Proof That It’s Pre-Code:
- Escorts and lingerie.
- Mistresses and divorce.
- “Imagine! Getting paid $1,000 to fall in love!”
I’d like to take a brief moment to write an appreciation. There are a lot of Hollywood icons from what is considered its Golden Age, and a lot of brilliant character actors, including one of the stars of today’s film, Eugene Pallette.
Famous for his gruff voice and billous body, Pallette was always reliable in films ranging from The Lady Eve to Topper, from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to The Adventures of Robin Hood. His comic timing is superb and his ability to be both a tyrant yet a lovable one suited him perfectly to the audiences of the Great Depression, whether it was sneaking off a few morsels to snack on as Friar Tuck in the aforementioned Robin Hood or dealing with a family of wealthy nincompoops as the father of the house in My Man Godfrey.
His role there in Godfrey serves as a counter to the role he plays here. And that, dear reader, is a segue.
Pallatte takes on the role of copper magnate Benjamin Thomas. Headed to New York to wine and dine, he loves a good practical joke almost as much as he loves a bad one. When a pair of lovely, wisecracking escorts come his way, he can’t help but play a couple of crackerjacks on them.
They are Wanda and Marie, played by Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman, both wily women of the world who make their money by night. Wanda is getting sick of the game, but Marie puts a check to her face every night. The glitz and glamor are worth it for her.
These three come to a crashing meet on board a yacht along with a tall handsome business associate of Thomas played by Joel McCrea. There will be flirting, cheating, and the possibility of true love bandied about.
And, yes, ironically most of Girls About Town takes place on a yacht out in the ocean. What’s it to you?
The film is easy in its charms, and wholly similar to a number of other films from the time period. The term ‘gold diggers’ gets a nod here two years before Bubsy Berkeley would turn that phrase into a franchise: clearly, everyone already had it on their mind.
I loathe to point it out, because this is such a recurrent theme that I’d hope I’d have mentioned it sooner, but here you go: the people with the most money are idiots. This common nugget of wisdom can be traced throughout films of the Depression, though it’s often counter balanced by giving the rich idiot a sidekick who is either sniveling or suave. This creates the illusion that the power at the top may have been foolish, but the rest of the structure is sound.
But I suppose I’m getting more into the men’s plotline than the women’s, and that can hopefully just be chalked up to how many films I’ve watched with female escorts in them for this project; it gets old.
At least Francis and Tashman are given a modicum of dignity to get through their affairs. Both play starry eyed romantics, though Tashman’s character gets far more starry eyed for the big diamonds than any man who comes her way. The director of the film, George Cukor, was famous for his touch with female actors, and here we get characters that could have easily been treated as shrews portrayed as delicate and thoughtful human beings.
And it’s that sense of delicacy that elevates this above a lot of its competitors. As Wanda gets her chance to move onto a better life and Marie gets that emerald she’d been eying, it’s a weird kind of happily ever after. We can all dream of love and money, but its nice to see a few people achieve that dream.