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After paying THE PURCHASE PRICE for his mail-order bride,
lonely wheat farmer gets more than he bargained for.
Barbara Stanwyck is first-rate, as always, in this pre-Code drama, as a nightclub chanteuse who leaves her East Coast entanglements behind and escapes to the Great Plains and marriage with a stranger. The story is completely inconsequential, but Stanwyck never fails to entertain. Whether she's crooning a sultry song, busheling wheat or jumping into a barroom fight, she's always believable.
George Brent effectively submerges his usually sophisticated mien to play the roughhewn farmer whose simple life and straightforward lovemaking is greatly complicated by Stanwyck's arrival. Brent' s evenhanded performance provides a fine counterpoint to her slightly more flamboyant portrayal.
Lyle Talbot appears as Stanwyck's wealthy former lover who follows her out from New York; David Landau is the rich Dakota landowner who tries to destroy Brent's farm; Hardie Albright as an immature playboy & Leila Bennett as a Montreal hotel maid each make the most of their short appearances.
Movie mavens will recognize brassy Mae Busch (veteran of many a Laurel & Hardy comedy) as the noisy dame seated next to Stanwyck on the train; sour faced Clarence Wilson as a grumpy Justice of the Peace; and young Anne Shirley as the poor farm girl with the new baby brother--all uncredited.
The film does a grave disservice to the good people of North Dakota, making them appear, almost without exception, as drunken louts, imbeciles or scoundrels. Was this really necessary?
This peculiar but interesting drama has Barbara Stanwyck as a weary nightclub torch singer with a "who cares?" attitude. To escape her underworld boyfriend, she decides to hide out in the bleak plains of North Dakota as a mail-order bride. As her shy farmer husband, the normally debonair George Brent is almost unrecognizable in a pair of overalls, but gives a sensitive characterization. The bulk of the plot follows the growing feeling between the reserved country mouse' and the tough city mouse', complicated by several villains. Tough guy director William Wellman keeps things moving at a clip, and uses his low budget wisely to stage several good set-pieces, including a drunken shivaree for the happy couple. In the supporting cast, Leila Bennett stands out as a plain-talking maid.
BARBARA STANWYCK is a city gal fed up with the sophisticated life of a
nightclub singer and her lecherous boyfriend (LYLE TALBOT) and who sees
an "escape" by fleeing to the country for a more bucolic existence and
more wholesome environment. She gets more than she bargains for when
her mail order husband turns out to be shy farmer (GEORGE BRENT), whom
she at first repulses when he comes on too strong with his lovemaking
and then spends the rest of the film trying to make it up to him.
The unusual domestic drama gives both Stanwyck and Brent offbeat roles which they handle beautifully. Brent is a surprising revelation as the shy, bumbling country guy with no understanding of Stanwyck's softer feelings and holding off loving her until the final reel, after the two of them have to save their crop of wheat from burning to the ground.
Only weak point in the story is the overdone nature of the wild party scene shortly after their wedding and Stanwyck's reaction to the crudeness of the country bumpkins. It seems a bit of a stretch to believe the way this scene unfolds.
But otherwise, an interesting look at Stanwyck who excels in showing both sides of her character--tough and tender--and Brent, who is usually the more debonair, sophisticated man showing us another side of his personality (and with some nice touches of humor too) as the shy groom. They both get excellent support from LYLE TALBOT as "the other man" in a rather thankless role that he makes believable.
Well worth watching and nicely directed by William Wellman.
Of course this delicious tour-de-force is totally incredible... but WOW! You can't take your eyes off the screen in case Wellman gives his heroine whiplash as she moves from plushly-kept woman in Manhattan to mail-order farmer's bride in North Dakota. From take-out at Tiffany's to hauling coal nuggets 20 miles through a blizzard. From igniting the lust in men with her daring chanteusing to putting out the fire villains set to her and hubby George Brent's last-hope crop of wheat. All in just over 60 minutes!
This is sold as "pre-Code," as if there will something risqué or
shocking, but certainly by today's standards -- or lack thereof -- and
even by those of the era, there is nothing to bother your grandma or
even your (reasonable) preacher.
There is something, though, to excite the movie-lover: Barbara Stanwyck's performance.
Apparently in real life she was a pretty tough cookie, and certainly she played some hard women in many of her films.
In "The Purchase Price" her character refers to herself as having maintained some sort of a reputation and in fact she comes across as a very nice, even admirable person.
She certainly looked good, with a gentle strength, or strong gentleness, poking out of the chorus girl/mistress persona.
The story, though, never does make much sense, and why the people did what they did, except for the character played by Lyle Talbot -- in a great role for him, and excellently played -- is not clear.
One more glaring error: North (brrrr) Dakota doesn't have any hills, and the shots of snow-capped peaks showed that wherever this film was shot, it sure wasn't North (brrrr) Dakota, you betcha.
One scene of plowing showed the genuine agoraphobic look of that state, where neither hills nor even trees are native. Except for cottonwoods along the creeks and rivers, what trees there are in North (brrrr) Dakota have had to be brought in from the real world.
Plus North (brrrrr) Dakota drunks and brawlers are not Irish and Scots, as this movie implies, but Poles and Czechs and Germans, sometimes even Norwegians, unless they are Lutherans then, of course, they don't drink or brawl. And if you don't believe me, ask their preachers.
Anyway, watch this for Stanwyck and suspend your disbelief about all the rest. She is worth spending your time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Barbara Stanwyck is a singer in Montreal who is mixed up with a
small-time hood, Lyle Talbot. Tired of the louche life, she becomes the
mail order bride of George Brent and moves to his North Dakota farm.
She gradually adapts to the hardships of hardscrabble farming in a
brutal climate but Brent, a pessimist, doesn't think she can shake off
her old identity. Well, if she's going to give it all up, he reckons,
no sense developing an emotional bond with her, so he is curt and
doesn't bother her at night, not even when she's laying out her sexiest
nightie in his view.
Brent may be making a mistake here, strictly from a hedonistic point of view. This is early Stanwyck and she's terribly cute -- delicate and winsome, and always smiling.
Even from a practical standpoint, she pitches in and helps him with all the chores, and she takes care of their nearly destitute neighbors as well. In the climactic scene, a fire threatens to consume their crop and she is at his side beating the flames until the fire is out and she collapses from exhaustion -- still smiling. This woman could look like an aardvark and still be of value.
The general atmosphere of the farm is pretty ragged and it's in pecuniary straits. This probably is a reflection not on Brent's ability to manage his acreage but on the Great Depression itself, when just about every farmer was in a similar bind.
It's almost all told from Stanwyck's point of view, which suggests a soap opera, but it's rather better than that. Obviously it was shot on a modest budget by director William Wellman, but within the strict financial limits imposed by circumstances, it's a nice job. Yes, the snow is studio snow and all that, but there's something disarming about old-fashioned effects like that. And if Wellman isn't The Great Innovator, he's a sensible and sensitive guy, and this effort deserves a little respect.
THE PURCHASE PRICE is one of ten films Barbara Stanwyck for Warner
Bros. in the early 1930's when she was under non-exclusive contracts to
the studio and Columbia Pictures. The Columbia films are often quite
good, several of them directed by Frank Capra, but most of the Warner
Bros. she made in this period are little more than potboilers, films
rarely running over 70 minutes with few ambitions. This title is among
Stanwyck's weakest films although it is raised immensely by a typically
fine Stanwyck performance making it much more interesting and appealing
than it should be.
Stanwyck stars as Joan Gordon, a sexy nightclub torch singer who is the mistress of married bootlegger Lyle Talbot. This duo apparently have quite an open relationship as Talbot isn't too bothered by the fact that Stanwyck is also seeing society boy Hardie Albright who wants to marry her. When Albright finds out about Stanwyck's relationship with Talbot he dumps her, crushing Barbara's dream of a quiet life as somebody's wife. Wanting to get away from Talbot's lair, she skittles to Montreal and begins performing under a new name. While in Canada, she befriends hotel maid Leia Bennett whom she later learns is about to become a "mail order bride" - and has used Stanwyck's picture to net her fiancée! When Stanwyck sees some of Talbot's associates she knows it's only a matter of time before he comes up to Canada to get her so she offers Bennett $100 in exchange for letting her take her place as the wife-to-be ("Wow, a $100" Leia exclaims, "I can get a city husband for that!") Stanwyck then travels to North Dakota to meet "her" groom, poor farmer George Brent. They are married but the wedding night proves to be a disaster with Barbara brushing off George's crude attempt at love making. Infuriated, Brent refuses to have anything to do with after this on a personal level, Stanwyck simply becomes a wife on all levels except romantically.
This little film moves quickly and is entertaining but incredibility is all over the film. One little forgotten tidbit is that while Leia Bennett passed off Stanwyck's photo as her own she apparently used her own name but Barbara uses her real name of Joan while in North Dakota! And just why Stanwyck would so harshly reject Brent after no doubt having been pawed by scores of men far more rougher and less attractive? It makes about as much sense as Brent's willful refusal to forgive her for this one night of rejection (wouldn't many a man in this era have found a new bride less than at ease their first night together?) when it's clear she soon wants to make amends. There's also the little fact that Stanwyck is portrayed as a straight shooter, early in the film she insists to Albright she would have told him about Talbot - yet she doesn't give Brent a clue about the relationship or her past until Talbot shows up unannounced sometime into their marriage!
Barbara Stanwyck fully earns her reputation as an outstanding actress, she always seems sincere and real even in this silly little story. She's also stunningly beautiful in scenes where she is presented "naturally" without city artifice and heavy makeup. The big surprise for me was George Brent's excellent performance. Not known for being one of the more expressive of actors, Brent seems perfectly cast as the inexpressive, reserved farmer and was seldom more attractive (although being cast as about the only non-coarse hick caricature among the North Dakotans perhaps helps). He is terrific here and I can't remember him giving a better film performance. Lyle Talbot is also very good looking and so good-natured one has to wonder just why Stanwyck keeps running away from him unless she really DOES want to be just a typical housewife. Most of the supporting roles are fairly small and in bits one can see silent favorites Snub Pollard (as one of the locals) and Mae Busch (as an earthy blonde on the train with Stanwyck also in route to her mail-order man).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Barbara Stanwyck always made her portrayals gritty and believable even
when working with mediocre material - and believe me some of her films
were not out of the top drawer!!!
In this film she plays a sexy (what else) singer in a "naughty night club" (her words). "I've heard all the questions and I know all the answers". She is giving it up at a chance of happiness with a society boy (Hardie Albright) - but he has heard she has been playing house with bootlegger Eddie Fields (Lyle Talbot) and wants out. She starts again, under an assumed name in Montreal, but is found, so she convinces her maid (with the help of $100) to let her go to Dakota as the mail order bride, in place of her maid (Leila Bennett). The maid has used Joan's photo instead of her own!!!
Joan arrives in Ellis Crossing and meets Farmer Jim Gilson (I have never seen George Brent as a farmer before - I like him better as a city slicker). As another reviewer remarked, the most depressing wedding ever!!!What with Jim's sniffle, beating down the jeweller to $3.50 for the wedding band that is too big for Joan anyway and a simple minded wedding witness who is more interested in a dog fight out in the garden. The farm is not much better - let's just say it needs a woman's touch. There is a shivaree - where all the farming families come by to celebrate the wedding - Jim is not impressed. He is still smarting from Joan's slap, when she objected to his "cave man tactics" and she spends the rest of the film trying to make it up to him.
The bank then forecloses on the farm, which is mortgaged to the hilt, but even though he wants to send her back to Montreal Joan has decided that her future is with Jim. When she comes back after helping with a new born baby (Anne Shirley has an uncredited part as a frightened child) she is surprised to see Eddie at the house - he has never stopped looking for her. After the usual misunderstandings, including a realistic fight at the saloon, Joan secures a loan from Eddie (who is really a very nice guy) for the amount owed on the farm. She organises the bank to forward it to Jim (who never finds out who it is really from) and together they set about to sow the wheat. Of course there are villains - Bull McDowall (David Landau) and Spike (Murray Kinnell) have been lusting after Joan from the start but when they realise she is standing by her man they decide to burn their crops.
Not a lot happens in this movie and when it does - the big fight and then the fire in the fields, the film is over so fast. Barbara Stanwyck is, as usual excellent as the night club singer out of her element among the wheat fields in Dakota. Lyle Talbot is good as a "nice guy" boot- legger. George Brent is okay as the shy farmer but he does look better in a dinner suit. He had already made "So Big", again with Stanwyck, which also had a country setting but the studio must have realised that he was more in his element in the big city. The weird thing was at the beginning of the credits when pictures of the actors are shown with their names underneath - George Brent's picture is shown of him in evening clothes - something he didn't wear in the film.
The appeal of this somewhat run-of-the-mill film is Barbara Stanwyck in
an early display of her mega-watt star power and her ability to turn
mediocre material into something special.
Her character doesn't make much sense: a nightclub singer from the city who wants to get away from the bootlegger boyfriend hounding her and so agrees to an arranged marriage with a farmer up in the wilds of North Dakota! The bootlegger (played by Lyle Talbot) isn't threatening or abusive, so one wonders why Stanwyck needs to go to such great lengths to avoid him -- keep wondering, because the movie never explains it. But if you can swallow that, then you can easily swallow the fact that this urban good-time gal seems to know all about how to run a farm.
Which brings me back to Stanwyck. The movie's premise isn't remotely plausible, but Stanwyck somehow makes it so through the confidence of her performance. I really think she could make anything worth sitting through just for the pleasure of watching her.
The film does provide an interesting look at what farm life in the early days of the 1930s was like, a lifestyle I've only seen recreated in more modern-day movies.
The Purchase Price (1931)
There are two great actors here--Barbara Stanwyck of course, a great young star in the young talkie era, and George Brent is excellent in his steady, manly way, a good counterpoint to Stanwyck's lively edge. Then there is a clever twist of a plot, where one woman switches places with another, kind of (I'll let you find out how), and so the movie is a funny dramatic farce. It's quite funny in small ways all long, little excesses (the woman in their fancy coats pigging out in the train is a treasure).
Too bad the plot is so thin it couldn't be rescued.
What starts in New York and makes a pitstop in Montreal eventually ends up in North Dakota. (Maybe this is where Stanwyck got the idea that she liked doing westerns!) You might get tired of the hick clichés after awhile, but Stanwyck, of course, is no hick, and she more than anyone keeps it going through all the quacks and country idiosyncratic.
How then does a sophisticated and somewhat wayward city girl, a singer and philanderer, get along on a wheat farm in the hinterlands? You might only guess too easily.
Director William Wellman has to struggle a bit to make this one work, and he doesn't seem to have a feel for this kind of comedy (though he would later pull off "Nothing Sacred"). For one thing he leads Brent astray into an exaggerated type that doesn't suit him. The situation is practically a pre-screwball comedy with an unlikely couple at odds from the start, and some sexual tension turned to madcap comedy. It just isn't madcap enough--the weird location is meant to supply some of the absurdity. And the so-called tensions between Brent and his rivals (there are lots of them for the attractive Stanwyck, is seems) don't add up to much.
This one isn't much worth the trouble with so many fabulous Stanwyck dramas from this same period to go to first.
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