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William A. Seiter
I saw 'Broadway Bad' in May of this year, at the Cinevent festival in Columbus, Ohio. If I hadn't been attending the festival anyway, I would never have bothered to see this movie, as it stars an actress whom I loathe: Joan Blondell. Always cheap, vulgar, squawk-voiced and unattractive, Blondell is in her usual mode here. She manages to look a bit different this time round, but only because this movie was made at Fox (Blondell's usual studio was Warners) ... so the lighting, costumes, hairstyles and general ambiance are a change of pace for her. The storyline - concerned with morals, reputations and sexual hypocrisy - is something more typical of Warners than of Fox.
Blondell plays a chorus girl named Tony. (Is that short for Anthony?) In the 1930s, chorus girls were generally perceived to be of low virtue (and some of them certainly did fit that description), but we're given to understand that Tony is a good girl for all her brassy behaviour. She gets a proposition from playboy Craig, who is wealthy in his own right, but she turns him down to marry Bob, who's even wealthier but only because he's the scion of a prominent family.
Apparently, Tony is genuinely in love with Bob (rather than gold-digging his folks' money), yet she remains friendly with Craig. When Bob catches Tony with Craig once too often, he divorces her. In order to obtain the divorce, Bob's father's lawyers ruin Tony's reputation.
As she's now been branded as a bad girl, Tony decides to cash in on it. She straight away becomes a Broadway star by trading in on the public perception that she's a slut. (Oh, so that's how it works!)
I forgot to tell you about the baby ... I mean, the scriptwriters forgot to tell you about the baby. All through this argle-bargle, Tony has secretly had a baby. Apparently she was with some other man before Craig and Bob. We never do find out who this man was, nor the precise nature of Tony's relationship with him - were they married? is he dead? - nor anything that would enable us to decide how much of our sympathy Tony deserves.
Bob's rich parents find out about the baby, and they assume that Bob is the father. They sue Tony to acquire custody of the child. The courtroom scenes degenerate into soap opera. Expect some big revelations that you really won't care about.
Ginger Rogers is quite good as Tony's friend, a chorus girl named Flip Daily. (She must be an acrobat.) I would rather have seen this movie with Ginger Rogers in the lead, as she was vastly more talented than Blondell and certainly easier on the eyes and the eardrums than Blondell ever was. I'll rate 'Broadway Bad' 4 out of 10, mostly for its proficient photography and efficient direction by the underrated Sidney Lanfield. There are some good supporting performances. Rogers is excellent, as is Ricardo Cortez as the semi-caddish Craig. (Over the course of his career, Cortez made an interesting and graceful transition from shiekish leading man to cynical hero to amoral cad to outright villain: at this point, he was in his early cad phase.) Joan Blondell, as usual, stinks. The lighting on the Fox sound stages doesn't conceal Blondell's facial moles as well as the lighting at Warners did.
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