Sunday, August 31, 2003

Two Pre-Code "Complicated Women" Movies

Joan Blondell is a poor girl screwed over by the world: she quits her job when the boss harasses her, and her sick mother dies when Blondell can't pay for her medical costs. She works her way up through the rackets, becoming a gangster's moll and eventually taking over as head of illegal activities in the city. She's sitting pretty, but without the man she loves (Chester Morris); through a misunderstanding, she thinks he ratted her out to the cops and she has him set up for a kill. She finds out the truth and tries to stop the hit. Blondell's character is interesting in that she feels totally justified turning to crime to get back at a society that has done her no favors. At the same time, she steadfastly guards her "purity" and comes off as a good girl, despite her involvement in crime. Morris is hot but his character is passive and ineffective--Blondell has to goad him into getting ahead, then drives him out when she finds out he's marrying someone else. Also with Allen Jenkins and Claire Dodd, and a Japanese actress named Toshia Mori in a unstereotyped part. Sterling Holloway has a fun bit as a streetwise taxi driver--maybe the only time he's ever played a character who could be called streetwise.

Loretta Young is a secretary in love with Regis Toomey, a business hotshot (in sales, I think). They spend hours a day making out, or so it's implied. The big boss decides that business would be improved if the secretaries started showing visiting customers a good time in the evening. Young doesn't want to get involved, but as a favor to Toomey, she agrees to do it one time with the handsome Lyle Talbot. He misreads her intentions but she escapes with her virtue intact and Talbot is properly chastised. He falls for her just as she discovers that Toomey is flirting with an office floozy. There are further complications, but suffice to say that in the rushed conclusion typical of many short 30's movies, Young and Talbot work things out. As other reviewers have noted, it isn't really a happy ending since we get the sense that she is settling for the lesser of two evils in choosing Talbot over Toomey (or maybe she's just choosing purely based on looks!). Busby Berkeley directed, and one early scene in a nightclub shows a bit of the flair he would bring to musicals a little later in the decade.

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