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William A. Wellman
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Roy Del Ruth
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[Regarding Burt, who has run out on his pregnant lover, but is the apple of his mother's eye]
Oh, well - maternal pride. I bet even a baby skunk smells like a rosebud to its mother.
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The story opens with Letty (Madge Evans) sending her mother back to their hometown of Paducah after her father has died. In a front porch step conversation with her landlady's daughter (Una Merkel as Carol), we learn that Letty's "rich dad" died with nothing but debts and after paying them all off there was only 600 dollars, which Letty credited to her mother. A recent beauty school graduate, Letty now has to earn a living given that she has no money. This one little conversation tells you all you need to know about our main characters. Letty - hopeful despite her family's bad luck, courageous, full of class. Carol - protective of her friend, sassy, wise in the ways of the world and unapologetically a mercenary when it comes to men, and Carol's brother, Bill, not bad looking at all, but as grating on the nerves as Pee Wee Herman and just as appealing, and worse, he's in love with Letty -it s not mutual - and he's the moralizing kind. We also understand from this conversation that Madame Sonia's Salon is not for girls of the faint of heart - girls like Letty who were raised "like a Persian Kitten". Letty says she can take it, so Carol promises to get her a job there.
During the next prolonged scene, at Madame Sonia's exclusive salon, we get the lay of the land there - girls glad to be employed in the depression, but with wealthy bored beefy customers, these girls want a piece of the high life for themselves. If the salon's customers can afford to lie around half the day gossiping with mud on their faces, why can't they? During the first half of the film, whenever any of the beauticians are photographed together, they are usually in profile, oddly smiling and at an odd angle, like those "happy workers unite" posters in Old Soviet Russia. Later, as things do not work out quite so well, the photography becomes more individualistic and conventional as the focus is on what is, not what might have been.
Hedda Hopper is inspired as Madame Sonia who will do anything to protect her precious son, played by Philips Holmes. She considers the girls she employs so far beneath her she doesn't see the obvious relationship forming between her son and one of the beauticians. Alice Brady is hilarious as Mrs. Henrietta Sherwood, a rather housebound woman who has the beauticians come to her house, substitutes her dog for a child, and is obsessed with numerology. Her executive husband (Otto Kruger as Mr. Sherwood) falls for Letty, and we can sympathize with him, since he comes across as a guy who is just lonely for the wife he married but who transformed into this silly creature after he became wealthy and to whom he is now bound purely out of obligation and habit. He actually has a conversation with his wife talking about the "wife he remembers" when they were struggling. She shrugs it off and goes on chattering about her numerologist. Even Carol has a back-story that makes you realize that behind that adding machine exterior there beats a heart that was once badly broken and made her the mercenary she is today.
This film has a little bit of everything for the precode fan, and it's worth watching more than once to get all of the one liners and undercurrents going on. Highly recommended.
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