Impatient Maiden James Whale Mae Clarke Lew Ayres Pre-Code Impatient Maiden James Whale Mae Clarke Lew Ayres Pre-Code Impatient Maiden James Whale Mae Clarke Lew Ayres Pre-Code
Myron Brown, M.D.
Lew Ayres
Ruth Robbins
Mae Clarke
Betty Merrick
Una Merkel
Released by Universal | Directed By James Whale

Proof That It’s Pre-Code

  • “No man can be expected to live his entire life with one woman!”
  • Both Clarke and Merkel get undressed at different points.
  • Attempted suicide.
  • A woman shacks up with a man before marriage. Kind of. Don’t worry too much about it.

Impatient Maiden: Wait Wait Don’t Touch Me

“My Uncle Ben told me all there was to know when I was twelve years old. […] Well, he figured that men were like bootleg liquor. If you drink it at all, you just gulp it down and hope for the best.”

There are two things established very quickly and very efficiently within the first five minutes of The Impatient Maiden: being married is an open invitation to misery and being unemployed makes you weak and impotent. That our heroine starts out quite happily single and with a job that she enjoys is a sign that she will soon be brought low by the worst thing for a woman to encounter in the early 1930s: a man.

Ruth (Mae Clarke) is a secretary in a divorce lawyer’s office. All day in and out she hears the miseries that couples go through due to philandering, and it has hardened her reserve. No marriage for her, thank you very much. Her roommate, Betty (Merkel), is a lot flightier and willing to pounce on the first man who doesn’t tell her to quell her rambling mouth.

Impatient Maiden James Whale Mae Clarke Lew Ayres Pre-Code

Merkel and Clarke chilling on the still-standing Angel’s Flight.

After a pregnant neighbor attempts suicide over her husband leaving her, a pair of medics show up. Male nurse Clarence (Andy Devine) and young doctor-in-training Myron Brown (Ayres) make a bet on whether or not the patient will live before they arrive, but soon find themselves more interested in the accomidating ladies who found her. Betty instantly throws herself at Clarence even though he’s a male nurse, while Ruth plays a little harder to get. Brown is smitten, but also frustrated– he’s barely getting by and has a few more years before he could even consider setting up his own practice. Despite a blissful day (and night), the two split up.

Also, Myron’s seduction techniques includes tricking Ruth into getting an x-ray. So if you ever wanted to see Mae Clarke’s large intestines, this is your film.

Impatient Maiden James Whale Mae Clarke Lew Ayres Pre-Code

“Did you ever see Bad Girl?” “No, did you?”

Even more skeptical, were such a thing possible, Ruth decides to start going out with her boss, Hartman (John Halliday). This angers and frustrates the other pals. Hartman even gives Ruth her own apartment in a fancy building he owns.

Ruth turns to Hartman. “You’re very generous.”

“I’m very hungry,” he grins.


Does Ruth stray and sleep with her boss? Nah, it’s a Universal film. She holds onto her virtue (again calling the film’s title into question– who wouldn’t jump at an Adolphe Menjou-lite Halliday?) but still finds herself ostracized as everyone assumes she was an impatient virgin. Ruth’s too world-weary, though. She even pats Hartman after he fires her for the lack of sex, saying “You’ve really been such a nice villain.”

Impatient Maiden James Whale Mae Clarke Lew Ayres Pre-Code

“How much more Adolphe Menjou-ie do I have to get for this to work?”

How does Ruth find redemption? After losing her job and struggling on the streets, her appendix strikes and she’s rushed to the hospital by Myron and Clarence. Myron has no choice but to operate on Ruth even if it’s first time going solo– there’s just no one else available. She survives the operation and he admits he was being a jerk. Having seen the squalor she was in, they understand that she was keeping her virtue. I mean, who wouldn’t have sold their body to get out of that?

The last act makes the mistake of turning into a lengthy operating procedure, with the filmmakers forgetting that the drama isn’t if Ruth lives but whether Myron learns the truth about her situation and realizes the error of his ways. After a charming first half, it spirals down as the screenwriter stretches for a conclusion that preserves Ruth’s honor while fixing her relationship– and it’s a reach.

End spoilers.

Impatient Maiden James Whale Mae Clarke Lew Ayres Pre-Code

“Nice digs!”

To watch The Impatient Maiden is the act of watching one of film’s greatest directors bored out of their minds. Director James Whale had a singular talent for creating creepy, eerie worlds of fantasy, filled with monsters both real and unreal. His early 30s dramas are often overlooked unjustly because of Whale’s association with the great Frankenstein and Invisible Man, but they, too, are singular works.

But his other dramas have starkness, a reality intruding, whether war or revenge. The Impatient Maiden is like a flip Borzage film, one where it feels naturalistic and smooth but can’t take its dumb plot seriously. Whale distracts himself with the seedy Los Angeles tenements that Ruth and Betty inhabit in the first act. Besides shooting on the legendary Angel’s Flight in Los Angeles and some rare outdoor shooting, Whale utilizes big long set and long continuous shots. The camera moves through walls, keeping the rooms small and cramped but the motion flowing freely.

Impatient Maiden James Whale Mae Clarke Lew Ayres Pre-Code

We peak through the wall her to see the others reacting to Ruth’s call. Very cute stuff.

This may be the first pre-Code movie I’ve seen set in Los Angeles without a single person playing an actor in it. There’s a lot of rough charm and black humor to back it up, giving the city a decidedly different spin, even if by the time it moves into the penthouses its indistinguishable from New York. Some of the gags land– Ruth’s insistence that she smokes a pipe because she gave up cigars, or hijinks involving Clarence’s new invention of a zippered straightjacket. You really can’t go wrong putting Una Merkel in a straightjacket– they probably could have made a whole movie out of it.

Mae Clarke is charming as the film’s lead, easy to flirt but smart enough to keep her distance. She has a knowing smile that works perfectly through her many character swings. Ayres is alright– this is the first time he plays a young naive doctor and it won’t be the last. But his character is harder to get a handle on, since his rejection of Ruth is so quick and cruel on a number of levels. Merkel and Devine are good doing their respective schticks as well, though Merkel almost waltzes off with the movie at a few points.

The Impatient Maiden is yet another pre-Code movie about women being judged and shunned based on men’s worst assumptions. It was a common story, and this isn’t one of its better examples. However, its opening and the early chemistry between all the players in the first act give it enough charm to help get passed the clunker of a third act. It’s a shame it isn’t better, but The Impatient Maiden has its moments.


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Trivia & Links

  • Originally titled The Impatient Virgin and set to star Clara Bow. Neither of those worked out for reasons I’m sure you can imagine.
  • The third and final collaboration between Mae Clarke and James Whale after Waterloo Bridge and Frankenstein. Clarke and Lew Ayres also starred together in another pre-Code, Night World.
  • The first screen appearance of Hattie McDaniel. Unsurprisingly, it’s not the most flattering portrait of a black woman, as she’s held up in the hospital. She asks Ayres, “Is I gonna have a black eye, doctor?” And then she hopes her husband never wakes up from the beating she gave him. Geez.

Whale was paid to work and that couldn’t always be on projects he liked, Universal being in the business of programmers and but occasional specials of the sort this director preferred, and was deserving of. Maybe Metro was where he belonged, but what of producer interference there? Jimmy was a bit of a hothouse flower who made no secret of displeasure in commonplace jobs, and (mis)behaved accordingly.

Awards, Accolades & Availability

  • This film is an obscure one. I wish you luck in finding it!

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Danny is a writer who lives with his lovely wife, adorable children, and geriatric yet yappy dog. He blogs at, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.