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An interesting film. Lesbianism, fornication, illegitimacy, wisecracks .. who could ask for anything more?
jdeamara3 August 2003
Dorothy Arzner makes the film interesting by the way she depicts the clichéd story and by the touches she adds. An aura of lesbianism pervades the beginning of the film, set in a woman's hostel, as women are seen dancing closely arm in arm, and one (Dorothy Stickney) winks and smiles suggestively at another (Judith Wood), with the latter winking back! Lesbianism lays dormant the rest of the film as focus shifts to sisters Judith Wood and Dorothy Hall and their attempt to become "working girls." Double entendres fill the screen as Hall is hired by lecherous professor Paul Lukas, mostly because he feels she can give him "satisfaction." Lukas suggests she get boots to protect her feet during rainy weather; caught in a shoe store by a friend, Hall explains, "My boss told me to get some rubbers!" At the shoe store, Hall meets rich Harvard man Charles 'Buddy' Rogers and falls in love. After months of courtship, they accidentally spend an evening alone together and the inevitable happens. Equally inevitable, Rogers, having conquered, silently abandons Hall and becomes engaged to Frances Dee, a woman from his own social class. Roger's conquest has lingering effects, though, as Hall is with child. When Judith Wood finds out, she gets a gun and demands Rogers marry her sister! Rogers has no qualms about complying. As he tells a friend, he prefers Hall over Dee: Dee is of his station, his social equal and no fun, while Hall, being of the working class, looks up to him and treats him like a God, and this he likes! This is an incredibly cynical film, especially where men are concerned! Dorothy Hall steals the picture as Jane Thorpe, her last screen role. Judith Wood, who, billed as Helen Johnson played Dot in "The Divorcée" (1930), is equally good. Less so is Paul Lukas. He gives a confused performance; not completely sleazy, but not completely honorable, and not at all funny. Lukas gives a similar confused performance in another Arzner film, "Anybody's Woman" (1930). This film didn't get much of a release in 1931, being effectively buried by Paramount. Little wonder given its content! It's well worth tracking down. The UCLA Television and Motion Picture Archive has beautifully restored it, along with five other Arzner Paramount films. It's an 8/10.
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Paul Lucas Gives This Movie Some Much Needed Class!!!
kidboots16 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Even though Judith Wood had a bigger career than Dorothy Hall (I can recall Hall as Richard Dix's "society"!!! girlfriend in "Nothing But the Truth" (1929), although she didn't have much to say, which was just as well) neither of them could point to "Working Girls" as a career highlight! Claire Dodd, who had an extra role in the girl's rooming house scenes went on to much bigger things. Based on the story "Blind Mice" by Vera Caspary (author of "Laura"), the movie is about young girls on the look out for good times and husbands. It was remade several times over the years ("Three Blind Mice" (1938) with Loretta Young doesn't credit Vera Caspary, but does have a very similar story and title). The movie promised much but like a lot of these pre-code movies didn't really deliver. Even the title was slang (at the time) for prostitution. There were definitely lesbian overtones at the start between June and homely Dorothy Stickney. Although June returned her wink, she was only fooling but poor Dorothy spent the entire movie camping out in the hall - just waiting for a glimpse of her beloved when she came in late. Mae (Dorothy Hall) and June (Judith Wood) (cringe!!!) are new to New York and "wet behind the ears" - eager to make their livings. Mae scores a job with a scientist Dr. Von Schrader (Paul Lucas) - though it is hard to understand why, she barely finished high school and his advertisement specified a college educated girl was wanted. June finds a job at a telegraph office and instantly catches the eye of good guy Pat (Stuart Erwin). Before their first date she has managed to "wheedle" out of him - candy, orchids and perfume. Mae also finds a boyfriend - a Harvard man, Boyd Wheeler (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) but she is definitely not in his class!!! Meanwhile Von Schrader proposes to her. It is so hard to understand why - she has the most annoying voice in the history of the talkies!! Mae chooses Boyd and a night of passion, followed by days of remorse. Suddenly Boyd is not keen to see her and the reason is clear - he is soon to be married to Louise (Frances Dee, the movie could have done with more scenes of Frances in my opinion)!! Boyd may be a dog but Mae is not much better. After being rejected by Boyd, she makes a play for Von Schrader and holds him to the promise of matrimony he once made to her. I didn't think Paul Lucas was sleazy at all - he was the only person who gave this film class. Scientist/Professor = innocent (as far as women were concerned) in these old movies. He thought he was in love with Mae, who ended up going back to Boyd a week before her marriage to Von Schrader. Boyd broke up with Louise because she was independent and not submissive and because Mae was not of his class he thought she would look up to him and treat him as he felt he deserved to be treated!! A match made in heaven - I don't think!! Rogers played against type as a heel (and he still wasn't convincing). In "Heads Up" (1930) Paramount (and he) were desperate to change his image and the publicity catch phrase that had everyone talking was "Buddy Smokes". He did more than smoke in "Working Girls". Recommended.
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Finally, Some Evidence of Directorial Talent
joe-pearce-130 August 2015
I've been hearing and reading a rather elevated evaluation of Dorothy Arzner's talents as Hollywood's first reasonably important female director, but based on what I had seen to date, I felt this to be another of those 'social' reevaluations endemic to feminist/lesbian work of the period (well, whatever we assume there was of it). Maybe not, after all.

Although this film has a screenplay so full of holes that almost nothing the characters do makes sense in relation to what they have previously done or will do, it is still a basically likable movie, because most of the characters in it are likable, if, as in the case of those played by Judith Wood and Dorothy Hall, fairly dizzy if not downright dopey. Wood is really quite good most of the time (given the 1931 requirements for voice projection and naturalness of delivery), and if Hall's voice is the kind that, in a different context, would make sandpaper feel like velvet, she, too, gets her character across. Neither of these actresses went anywhere (indeed, this was Hall's last film), but it seems to me that Wood might have stood a chance if handled properly. Everybody else in the film - Lukas (always a charming actor, even when playing villains), Erwin (maybe the most underrated comic leading man of this early period), and to a lesser extent Rogers (not terrible, but somewhat vacuous), and all the girls at the rooming house they inhabit, are good.

But what makes the film jell even as much as it does is Arzner's direction of somewhat inferior material. She uses the camera beautifully, even in scenes that wouldn't seem to require anything in the way of special concern, and there are a couple of montages that would do credit to directors of considerable superior reputations. In other words (and real movie lovers will know exactly what I mean), the film evidences a certain amount of real directorial care in its execution. The purported "lesbian" element in the early part of the film is, I think, seen to exist where it may not, probably because Arzner was known to be gay. But the early scenes which show the girls dancing with each other at home are not really very lesbian in nature, since 1) there are only girls in the rooming house, and if they want to dance, who else would they dance with?, and 2) it may be forgotten that lots of very straight women used to dance with each other at parties and the like right up into the 1960s, usually because their boy friends or husbands were lousy dancers or just didn't want to engage in Terpsichorean endeavors (my mother, aunt, some early girl friends at high school and birthday parties, etc. used to do so all the time, and nobody even thought of such an ulterior motive!). If you don't believe me, just watch some of the old Dick Clark afternoon teenage dance shows of the 1950s.

Anyway, an enjoyable little movie, one that will not put Arzner up there with John Ford or William Wyler, but one which she could have pointed to with a modicum of pride.
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