Time once again for the monthly Pre-Code Crazy pick, where Karen of Shadows & Satin and I each choose a movie from this era that’s showing on TCM.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I usually go for a horror/thriller/crime pre-Code pick, but I’ve already covered my favourite ones showing this month, so how about some counter-programming with a fun romantic comedy that came out just as the Production Code was being enforced (a different kind of horror show for pre-Code fans!).
The Girl from Missouri is the story of a sassy goldigger with a heart of gold, and Jean Harlow’s first movie as a star. The working title was Eadie was a Lady, then it was changed to 100% Pure, and then Born to be Kissed–all of which describe the appeal and goals of Harlow’s character Eadie. The sexy and suggestive story was rewritten and reshot after Breen rejections, and the safer and slightly de-fanged final product was a big hit and established Harlow as star attraction sex symbol and comedienne.
The story finds Eadie determined to marry a millionaire but also remain chaste until she lands him. Escaping her dear mother and creepy stepfather, Eadie runs off to New York with her best pal, delightfully real and man-crazy Kitty (Patsy Kelly). A chorus girl gig is Eadie’s entree to high society, where her first best prospect seems to be T.R. Paige (Lionel Barrymore), who helps her out of a sticky situation involving a scandalous suicide (Lewis Stone) whose gifts to Eadie look suspicious. Paige, being partly responsible for Eadie’s situation, conceals the “evidence.” Eadie gloms onto Paige, following him to Palm Beach, where there’a a mistaken identity “meet-cute” with Tom Paige, Jr. (Franchot Tone, debonair and charming as ever). It’s a nice touch how the movie has Eadie meet both Paiges by way of assumptions that bring them down some rungs on the social ladder; Senior she mistook for a butler, and Junior for a clerk.
Tom’s smitten and the feeling’s mutual, but he’s also a commitment-averse, wolfish playboy who simply can’t wrap his head around what looks to him like a gold-digging floozy who finds him irresistible, but insists on keeping her chastity until he marries her. Once Tom’s converted and proposes, Paige, Sr., resolves to break them up, exposes Eadie’s secret from the night they met, and throws in a nasty frame-up for good measure. The mess lands her in jail, almost breaks her spirit and delivers her into the clutches of a pushy sugar daddy.
By pre-Code standards, this romantic adventure is tame, covered-up, and careful to keep Eadie clean and decent, but it’s still a lot of fun, and includes a wild line about acting crazy because of a “little white powder” that somehow got by the censors. Harlow gets juicy and affecting scenes, as when Eadie’s alone and locked in the Paige mansion with lustful Tom but begs him to back off and not make her “cheap and common like a million others.” She also zestfully delivers great zingers, like the one during the tour of that same villa, where she cracks Senior up by saying the place is big enough for a six-day bike race.
Tone is great at showing how Tom’s cynicism dissolves as it dawns on him that Eadie is sincere. Patsy Kelly’s Kitty chases a variety of hunky blue-collar men and delivers my favourite line in the movie: approached at a party by an elderly millionaire, she cracks, “look at this, Death Takes a Holiday” (the 1934 Fredric March movie, for those wondering). Kitty’s also the dependable friend you’d want protecting you if you were drunk and about to make a colossally stupid mistake, the way Eadie almost does at her lowest point, before Paiges Senior and Junior burst in, hoping to make things right.
Watch The Girl from Missouri on TCM October 15th, and now bike over to see Karen’s pre-Code pick for this month.