Proof That It’s Pre-Code:
- On one woman’s promiscuity: “This college may be too small for you. Maybe you should have tried the Navy!”
- Check out picture two on this article– that water’s cold sometimes.
There’s this old rumor about the Clara Bow that the premise of this film brings to mind. Bow was an ardent fan of the University of Southern California’s football team, the Trojans. She’d often host parties for the team after the games and, since Bow’s sexual proclivities at the time were widely believed to be wildly amoral, rumors of her servicing each member of the team spread like wildfire.
There’s nothing to those rumors (Snopes debunked it, among others), but the plot and situation set-up for Eleven Men and a Girl call the raciness of that scenario to mind.
The entire plot revolves around a woman seducing almost a dozen football players and using their affections to get them to play for her father’s football team. She gives each a picture, a few smiles, and some playful winks.
Eleven men. Joan Bennett. What the hell is going to happen?
Uh, well, not much. I guess you can label me a perv for immediately jumping to the Last Exit to Brooklyn route, but that premise is rich with undeniable possibilities both raucous and raunchy.
The film shies away from this, and I suppose that should be expected. Bennett’s affections are playful, but the movie makes them out to be innocent. No one gets a kiss from her except the man that she falls for, the big dumb quarterback. And his seduction is something so sickly sweet you can see it on a Valentine’s Day card.
As Bennett works her way around, she’s followed and encouraged by Joe E. Brown, who is best remembered nowadays for having the infamous final line of Some Like It Hot. Now I get to see him in his prime, and it’s, uh, interesting. His schtick seems to be a precursor to the Jerry Lewis/Jim Carrey vein of widely modulating facial expressions and verbal tics.
He has a few funny moments, particularly one where he lectures a bear, but the underlying ickiness of his character’s motivations overpower all of his jokes: he’s the man who suggests to Bennett her scheme of seduction, and he pushes her to it with all the kindness of a surly pimp.
Since this is an early talkie, we have lots of awkward cutting and pauses, which kills a lot of the rest of the comedy flat. Oh, and there are musical numbers to boot, that are uninspired tunes and woodenly staged. And, to compound this plethora of mediocrity, the film’s climax is stupid.
Besides having all of the football players forgive Bennett after she manages an apology, shortly followed by them giving her a full song and dance in appreciation for her… well, in appreciation, I guess. We also get The Big Game. It’s interminable and lasts the last quarter of the movie, murdering any goodwill it’d achieved in the meantime. Bennett and Brown get their victory and happy endings, as disparate and bland as they are.
Director William A. Wellman, he of the undisputed classics Wild Boys of the Road and Heroes for Sale from just a few years after this, seems to be doing his best behind the camera to work with his limitations. One pan that goes straight through a fountain is impressive, and some of the stagings– Bennett and her quarterback beau’s first few kisses being coyly disguised behind objects in the foreground– are more adorable than the proceedings warrant.
There’s one other thing I’d like to note: like in Bad Girl, our heroine totes along a ukelele and here she even takes time out from our crowded, busy film to sing a song with it. I think it’s funny, considering the resurgence of the instrument in popular culture, to point out that it was maybe eras of depression cause people to have to cut down on the size of their instruments. Or maybe the late 1920’s and earlier 2010’s are just similarly twee.
Eleven Men and a Girl is bland, boring story that can’t imagine any of its characters having a thought occurring in their heads. Bennett’s cute, Brown mugs, and Wellman tries his damndest, but this is a dispiriting load of crap. And I don’t even need Snopes to confirm it.
P.S. — This statue, uncommented on by the film’s characters, is the creepiest damn thing: