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William A. Seiter
Dialogue by P.G. Wodehouse graces a story in his own vein
The famous humor novelist Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881-1975) spent two sojourns in Hollywood writing directly for motion pictures, and was first summoned to Hollywood as a result of the coming of the sound and the search for script writers appropriate to the new medium, especially individuals with stage experience. He arrived in town on May 8, 1930, and in October, his contract was renewed for another six months. He was initially set to work rewriting THOSE THREE FRENCH GIRLS, with a script ready by July 8. He was credited with the dialogue, with adaptation and continuity by Sylvia Thalberg, Frank Butler, from a story by Dale Van Every and Arthur Freed. The movie was shot in thirty days, and by mid-September was edited. It cost just over a quarter million dollars to produce, and upon release on October 11 was modestly profitable. THOSE THREE FRENCH GIRLS starred Reginald Denny, an ideal choice in a very Wodehousian role as Larry, a wealthy, chivalrous, but not terribly bright young Englishman. He is introduced with a what-ho, and the dialogue for which Wodehouse received sole credit demonstrates his typical phraseology, highlighting his signature phrases to almost an excessive extent. MGM production chief Irving Thalberg hoped to distinguish THOSE THREE FRENCH GIRLS by the Wodehouse flavor. Wodehouse was able to work at home and explained, "I really believe I must have had the softest job on record. A horde of scenarists have constructed the picture, even to the extent of writing the dialogue. All I have had to do is revise and adapt their dialogue. And they never expect me to go near the studio unless there is a conference...." Fortunately, the Wodehouse dialogue is matched to a story that is very similar to his own in style, and verges on the musical comedy form, with several brief songs (resembling the many stage musicals on which he had collaborated). As Wodehouse had noted, despite the fact the script was a committee effort, he clearly also had a certain degree of input in the plot and characters. THOSE THREE FRENCH GIRLS opens in France with Larry driving up as three girls, Charmain (Fifi D'Orsay), Madelon (Sandra Ravel), and Diane (Yola D'Avril), are arguing with their landlord over their eviction. Larry stops to help them, escalating the war of words by throwing flower-pots on the landlord's head (an idea Wodehouse had used in his stories, most prominently in his 1924 novel Leave It to Psmith). The fracas lands Larry and the girls in jail, where they are joined by two rowdy and musically-inclined Americans (played by Ed Brophy and Cliff Edwards, best remembered as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney's PINOCCHIO), veterans of the war who have returned to France. While incarcerated, the men and women pair off, and eventually escape jail by fooling the police through behaving like monkeys. When their car is stranded in a storm, the six take refuge in a barn, where Larry declares his love to Charmain. Arriving at Larry's chateau the next morning, the butler warns Larry's uncle, the Earl of Ippleton (George Grossmith), of his involvement with Charmain. Ippleton tries to buy her off, but picks the wrong girl, then telling Charmain that he always has to bail Larry out of misbegotten love affairs. Charmain, angry, ends the engagement to Larry, refusing to let him explain that the one who had to be saved from romantic entanglements was, in fact, Ippleton. Ippleton buys the three girls a modiste's shop; Charmain is now engaged to him, and Larry is bitter. The two Americans try to help by going to the girl's apartment during their morning bath, but only succeed in alienating them further. Larry has a plan, however; he drives his mini-automobile into his uncle's home the morning of the wedding, to assist with the rehearsal. Finally, by exposing Ippleton uncle as a confirmed old bachelor who is far too old and cantankerous for Charmain, Larry wins her back.
THOSE THREE FRENCH GIRLS, as directed by Harry Beaumont, is an amusing if uneven farce, belonging to the early days of sound cinema. Its style, together with the treatment of the women's motivations and costumes in a manner that was only allowed in this period before censorship, gives it an archaic feeling to modern audiences. For Wodehouse aficionados, it has special resonance because of his dialogue applied in a thorough way to an appropriate narrative and characters, and is the only film from his first stint in Hollywood to thoroughly reflect his contribution. Unfortunately, because of its lack of well-remembered stars, THOSE THREE FRENCH GIRLS is seldom seen today. Sadly, although he had just begun in Hollywood, THOSE THREE FRENCH GIRLS was as close to a success as Wodehouse was to have at MGM; his only other credit was more minimal (THE MAN IN POSSESSION), and the other projects he worked on were not produced. The studio was apparently unwilling to film any of his novels. Wodehouse's contract ended on May 9, 1931, when MGM did not renew it.
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