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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Gold-Digging In Paramount Penthouses

Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman Show How In Girls About Town (1931)

Serious question: Did gold-digging in movies inspire same conduct by viewers? They sure make it look easy, Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman coming away from dates with sables, furs, jewelry. The easiest way was often as not proposed as the smartest way, precode less laden with moral potholes that took fun out of gals-on-the-make as timidly practiced after mid-1934 (look how PCA enforcement seeped juice from Francis, Jean Harlow, Mae West, so many others). Kay and Lilyan live like Farouk, spend as if prosperity had met them way ahead of the corner everyone else waited vainly for. What was sense of being virtuous where roads of sin were gold-paved? Francis falls for Joel McCrea (in Young Apollo mode) and so gives up the penthouse to cook and scrub, a decision I'll bet most women thought sappy even if it was McCrea. Tashman, on the other hand, goes right back to predatory work in a fade tuned more to reality of hard times. Who of the sisterhood wouldn't see it her way, and maybe apply some of technique to scoop loose gravy themselves? Movie actresses often bowed out by marrying rich producers, too few Joel McCreas among that lot. Girls About Town is fun now, maybe a teaching moment then. I can see teen girl packing in 1931 and boarding a New York train, not a few finishing in gold-digger chips, just as Hollywood instructed.

Outside of Francis/McCrea, characters don't take the expected route. Pre-coding at Paramount was also less hard-bitten, so heart creeps in where not expected, Girls About Town the better for it. I've sometimes wondered why yacht parties were so popular then. Possible answer: Revelers stayed cooler on the ocean, especially where they could strip down and dive in, oft-occurrence at least on seagoing playgrounds we saw in precode. Carefree lives of the rich stayed popular through all of the Depression. McCrea stands for simple values, and so flatters patrons who'd identify with him. Cinching the deal is his being loaded too, so Francis can have cake and eat it. Golddiggers were generally allowed to get what they went after, no harsh moral compensation as later dictated, which is why early 30's pics play well today. Tarty dialogue is quality they virtually all have in common, Francis at one point saying she's sick of going out with "all these Babbitts," reference to the 1922 novel by Sinclair Lewis. Would dialogue today call up literature outside of Harry Potter?

Golddiggers could come across as funny ... or like prostitutes. Movies preferred the comedy. That's how escorts got to be old goats like a Guy Kibbee, or in this instance, Eugene Pallette, with whom stoutest rent girl could not be expected to bed down, no matter how harsh a Depression. When we tote up actual sex in golddigger precodes, there's actually not much. It's given that Kay Francis has slept with Joel McCrea, their hook-up sanctified by mutual love on first sight and our knowledge they'll marry by the fade. Golddiggers would continue operating on bland side of enforcement, but who can enjoy The Girl From Missouri, Belle Of The Nineties, any number of Joan Blondell/Glenda Farrell pairings, where we know sex was bled out of scripts long before a frame was shot, or excised on completion and close peruse by censors. It had to be sad affair to go to movies by the mid-30's and have still fresh memory of joy that went before. No wonder audiences booed the Production Code seal where it showed up in front of credits.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Jesus said false prophets will come and we shall know them by their fruits. The Motion Picture Production Code was the product of Conventional Christianity. The result was a completely false depiction of life as we live it on the screen. In plain English, the fruit was and is a lie.

That applies across the board from Roman Catholics to Protestants.

I do like BELLE OF THE NINETIES despite the worst efforts of the censors. Mae West's last Paramount film EVERY DAY'S A HOLIDAY had only one gag the censors objected to. Paramount thought, "If we take out that one gag we will finally have a Mae West picture the family can see." They never figured a Mae West film the family could see would be a Mae West film no one would want to see. It tanked. The fault was not with Mae but with Paramount. She saved them. They killed her.

6:41 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

The comic sugar daddy had a much longer and fuller life in magazine cartoons, especially in Peter Arno's full-page New Yorker gags.

Arno's sturdy bankers, usually sporting thick white mustaches, were seen wining, dining and bejeweling wide-eyed blondes. They didn't look so readily deflected as Guy Kibbee and the other film daddies, but the complete transaction was never explicitly referenced. Also, everything was "Mr." and "Miss" even as Miss was lounging in a silk robe. (Another film convention: So many women -- even respectable matrons -- lounging around in Something More Comfortable while only the stodgiest old squires -- or an aspirational Oliver Hardy -- would go so far as a smoking jacket).

Esquire gags were often a little racier, admitting that deals were consummated (girl in bed says to offstage daddy, "I think you better go home now, Mr. Norton. It's Sunday."). In any case, the stock daddies and gold diggers figured in print cartoons for decades; the joke varying with the tone of the publication (Playboy cartoons sometimes showed sugar daddies in the buff, and they weren't).

The hopeful but unsuccessful sugar daddy lurked through the years of code enforcement, the key being he was a comical sucker who didn't get what he paid for. He evolved slightly from the straying Babbit to the midlife crisis guy, complementing his young babe with goofy affectations of youth.

Now and again you get a serious sugar daddy, but he tends to be in the less off-putting form of Warren William, William Powell or Fred MacMurray.

12:56 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Many of those paid for what is called "love" view those who pay them with contempt. It never seems to occur to them that many of these men AND women were and are smart enough to make more than enough of what these people are selling themselves for than they are.

Prostitution is living off one's capital instead of the interest the capital provides. People pay for "love" because they don't know how to give it without being hurt. Of course, we can't give it without being hurt. Asked if I have ever had my heart broken I replied, "There is nothing left but cement." Right away I realized I should have used the word "glue" instead of "cement" as too many no longer know the two words are one and the same.

7:30 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

This film was retitled in Spanish for Latin America and Spain as MUJERCITAS (Little Women).

The problem was that two years later director George Cukor filmed a film called LITTLE WOMEN whose title should have been translated with exactly the same name of the previous film.

To avoid confusion, the 1933 had to be retitled in Spanish as LAS CUATRO HERMANITAS (The Four Little Sisters).

In Spain, they are still using the original release titles in Spanish but in Latin America no... even though neither one of these films are available on TV, cable nor streaming services either.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

"I've sometimes wondered why yacht parties were so popular then."

Because there was no Prohibition beyond the 12 mile limit and, in at least a few areas, seagoing liquor stores where you could pull up, tie off your boat, and buy the supplies for your party.

4:30 PM  

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