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A mug and a jane: Dorothy knows that every guy is going to make a pass at her; Eddie knows that every gal wastes her money on good times. He's saving to open a repair shop. When the two of them meet, they can't believe they get along. One evening he leaves her waiting in the rain; she finds his apartment and reads him the riot act. They end up spooning and napping until 4 AM. She's afraid of her brother, who's her guardian, so Eddie figures she should tell her brother that she's getting married the next morning. Dorothy tries out the story but knows Eddie won't show up. It's the first of a series of promises, fears, miscalculations, and hard knocks. Where will they end up? Written by
As usual for Borzage, this is full of sentiment, and the details of the plot are deadly. Never was the development of misunderstandings between two inarticulate people more aggressively, one might say more ruthlessly, pursued. When they're not playing "Gift of the Magi" (he giving up the dream of his own radio store for the big apartment he thinks she wants), they're busy each thinking that the other doesn't really want the baby. And how could Borzage resist milking the maternity ward scene, with its inevitable ethnic cross-section, older woman, and troubled mother. And here's another version of that typical pre-Code era film pair, the beautiful girl and the unhandsome blow-hard boob.
All that said, this is still a very good film in spite of itself, certainly deserving of its Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Borzage constantly redeems himself at the worst moments. A prime example: the evening before the baby's due Jimmy goes out to fight four rounds of preliminaries at $10 a round to pay the doctor. Sally is lying at home, convinced that he's with his drunken friends, or worse, and no longer loves her. Dunn's opponent is a mean-looking, cynical, paunchy guy who's about to knock him out in the second round. Oh, the ironic cross-cutting: he's getting the crap beat out of him, while she lies in bed, anxious and bitter. But, in a clinch, Jimmy begs the pug not to knock him out because his wife's going to have a baby. Why didn't you say so, says the obliging pug, I've got two of my own. In an amusing moment they chat away while pretending to lambaste each other. This takes the curse off the sentimental plot maneuvering.
And there are a lot of other fine sequences, too. The film starts with Eilers in a fancy wedding gown, being attended to by a dresser. She's so nervous, she tells best-friend Gombell, who's dressed as a bridesmaid. As they do the formal bride's walk through the phalanx of bridesmaids, in the corner of the screen one sees part of a tray of dirty dishes being carried by a waiter. Gradually the camera pulls back to show that they're modeling the gowns for a bunch of lecherous buyers. Then they go to Luna Park (nice shots of the park). Throughout these early scenes there are plenty of sharp pre-Code wisecracks about how men only have one thing on their minds. Funny, breezy stuff. They meet Dunn on the ferry on the way home, the first guy that doesn't make a pass. The scene shifts to the couple sitting at the foot of her rooming-house stairwell. As they talk, an old hen-pecked lush comes down the stairs, and an older woman uses the hall phone to tell her sister that their mother has just died. That may be pouring the milieu on a bit thick, Borzage style, but this scene is beautifully played by Eilers and by the older woman and is quite affecting. Later, when Eilers stays in Dunn's room (no hanky-panky, it seems) and he asks her to marry him, her brother kicks her out of the house, and Gombell, the brother's gal, walks too. (Single-mom Gombell's little boy is a terror. In the morning he won't scram: "I want to see Dotty get out of bed.") Sally is sure that Jimmy will desert her at the alter, and that's the beginning of all the tear-jerking plot elements.
But the film goes beyond those elements with a richness of detail, a generous painting of daily life in the city during the Depression. And, when all's said and done, what really makes the film, and where Borzage ultimately redeems himself, is in the performances. Eilers, who somehow never got the recognition she deserved, is beautiful and gives a strong, sensitive, emotional performance--for my money a more appealing one than most of Janet Gaynor's work for Borzage. Gombell, another undervalued thirties player, is really fine as the tough but good-natured pal, who doesn't let Dunn's dislike of her color her opinion of him as a good husband for Eilers. Her performance goes beyond the requirements of the script in very subtle ways. And Dunn, well, he plays the typical early-thirties boob of a husband, but even he has a bravura scene when he breaks down while having to beg the expensive doctor to handle his wife's childbirth. Borzage films are always full of sentiment, but not always honest sentiment. This scene with the doctor is full of sentiment, but it's honestly handled, and one can say the same for the whole film.
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