'The Twelve-Pound Look' was originally a play by James M. Barrie, who is now best known for writing 'Peter Pan'. Throughout his life and career, Barrie exhibited some strange attitudes towards women. (Among other things, he had a penchant for writing plays in which the main role is a boy played by an adult woman: not only 'Peter Pan' but also 'The Boy David'.) 'The Twelve-Pound Look' is interesting because it advocates feminism and women's financial independence, at a time when most 'feminist' plays and stories were more interested in lampooning the women' suffrage movement. Barrie wrote 'The Twelve-Pound Look' in 1892, when Englishwomen were still getting arrested (and ridiculed) for seeking the right to vote. This film version was released in 1920, shortly after women in Britain received the vote at long last.
'The Twelve-Pound Look' is also interesting for another reason, because it depicts the effect of the typewriter upon society, and how this machine helped women gain financial independence. When originally invented, the 'typewriting machine' was intended for men only. The word 'typewriter' referred to the machine's operator, not the mechanism itself, and all 'typewriters' were men ... because the machines were only used in office situations, and respectable women did not work in offices! Eventually someone discovered that long narrow female digits were better suited to a typing keyboard than stubby male fingers, and gradually women were employed as typists ... in many cases, getting their first chance to earn wages and participate in a workplace. A goodish Betty Grable musical ('The Shocking Miss Pilgrim') deals with this social trend.
'The Twelve-Pound Look' is the tale of Kate (played by the attractive Jessie Winter), an orphaned young woman. To support her younger siblings, she marries Harry Sims, a self-made businessman who is wealthy but has no other redeeming features. (As played by the stolid Milton Rosmer, I can well believe it.) But Sims is tight-fisted with his wealth, and Kate can barely save any money for herself after helping to feed and educate her siblings.
Eventually, her marriage becomes so unbearable that Kate manages to scrape together £12 to buy a typewriter, so that she can leave her husband and earn a living as a typist. Years pass. Harry Sims divorces Kate, but she earns a respectable living and learns self-reliance.
Meanwhile, Harry Sims continues to prosper. He has acquired a second wife (Ann Elliott) who is much meeker than Kate and unlikely to assert herself. Harry is pipped for a knighthood. When his name appears in the Honours List, the Sims home is flooded with congratulatory letters. In order to reply to these, he engages a typist. Naturally, the person who shows up is ... Kate! The showdown between the independent Kate and her domineering ex-husband is quite impressive ... and when the dust settles, Harry Sims's second wife (about to become Lady Sims) is considering the idea that she too should purchase a typewriter!
'The Twelve-Pound Look' is dated, and most of the performances (and direction) here are stiff and badly-paced. But the social appeal of this story is considerable.
The introductory titles of this film give J.M. Barrie credit for the original play, but do not list a screenwriter. For some reason, IMDb lists Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the scriptwriter. I don't believe that this is correct, but it's possible. Barrie and Doyle were good friends who very occasionally collaborated. Both of them received some public ridicule for their statements professing their belief in fairies and other supernatural beings. I'll rate this film version 5 points out of 10.
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