|Joan Gordon …
|Jim Gilson …
|Eddie Fields …
The Purchase Price: Cheap Stuff
Decency matters so much to the rich. This is the sad lesson that nightclub singer Joan Gordon learns as her fiance leaves her in a small hotel room, crushed. Her affairs had been many, but she’d seen this as her chance as real love.
A clingy ex (who is also a rather big louse and all around ne’er-do-well) sees this as an opportunity to move in, and the distraught Joan decides to escape. After a brief layover in Canada, her slightly demented hotel maid informs Joan of a rather silly situation that she finds herself in; she’s decided to be a mail order bride to a lonely farmer, but had sent the man pictures of the gorgeous Joan instead to entice him.
Seeing an opportunity, Gordon gives the maid $100 (“With $100, I may be able to find a fella in this town!” the maid says, “I can try the goods before I buy them!”) and gets on the train herself, deciding to give a new life a shot.
It’s…. not much of a story. While Gordon, played by the eternally smart and beautiful Barbara Stanwyck, definitely has some moments of fire and wit, most of the movie can’t match her. The farmer she ends up with, Jim Gilson, is awkward and tries to force himself on her. That he’s nice enough to leave her alone afterward is of little interest– their chemistry in such an awkward situation fails, no matter how much Stanwyck tries to heat it up.
The movie also does not contain the most flattering depiction of farmers ever– all of them are moonshine drinking weirdos with penchants for mischief and pranks. There’s an evil land baron thrown in for good measure, who’s out to get Gilson’s farm. Joan eventually has to use some wit and persuading to allow him to keep it, though
There are some rather swell moments interspersed, but they’re rare enough that it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm. Director William Wellman has a good handle and creates some good moments, but they never congeal into anything worth caring about.
There is one final thing I wanted to note, because it’s oddly what I kept coming back to after watching the movie. For the beginning portion, as Joan works in the nightclub and talks to her beau while doing her makeup in front of the mirror. The only thing is, with the way the scene is shot, Stanwyck is staring into the camera. We can see the back of the desk, and she dutifully looks into the camera, pretending it’s a mirror… It’s just not a way you usually see scenes in makeup rooms shot. It feels like an added artifice, and it makes the audience self conscious of their own presence in the movie.
It’s just a strange choice. Wellman doesn’t do too much else with the camera here, not mimicking the bravura of the Pipe City scene of Wild Boys of the Road or the World War I scene of Heroes for Sale, and while that might be okay for a movie that’s supposed to be more romance than action, it still lacks a moment of fiery passion that it so desperately needs.
Hell, even the fire at the end isn’t good enough to supply it.
- An in-depth discussion of this movie is available in 4th issue of The Pre-Code Companion. You can also see other available issues and topics covered in the series by clicking here or on the banner below.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film is available in Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 3. You can buy that collection from Amazon.
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JennyG · September 25, 2013 at 9:55 am
Aw, I think you’re selling this one short. It’s a Woman’s Film, so maybe it helps to be a woman. But I really enjoyed it–it’s much lighter and more quickly-paced than I was expecting from the title. There is some funny, racy dialogue, such as when Joan is on the train sitting with other mail-order brides and they joke about the sex they are riding towards. I don’t disagree with the flaws you find: Stanwyck, as you noted, is in top form and Jim Gilson is thoroughly outmatched–it’s hard to understand why she falls for him and impossible to understand how he can resist her. Clark Gable would’ve been better in the part, I daresay. And the film certainly expresses mixed feelings about the rural and urban poor, who are shown as either comic freaks or depressingly out of it, while our protagonists heroically fight the exploitative forces of oppression. But I cared and found the ending truly romantic. I loved that Stanwyck wasn’t ultimately punished for her louche past and that she could even use it to secure her and her husband’s future. Of all amazing things, The Purchase Price turns out to be actually feminist!
Note: it’s now available to stream on Warner Archive Instant.
Danny · September 25, 2013 at 8:55 pm
Purchase Price is one of the earliest reviews I did, so I can’t remember much about the film but I like the points you make. I caught So Big with the same director and star a few months ago, and it’s definitely become one of my favorite movies. I promise I’ll try and give it a shot again when I have more time!
JennyG · September 27, 2013 at 11:27 am
I am so sad So Big is so hard to find! It sounds terrific.
Danny · September 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm
It’s definitely worth trying to track down. TCM shows it every few months. 🙂
nitrateglow · July 15, 2015 at 12:51 pm
I found this one dull and all over the place. Stanwyck and Wellman were wasted on a dog script.
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