lansing, Michigan. While Marie entertains Benjamin and becomes the victim of his practical jokes, Jim makes his feelings about her and Marie’s racket. However, the pair fall in love when she nearly drowns and Jim rescues her. And when he proposes marriage to her, Wanda makes her feelings clear by ripping up her payment for entertaining him. But an obstacle stand in Wanda and Jim’s path to a happy ending in the form of her shiftless ex-husband Alex, who wants Jim to pay him a hefty sum for a divorce from Wanda.

In the movie’s secondary plot, Marie has become weary of Benjamin’s practical jokes. But she is also determined to swindle him into giving her as much money as possible . . . which proves to be increasingly difficult, due to his tightfisted ways. However, Marie acquires an unexpected ally in the form of Benjamin’s wife, Daisy. The latter is determined to divorce him for his stinginess, despite the fact that she still loves him. The two women, realizing that Benjamin is using his stinginess to string them along, the two women scheme to shame Benjamin into spending more money for them both.

How can I put this? I would not consider “GIRLS ABOUT TOWN” to be a particularly original tale. Or perhaps I simply found predictable – at least the main narrative about Wanda and Jim. Only a blind man would fail to predict how their relationship would unfold, especially when her ex-husband Alex entered the picture. But despite this element of predictability, I must admit that I found Wanda and Jim’s story rather entertaining, thanks to winning performances from Kay Francis and Joel McCrea. Not only did I predict that ex-husband would prove to be an obstacle for Wanda, so did Hattie, the maid that she and Marie shared. Louise Beavers, who portrayed Hattie, had one of the funniest moments in the film when she hysterically spilled out how Alex would prove to be a lot of trouble for Wanda and Jim.

But it was the movie’s subplot involving Marie and the Thomases that proved to be the movie’s pièce de résistance. When Daisy Thomas first visited Marie and Wanda’s apartment, I had no idea on how this story would played out. It was not long before I found myself flabbergasted by the budding friendship between Marie and her sugar daddy’s wife, Daisy. And watching them scam the tightfisted Benjamin into spending cash for both of them made me appreciate how this movie seemed to be a prime example of Hollywood’s Pre-Code era. This subplot also benefited from some hilarious performances from the husky-voiced Lilyan Tashman, Eugene Pallette (another performer known for an unusual voice) and Lucile Gleason.

Overall, “GIRLS ABOUT TOWN” is an entertaining and slightly wicked film, well directed by George Cukor in one of his earlier Hollywood efforts. Mind you, I did not find the movie’s main narrative that particularly original. But the subplot really took me by surprise and in my view, really made the film; along with a fine cast led by Kay Francis, Lilyan Tashman and Joel McCrea.

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“BOMBSHELL” (1933) Review

“BOMBSHELL” (1933) Review

In one of Hollywood’s ironic twists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released “BOMBSHELL”, a 1933 comedy about the trials and tribulations of a movie starlet. To this day, many believe that the movie was supposed to be a satire on the life of silent film goddess, Clara Bow. But looking at the movie today, it could have easily been a take on the life of the film’s leading lady, Jean Harlow.

Based upon an unproduced play by Caroline Francke and Mack Crane, and directed by Victor Fleming; “BOMBSHELL” begins with movie star Lola Burns being fed up with the machinations of her studio’s publicity chief, E.J. “Space” Hanlon, who continuously feeds the press with endless fake scandals about her. Lola also has to put up with her drunken father who tries to manager her career, and an obnoxious brother; who both sponge from her. She also has to deal with a private secretary that takes advantage of her at every opportunity. Unaware of Space’s feelings for her, Lola is also torn between a fortune hunting European nobleman and gigolo and a brash Hollywood director. Lola decides to put her life in order by adopting a baby. But when Space and her family sabotages her efforts, Lola turns her back on Hollywood and flees to a desert resort.

What can I say? Not only is “BOMBSHELL” one of my favorite movies from the old Hollywood studio system, but one of my favorite comedies of all time. Screenwriters John Lee Mahin, Jules Furthman and Norman Krasna created a hilarious tale about the chaotic and surreal life of a Hollywood starlet. “BOMBSHELL” featured a rather funny interview between Lola and a writer from a Hollywood gossip rag. While Lola and her father provide the journalist with pretentious tidbits about their lives, the camera gives a view of the journalist’s more realistic take on their answers. Another hilarious scene featured a fist fight between Lola’s sponging Maquis boyfriend, Marquis Di Pisa Di Pisa and the volatile director, Jim Brogan. During the movie’s last half hour, Lola meets and becomes romantically involved with an East Coast blue blood named Gifford Middleton and his family. This relationship allowed Gifford to quote one of the most cringe-worthy and hilarious lines in film history:

“Your hair is like a field of silver daisies. I’d like to run barefoot through your hair!”

However, Space’s response to Gifford’s uh . . . compliment, had me on the floor laughing:

“He looks like an athlete. I wouldn’t want him puttin’ his foot through my scalp.”

But not only is “BOMBSHELL” funny, it also gave moviegoers a glimpse (and I mean that literally) into life as an actress during Hollywood’s studio era. The movie’s first twenty minutes revealed Lola being prepared for a day of shooting and the type of people that worked at a studio. The only unrealistic moment during this sequence was a scene featuring the studio’s boss, who was portrayed as a benign leader concerned for both his studio and the well-being of performers like Lola Burns under contract. But the egoism, back-stabbing and borderline insanity is all there.

I have always been a fan of Jean Harlow as an actress for as long as I can remember. But I believe that Lola Burns was one of the best roles in her career. Her comedic talent seemed to be at its height in this movie. She conveyed all of the best . . . and worst of Lola Burns. Harlow made it obvious that Lola is a victim of the studio system and her bloodsucking family. But she also skillfully conveyed Lola’s egotism, temper and penchant for illusions. Someone once commented that Lola’s character and situation never changed for the better or worst by the film’s last reel. I cannot quite agree with this assessment. I got the feeling that Harlow’s Lola spent most of the movie indulging in illusions of a possible “normal life”. These illusions led her to pursue relationships with men like the Marquis Di Pisa Di Pisa and Gifford Middleton and make an attempt to adopt a baby. While proclaiming that she had enough of Hollywood, Lola expressed signs of jealousy when Space informed her that another contract player might get a role that she had previously coveted. It is not that surprising that when faced with the end of her illusions, Lola returned to Hollywood.

Lee Tracy was equally funny as studio publicist E.J. “Space” Hanlon. His Space was sardonic, manipulative and quick with his tongue. Best of all, Tracy had a great screen chemistry with Harlow. It is a pity that they never worked with each other – before or after. Both had appeared in “DINNER AT EIGHT”, but did not share any scenes together. Pity. The movie also benefited from other supporting performers such as Frank Morgan, who radiated both bluster and charm as Lola’s deadbeat father; Pat O’Brien, who was very sexy as Lola’s former beau, director Jim Grogan; Franchot Tone, as Lola’s new beau, who gave one of the most memorable lines in the movie; and a sharp-tongued Una Merkel as Lola’s bloodsucking secretary, Mac.  Louise Beavers, who portrayed Lola’s maid Loretta, had two delicious moments in the movie, despite being saddled with a racially cliched role. I especially love the scene featuring her clash with Merkel’s Mac, when the latter threatened to have her fired. It gave her the opportunity to speak another one of the movie’s more memorable lines. The only cast member I had a problem with was Ted Healey. His Junior Burns seemed like a mindless thug that lacked the charm of Lola and Mr. Burns. I found it hard to believe that he came from the same family.

If you want a peek into life at a Hollywood studio during the early 1930s, then “BOMBSHELL” is your movie. If you want a hilarious movie that starred Jean Harlow in one of her best roles, then “BOMBSHELL” is definitely your movie. Not only did the benefitted from the talents of Harlow and co-star Lee Tracy; but also from the directorial skills of Victor Fleming and a first-rate script written by John Lee Mahin, Jules Furthman and Norman Krasna.