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I finally tracked down Bad Girl. It had been on my list of wanna sees for years as it had won a major Oscar for Best Director- Frank Borzage.It was one of those tantalizing early talkies that had not actually been lost it had merely fell from sight. When I finally saw it last year at a Borzage revival, the film was a revelation.It was a pre-code delight about an ordinary couple, falling in love, struggling financially and having a baby etc.It most reminded me of the great silent film-The Crowd, which dealt with similar matters. What was especially fascinating to me was its depiction of "average" lower middle class types and how they lived and spoke in Depression America. The apartments... the slang, all of it, seemed real. It wouldn't be until the 50's neo realism hit American movies that we would see ordinary people depicted on the screen again, without condescension The movie has all the Borzage trademarks- love surviving against all odds, even an exciting if a little hokey climax.Unfortunately, the film has been slighted often in movie books,most likely, because the authors have never actually seen it. If it is ever shown again, try to see it. It's a wonderful peek at average city folks in Depression America.
Bad Girl is included in the new Murnau/Borzage and Fox collection,and kudos to them for making it available! Though an excellent little slice of life film from the Depression Era, I definitely wouldn't say that it compares with Borzage's timeless silent romances, though Borzage's recurrent theme of love conquering all is here to.The lead actors,Sally Eilers, and James Dunn, both do fine jobs, especially Dunn, who paints a very realistic portrait of a "regular Joe", decent kind of a guy. His performance rings true, and he later made a comeback, winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.(1945) This is the story of a young couple's struggle to make it through marriage, finances, and becoming parents. The background story of what was considered "making it" in a poor economy is especially pertinent today. Dunn's character, Eddie Collins, thought it was opening his own radio shop, providing his wife with an elaborately furnished apartment, and getting her the best doctor for her delivery. Not so different from what young couples are facing today! The film is sometimes a bit too wordy, but the slang of the time is a hoot! As one of Borzage's smaller films, it's worth a watch.
Director Frank Borzage won an Oscar, as did the Screenplay, for this forgotten film, which depicts daily life in Depression time USA with a realism theretofore unknown in film. It was also nominated for Best Film. The oddity here is where they got the title as there isn't a "bad girl" anywhere in sight. It is almost as if they sat down and said to each other - let's get a catchy title that'll lure people in to see this one! They could have named it King Kong in Brooklyn and been just as accurate in describing the content. It's an enjoyable film, though a little dull for some tastes, especially if you keep wondering when the bad girl is going to show up. Worth a watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mack Sennett once called Sally Eilers "the most beautiful brunette in
Hollywood" and she was very eye catching, even in roles that didn't
give her much to do. Then Frank Borzage started a hunt for a couple of
unknowns for a film he was directing called "Bad Girl". Sylvia Sidney
had starred in the original Broadway production which was an adaptation
of a best selling book by Vina Delmar and ran for 85 performances in
1930. Borzage wanted to find a new romantic team to rival Janet Gaynor
and Charles Farrell and originally he had wanted Spencer Tracy but he
was unavailable. Sally was picked and for the male lead, a young, fresh
faced actor from Broadway - James Dunn. For a film debut he had the
ease and confidence of a veteran. He was sensational and should have
been nominated for an Academy Award.
This was not a typical "boy meets girl in the big city" romance. It had more in common with "The Crowd" although without "The Crowd"'s bleakness. When we first meet Dorothy (Sally Eilers) she is modeling bridal wear but she is not at all dewy eyed - she has all the answers and knows all the lines to keep the "wolves" at arms length. She meets Eddie (James Dunn) at Coney Island and while it definitely isn't "love at first sight", they end the evening in a heart to heart talk at the bottom of the stairs. Eddie is a rough diamond who claims he can't talk to women but somehow he seems to get on with Dorothy. Their's is a bitter sweet romance - it's real and something the audiences of the day could probably relate to. They marry and Eddie can see his long cherished dream of owning his own radio shop within his grasp. Sally has some news of her own - and after Eddie has a tirade about the stupidity of bringing a child into a world of poverty - confesses she is going to have a baby.
The rest of the film is concerned with mistaken feelings. Eddie thinks Sally is not keen to have a child but she is only trying to hide her joy because of his gruffness. Inside he is tickled to death and often stops parents with prams in the street to ask their advice, he is also working overtime and risking his life doing amateur boxing to get Dorothy the best possible care. She doesn't know and thinks he is spending his time in bars and getting into fights. In one of the most heart wrenching scenes, James Dunn plays with all the emotion he can muster, trying to convince a society doctor to deliver Dorothy's baby. And for once a friend wasn't just part of the furniture. Minna Gombell was great as Edna, Dorothy's best friend and mentor. It was a 3 dimensional part - Edna was hard boiled and tough but astute enough to realise that Eddie was a genuine guy.
This role should have made Sally a star but it didn't. She and Dunn were paired several times but she became fed up and apparently refused to do "Jimmy and Sally" with him (Claire Trevor was substituted). James Dunn became an overnight star. He was extremely likable and also had a warmth and talent that both critics and the public liked.
Highly, Highly Recommended.
An interesting little Borzage love story set during the Depression, detailing the struggles of young couple (Sally Eilers & James Dunn) with their hopes and dreams. Curiously Borzage won his second Oscar as Best Director for this oddly heady little movie and that's perhaps the only reason to watch it. It works as a timepiece of its era. But I definitely wouldn't call "Bad Girl" one of Borzage's best romances (in many ways it strikes me as turgid and unaffecting in several moments, and I didn't like the ending), but it is definitely worth catching if you are fan or a student of the director's sublime and unheralded oeuvre.
Note: some scenes described in detail.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This pre-code drama, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, is a
delightfully witty yet potentially tragic melodrama about a pretty
young model (Sally Eilers) who turns down all the wrong guys until she
finds what she thinks is the right guy (James Dunn). They stay out all
night together much to her reluctance, and the fact that she has a very
domineering brother (William Pawley) makes her fear his reaction to her
becoming engaged. While waiting for Dunn to show up so they can be
married, she learns that he's moved out of his apartment and been fired
from his job. Fortunately, she has a friend in the outspoken Minna
Gombell who was prepared to marry her brother and walked out on him
after he insulted his sister. This clever scene has Gombell seemingly
supporting everything Pawley says to see how far he goes, and when his
brutality takes an extremely cruel turn, the truth about how she feels
comes out. Gombell is very clever in her admission of why she broke up
with him, telling Eilers, ""He saved my life. They send you to the
chair these days for killing your husband." Dunn shows his cynical
sense of humor after hearing one of Eiler's neighbors fighting
retorting, ""There's a tenement for you. A woman dies, a baby is born,
and a guy's wife won't let him eat Limburger."
This clever script is as juicy as anything they were writing over at Warner Brothers for Joan Blondell or Barbara Stanwyck to spout and just as filled with insinuations as the dialog that Mae West would soon be uttering over at Paramount. When Gombell comforts Eilers, she has tears behind her laughter, telling her younger brother when Dunn finally does show up, "Open the door, Floyd, and if it's a man selling coffins, tell them we'll take two!" The drama occurs because Dunn gives the insinuation that he doesn't want children, but she's pregnant from the night they stayed out planning their future together. Not necessarily a great husband, Dunn spends more time trying to find work (eventually turning to prizefighting) than supporting his pregnant wife which brings Gombell down on him. So is she really a bad girl? Obviously in the eyes of her brother who raised her after their parents died and is morally appalled by the fact that she would marry Dunn so quickly rather than get his approval. Crisply directed by Frank Borzage with an excellent screenplay, this is one of those early sound films that really sounds true to life and touches the emotions. Truly worth a re-discovery, and in viewing the film, it is easy to see why it won Oscars for screenplay and direction.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Linked to many movies on IMDb are posters or pictures from the movie
from which it came. However, in the case of "Bad Girl" you wonder if
the artist ever saw the film or had any idea what the plot was! First,
the figures on the poster look nothing like the actors (in particular,
the guy is not anything like the 'everyman' James Dunn). Second, the
poster makes the film look like a sex movie or at least one with a LOT
of sexuality! But instead, it's just a nice Depression-era film about a
nice couple who are trying to make a lives for themselves. And what it
has to do with a bad girl is also anyone's guess!!
Sally Eilers is a clothing model who is sick and tired of men always making passes at her or harassing her. So, when she meets Dunn and he is relatively indifferent to her, she is intrigued! Why won't he act like a boorish cad as well?! Eventually, the two begin dating and fall quickly in love. Surprisingly, the supposedly cynical Dunn asks her to marry him and seems happy with exactly the sort of life he said he didn't want. Then, when she becomes pregnant, she is worried, as Dunn wanted to start his own business and didn't want kids--but once again, what Dunn SAID he wanted and how he reacted are quite different and he likes the idea of kids and doesn't mind deferring his dream. Seeing the occasionally tough-acting Dunn show greater depth to his character was pretty enjoyable. There's more to the film, but it's probably best you see it for yourself.
While the movie obviously was well-respected back in 1931 (as the director received an Oscar for his direction and it was nominated for Best Picture), it doesn't play quite as well today. This isn't to say it's a bad film--it just seems a little old fashioned and dated...but still very sweet. But despite its age, it is worth seeing and is a decent film--a good showcase for Dunn and a nice little romance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If there was ever a movie with a misleading title, this one is it. With
the title, "Bad Girl," the fact that it's Pre-Code, and the movie
poster showing a scantily-clad woman lounging in a chair with her arms
raised, while a man leers suggestively over her shoulder you think
this movie is going to be about a woman of loose morals, like Jean
Harlow or Marlene Dietrich.
But it's not. Instead, it's a romantic melodrama that tells the story of a young married couple trying to make it through their first year of marriage during the Depression. Dorothy Haley (Sally Eiler) marries Eddie Collins (James Dunn), a tough talking "Noo Yawk" radio salesman, who is secretly a softie inside.
In the movie's opening scenes, Dorothy is a streetwise dress model who easily parries the advances of men who make passes at her. But after she marries Eddie, she turns into an emotional girl with an overactive imagination. (When Eddie is late on their wedding day, Dorothy bursts into tears because she assumes he has deserted her.)
Dorothy isn't really a "bad girl." She's just dumb as a box of rocks! Unfortunately, so is her husband. Eddie and Dorothy spend the movie trying to make each other happy, but they're both too stupid to realize they actually want the same things.
This leads to an extended version of what Roger Ebert called the "Idiot Plot," where there are lame misunderstandings and the characters keep secrets from each other for no reason except that the plot requires it. If they would just tell each other those secrets, it would solve all their problems, but it would spoil the plot. It's called an "Idiot Plot" because the characters have to be idiots for it to work.
Case in point. Soon after their marriage, Dorothy finds out she is pregnant. But Eddie has saved up $650 to open his own radio store. Not wanting him to spend his savings on her, Dorothy doesn't tell Eddie about the baby. Instead, she tells him she'd like to go back to work, to earn more money. From this, Eddie concludes she is unhappy living in their one-bedroom apartment. So he spends his $650 to buy them a big house and furniture, which Dorothy likes but didn't really want. Only then does she tell him she's pregnant.
Now, this could have been handled as a variation on "The Gift of the Magi." But in the "Magi" story, the husband and wife actually learned something from their experience. Eddie and Dorothy learn nothing, and keep making the same dumb mistakes.
Eddie and Dorothy each wrongly assume the other one doesn't want the baby, which results in more problems with their marriage. When Dorothy decides she needs an expensive doctor, Eddie tries to earn the money as a boxer. When he comes home with bandages on his face, Dorothy accuses him of going to a speakeasy and getting in a fight, instead of staying home with her. For some reason, Eddie doesn't tell her about the money he's won, or that he got her the doctor she wanted.
(On a side note, the movie's one great scene is when Eddie steps into the ring with the Champ. He gets beaten up pretty bad and is about to go down when he whispers to the Champ that he needs the money because his wife is having a baby. The Champ says, "Well, why didn't ya say so? I got kids of my own!" He then literally carries Eddie around the ring for a few more rounds, all the time talking about his own kids.)
If this story had been handled comically, it might have been a forerunner of "The Honeymooners" and "The Flintstones." (There were times when Eddie reminded me of Ralph Kramden.) Instead, we get a sappy romantic melodrama that is instantly forgettable.
It's surprising that Frank Borzage won an Oscar for directing this claptrap, and that the lame screenplay won an Oscar as well. Borzage made better films than this (see "Seventh Heaven" and "Street Angel"), and there were better directed films released in 1931-32 (such as Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights," James Whale's "Frankenstein," William Wellman's "The Public Enemy," and Edmund Goulding's "Grand Hotel"). But AMPAS was young then, and young organizations are bound to make mistakes.
Borzage is a film-maker whose reputation has ebbed and flowed quite
dramatically over time. And perhaps not surprisingly. His work
represents, even more clearly than that of Ford or Capra, a combination
of all that is the best and all that is the worst about US film.
In the late twenties and early thirties, he was looked at as the brightest hope of the US cinema and probably deserves the accolade of being the winner of more undeserved Oscars than anyone else before the advent of Ang Lee. Subsequently his reputation plummeted (as did the quality of his films) but he is now once again riding relatively high in critical esteem, at least in respect of his early films.
But even these are a vary mixed bunch. There are Borzage films I greatly admire, there are several which i Find irritating (most of the Gaynor-Farrell films) but this particular 1931 film I absolutely detest.
Its reputation for "realism" (in the sense of naturalism, that rare bird in US cinema) is entirely unjustified. Any comparison for instance with King Vidor's excellent The Crowd (1928) reveals immediately how spurious and fake the "realism" is here. One reviewer talks of ordinary people not being treated with "condescension". They are in fact treated here as complete and utter idiots and the entire plot revolves around perfectly stupid misunderstandings that are only possible because of the characters' extraordinary obtuseness. This is in turn set off by a fake naivety which is supposed to be charming but is just cringe-makingly sentimental. I have difficulty in imagining any treatment that could be more condescending...and this makes it, to my mind, not just irritatingly sentimentalised (as in the case of the Gaynor-Farrell films) but virtually a kind of pornography that demeans everybody associated with it.
That such a film should be set during an economic depression and, ignoring any of the real problems of the time, should concentrate on such trivialities may in part be due to the fact, as another reviewer points out, to the fact that the original novel was written some eight years earlier but, in the context of 1931, it is absolutely grotesque although typical enough of the US cinema's reaction to the depression.
It is in part just the familiar Hollywood problem with "truth". While The Crowd was hated by the studios and unsuccessful with the public (in practice the first tends to condition the second rather than vice versa), this saccharine piece of junk won another Oscar for its director.
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