"Tillie the Toiler" was originally a comic strip drawn and written by Russ Westover for King Features Syndicate. Tillie was drawn in a style that was meant to make her look very sexy and chic, whilst the male characters in the same strip were drawn in a more conventionally cartoonish style to look grotesque and boorish. The strip often showed Tillie in her workplace, but she wasn't really a "toiler" because she spent most of her time concerned about her next date or her new dress or anything except her job.
The 1927 film version of "Tillie" was produced by Cosmopolitan Pictures, which tells you that the star of the movie is Marion Davies. (Hearst set up Cosmopolitan to produce star vehicles for his actress girlfriend.) With her straight blonde hair, Marion looks nothing like the comic-strip Tillie: in fact, she's much prettier. (The comic-book version of Tillie looked like Bernadette Peters, who doesn't do a thing for me.) "Tillie the Toiler" is a surprising vehicle for Davies, because Hearst preferred to cast her in pretentious costume dramas rather than frothy comedies. The humour in this movie is very broad (much like the original comic strip), with more slapstick than usual for Davies, but she's excellent in this role.
When we first see Tillie (Davies), she's walking down the street on her way to Mr Fish's office when a cinder blows into her eye. This causes her to wink repeatedly. Various men see Tillie winking, and each man assumes she's winking at him flirtatiously. One by one, the men fall into step behind Tillie while she walks down the street winking. By the time she reaches Mr Fish's office, she's got a whole pack of horny men behind her. Most of the film implies that Tillie doesn't realise how much she arouses the men around her ... which is rather hard to believe.
Tillie starts her new job as secretary to the pompous tycoon Pennington Fish, whom she calls "Penny". Tillie is meant to be a standard dumb blonde, in the Carol Channing/Gracie Allen mode ... only sexier, like an early Jayne Mansfield (or a proto-Goldie Hawn), but there are hints that Tillie isn't quite so dumb as she seems. Davies played a very similar role in "Not So Dumb", one of her early talkies. "Tillie the Toiler" is much funnier than "Not So Dumb" but not nearly so funny as "The Patsy" (Marion's funniest and sexiest role).
A lot of Tillie's dialogue in this movie involves malapropisms that are funny when we read them on silent-film title cards, but which wouldn't be nearly so funny if this movie had a soundtrack: for instance, when Tillie expresses her desire to attend "a charity bizarre". There's quite a bit of Jazz Age 1920s slang in this movie's title cards.
Tillie's "job" is really just an excuse for her to skive and lollygag, and to flirt with Mr Fish's male employees. This incurs the wrath of Frank Whipple, the Fish Company's office manager. Whipple is very well played by George K. Arthur as a fussy little dandified man. Arthur sometimes played men who were explicitly cissies, and his portrayal of Whipple seems to be on the borderline of effeminacy. Most of the men in Fish's company are ga-ga for Tillie, but Whipple seems to be immune to her charms ... and George K. Arthur's performance implies that, well, Whipple just isn't interested in women.
SPOILER COMING. Tillie spends a good bit of this movie toying with horny men like Bill (played by fat unattractive Bert Roach) until she meets Matt Moore, who plays the only "real man" in this movie ... so it's obvious whom Tillie will end up with.
I'm a fan of old-time comic strips, but Westover's "Tillie the Toiler" hasn't aged well, and is justifiably one of the more obscure examples of 1920s humour. This movie version isn't quite so dated (thanks to Davies's superb performance), but it's still very much a back number. The camera work is excellent, as are the sets. David Townsend is credited as Cedric Gibbons's "associate", which means that Townsend actually designed the sets while Gibbons took his contractual credit.
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