'Girls About Town' is a fascinating example of the winking immorality that prevailed in Hollywood in the early 1930s, causing the public uproar that led to the Production Code.
Lilyan Tashman and Kay Francis play a couple of ... well, it's not quite clear how these ladies earn a living, as they sleep until 5.30pm (Lilyan sleeps in her makeup) and then they spend all night at parties with wealthy businessmen. They live in a penthouse and wear $4,000 fur stoles in 1931. (Depression? What Depression?) Kay Francis's character is named Wanda, but Lilyan keeps calling her 'Matilda' and 'Annabelle' and other such names.
Now get this. Wanda is a good-time girl who doesn't WANT to be a good-time girl. She'd trade it all for a white picket fence and a husband. Actually, she's already got a husband (played by Anderson Lawler), but she'd rather have a husband who looks like Joel McCrea. That decision is the only thing in this movie that's remotely believable. When I saw Louise Beavers's name in the cast list, I expected her to be lumbered with her usual typecast role as the chucklin' black maid. Well, she DOES play the maid ... but this time Beavers gets to do an amusing visual gag, impersonating Whistler's Mother. And she has a clever line: 'There comes a time in every woman's life when a man needs five dollars.'
This film is directed by George Cukor, not usually thought of as a Paramount director. The opening credit sequence is very impressive, and there are some good montages. I wish they'd left out the tight close-up of Eugene Palllette's puckered lips. At the climax, there are some very effective jump cuts to several pieces of jewellery worn by Lucile Gleason ... in fact, this is the only time I've ever seen an impressive performance from James Gleason's wife.
Lilyan Tashman does a bad job of singing 'Ben Bolt' while slinging wisecracks. I dislike her outright. My feelings towards Kay Francis are more ambiguous. In real life, Kay Francis was well-liked in the film industry and active in charity work. So, I respect her as a person but I dislike her as an actress. She studied diction under Elmer Fudd. She apparently orders her mascara by the tankload (because that's how she wears it), and she keeps doing this weird gesture where she pronates her right hand while she places it way up high on her hip. I liked this movie, but I would have liked it better with two other actresses.
One of my favourite character actors, Alan Dinehart, is wasted here. It's not precisely clear what his character does for a living, but he seems to be the (erm, ah, well) 'agent' for the party girls. Much of the action takes place aboard a yacht, presumably anchored outside the three-mile limit where Prohibition had no jurisdiction. I was impressed by a travelling shot of McCrea swimming, with the camera just above water level, yet with no water splashing on the lens to remind us of the camera's presence. Much of the dialogue is by Raymond Griffith, a silent-film comedian who later became a successful producer at Fox.
With all the clothes and jewellery and booze on display here, I'm sure a lot of movie-goers in 1931 watched this film with their tongues hanging out. I'll rate this movie 7 out of 10.
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