Thursday, May 22, 2008


Poor Barbara Stanwyck! Her father, working on a blasting crew, is killed in an accident; left all alone, she finds work at a campus diner run by her aunt (Zasu Pitts), but has to put up with blowhard frat guys hitting on her. Studious student and rich boy Regis Toomey thinks she's a bit on the trampy side, but they hit it off. However, Stanwyck proves too rough for Toomey's nasty meddling mother (Clara Blandick) who schemes to get her son away from her by faking a heart condition and insisting that Toomey accompany her to Europe for her treatment. Toomey, to his credit, insists on taking Stanwyck with him and he plans their wedding, but Blandick, with some help from her friend, a judge (Oscar Apfel), tries to pay Stanwyck to go away. When that doesn't work, they get her committed to the State Home for the Regeneration of Females on trumped-up morals charges. In a 20-second montage sequence which covers six years, we see Stanwyck leave the Home, become a chorus girl, then an actress, and finally a star of the stage (with Pitts as her maid). When Toomey and Stanwyck meet again, she thinks that he OK'd her heist to the reform school, and he thinks that she took money to leave him. The rest of the film follows their eventual reconciliation, despite Blandick's continued meddling (even the judge counsels Blandick to get psychiatric help). The plot contrivances get more outrageous until the last scene in which Blandick actually pulls a pistol on Stanwyck. Sadly, the happy ending is rushed and awkward, but until then, this is a fun over-the-top mother-love melodrama.

The title is misleading, as Stanwyck isn't really "shopworn"; in the last half, we see that she has made headlines as the third party in divorce case, and the townsfolk refer to her as "notorious," but we never know how much of this reputation is deserved. Toomey is a bit too bland, but Stanwyck is fine. Even better is Clara Blandick, mostly known as Aunt Em in OZ. She gives a full-blooded performance as a bitch you love to hate. Stanwyck gets a couple of good pre-Code lines: She tells Toomey about her rough-and-tumble upbringing in construction camps, "I could cuss when I was 6 and say no when I was 14." In a discussion about discussing sex, she says, "In this country, we call sex anything but." And this film must mark the first use of the word "ejaculate" in a Hollywood movie--even though it's in the context of a dictionary-browsing session, it's still rather startling. [TCM]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am literally crazy about Barbara Stanwyck. Ever since Double Indemnity.