Sunday, March 24, 2013


The head of the Bancroft Paint Company is T.M. Bancroft, but the board knows that the reason they are successful is T.M.'s secretary, Antoinette, known around the office as A.B. She hides her femininity under a short haircut and mannish clothes (including a button-down shirt, tie, and vest) and she gets things done in her busy office while the male executives loll about in T.M.'s office talking about golf. Her latest accomplishments: firing T.M.’s lazy grandson Jimmie and buying up some nearby land which has rich deposits of a mineral needed for coloring in paint. When another secretary tells A.B. she's getting married and leaving the business, A.B. says she's glad for her; she'll get to be "a happy wife instead of a sexless, loveless machine like me." At a working weekend house party at Bancroft's estate, Jimmie shows up to ask T.M. for his job back. When T.M. tells him he’ll have to patch things up with A.B., he scowls and refers to her as a "dried prune" and a "flat-heeled, flat-chested Amazon." Unknown to him, she overhears him, and soon T.M.'s wife forces A.B. to submit to a makeover, not just in terms of looks and dress, but manners; A.B. is taught that she can’t be too smart ("A man wants a woman pretty enough to please him and dumb enough to love him") so she should learn to flatter and "twitter" and say things like "Aren’t you wonderful?" and “Oh, do go on!"and generally be a clinging vine. She tests her new wiles on Tut, a confirmed bachelor, then goes to work on Jimmie, who has no idea that the lovely young woman is the notorious A.B. When Jimmie flirts back, she falls in love and even helps him get financial backing for a ludicrous egg-beating machine he's invented. But will he still want her when he finds out that she’s really A.B.?

This silent film contains many romantic comedy threads that remain active into the 21st century: hidden identity flings, a woman balancing romance and work, a boss's no-good relative bettering himself for love, and the makeover of the drab caterpillar into the sexy butterfly. Much of the narrative is predictable but there are a couple of surprises here. A.B. (Leatrice Joy) gets her man without having to give up her job—something that rarely happened in the classic movie era. Jimmie (Tom Moore, pictured above to the right of Joy) is not particularly young or attractive, or smart for that matter, and the boss is on A.B.'s side in his firing. T.M.'s wife (Toby Claude) is introduced as a grandma, but despite her age, she's vibrant and youthful in spirit—we see her exercising first thing in the morning, and when Jimmie arrives, she slides down the bannister to greet him. Joy, married briefly to John Gilbert, is credited with helping the flapper bob cut become popular. Oddly, I think she's more attractive here in her mannish looks than when she's dolled up. [DVD]

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