Bad Girl (1931) Review

Proof That It’s Pre-Code

  • Lots of talk about sex: “You know what men REALLY want.” “Don’t men ever think of anything else?”
  • Multiple uses of the word ‘pip’.
  • The female lead, Dorothy, has a best friend who has a kid, and… uh, and she’s a widow. Yeah, that’s it.
  • Said kid, on the occasion of Dorothy spending the night, demands to watch her get out of bed in her flimsy negligee. Dorothy and her friend are perfectly amused.

Danny Like Banner

As much as it surprises and pains me to say it, you could probably get away with remaking Bad Girl with little or no changes to the script, and it would probably one of the best films of the year. Hell, the girl even totes around a ukulele– that’s more topical than half of last year’s Best Picture nominees.

Bad Girl begins, cheekily enough, with a wedding procession. Contrary to looks, though, Dorothy isn’t getting married, but is modeling her department store’s new bridal chic. Plenty of the men seem to like the dress enough to try and get her out of it.

Dorothy rebuffs a number of men, including a boss or two, huffing about what men are all after. It’s nice to see a Pre-Code film that’s so blatantly honest about sex, and hopefully this will dispel a few people’s notions that grandma and grandpa were chaste up until they took their walks up to the altar.

But that doesn’t mean some things don’t change. One night out on a pleasure cruise, Dorothy runs into Eddie. He’s an ambitious radio repairman who’s planning on opening his own shop, and, most shocking to Dorothy, doesn’t flirt back. He’s single minded in his intentions to become an entrepreneur, making Dorothy single minded in her intentions to win him over.

With eyes like that, it doesn’t take much.

And Dorothy, after a quick dressing down from Eddie that makes her realize she’s found a keeper (“Why do you dress like that? So some guys can get an eyeful!”). He’s more cynical than she can bargain with initially, as she finds him an extreme pessimist. Considering the time this was made (you know, back when everyone was really depressed), Eddie’s own predilections against reproducing are perfectly understandable.

“Born on the second story…” he bemoans about a kid he sees in a tenement, “He’ll probably die on the fifth. All his life to climb three flights of stairs.”

But, like any red blooded male, Eddie’s tale soon changes as Dorothy’s eyes whittle him down to the core. The two arrange a few dates, and, on one rainy evening, she ends up spending the entire night cuddling with him in his cramped apartment by the glow of neon signs.

Spooning only leads to trouble, and Dorothy and Eddie are married shortly. Worse, Dorothy’s pregnant (though whether or not that’s from the intimate spooning is up in the air), upping her own anxieties about Eddie’s feelings and about her own mother’s death during her giving birth.

A lot of Bad Girl hinges on an unsaid but easily visible attribute of this couple: Mutually Assured Affection. Each become so determined to prove to the other that they are willing to sacrifice anything for the other’s happiness that they both end up miserable. Dorothy offers to go back to work to make money for the baby she’s keeping quiet from Eddie, and Eddie reads that as a sign that she doesn’t feel pampered enough. He buys her a nice, swanky new apartment, and she feels awful that he spent so much on her when they have the kid coming.

It keeps spiraling further and further out of control, until they’re hardly speaking to each other. As the due date comes closer and and both come to anticipate the baby yet expect the other to despise it, there’s one word that seems to be hanging over both heads, the ultimate act of sacrifice that would make the other happy. Mind you, despite the freedom afforded films of the 1930s, they still couldn’t say the word, but you can read it clearly on all of their faces: abortion.

Well, that brought the mood down.

The beauty of Bad Girl is that these tricky emotional webs they weave are not only well made, but heartbreakingly recognizable. There are no cheap plot developments to ratchet up the tension or stupid misunderstandings that undermine their choices– all of what happens in the movie come from Dorothy and Eddie, two real and human characters.

The best movie I could compare it to is The Crowd from about a half decade before. Both films deal with finding contentment and trying to live up to romantic ideals while satisfying your own morals. The Crowd is inarguable more bitter about this, but Bad Girl admirably doesn’t shy away from the underlying joy that comes from love, giving its highs and lows more impact. But both are very, very damned good.

Around my house, I’m far from considered a softy. My girlfriend always tells me that the only movies I seem to enjoy end in “death, infidelity, and everyone being really depressed.” Bad Girl has none of that, but feels true and authentic, something out of the past that deserves to be admired and seen as a brilliant romantic drama that touches on subjects that we are all too afraid to return to.


P.S. – The title for this film is terribly misleading, as Dorothy and Eddie are pretty much equal in all of the shenanigans in their relationship. It’s a bad title for a great movie.


Danny lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife, adorable daughter, and two yappy dogs. He blogs bi-weekly at, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.

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