Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! This month’s Pre-Code is another notable non-essential, following February’s look at The Guardsman (1931). These films, though not possessing some of the qualities that could make them worthy of being called seminal representations of the era, are nevertheless entertaining and worthy of our attention. Up this month is…
Girl Missing (1933)
Two sassy gold-diggers stranded in Palm Beach become involved in the case of a fellow chorine who goes missing on her wedding night. Starring Glenda Farrell, Mary Brian, Ben Lyon, Lyle Talbot, Guy Kibbee, Harold Huber, Edward Ellis, Peggy Shannon, Helen Ware, Henry Gottschalk, and George Pat Collins. Original story and adaptation by Carl Erickson & Don Mullaly. Dialogue by Ben Markson. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.
“After June Dale (Brian) refuses to let wealthy Kenneth Van Dusen (Kibbee) make love to her, he leaves her and her friend Kay Curtis (Farrell) to pay their own Palm Beach hotel bill. Later, when June and Kay see an engagement announcement of fellow showgirl Daisy Bradford (Shannon) to millionaire Henry Gibson (Lyon), they decide to ask her for the money to leave town, but she pretends not to know them. Kay then tries to win their train fare by gambling, but loses everything on a double or nothing throw. Later, the women run into Daisy’s former boyfriend, Raymond Fox (Talbot), who offers them train fare and tries to rush them out of town. Because June is flirting with Henry in the hotel elevator, however, the women miss their train and have to stay in town for the night. The next morning, Henry marries Daisy and they leave on their honeymoon. At the hotel, Daisy complains of a headache and lies down to rest. Henry leaves their room to smoke and when he returns, Daisy is missing and racketeer Jim Hendricks (Huber) is found murdered in the garden. Henry offers a large reward for info and Kay, suspicious of Raymond’s presence, decides to find Daisy and claim the reward.
“The women tell Henry that Daisy is not really a socialite and reveal their suspicions about Raymond. Henry does not believe them, until having seen Raymond’s chauffeur fooling around with Henry’s car. They stop him just before the wheel falls off. Kay suggests that they wreck the car to make it appear that the chauffeur’s sabotage was successful and lure the responsible people into the open. Meanwhile, the police have forced the actors playing Daisy’s parents to confess that [they were] to arrange a scandal so Hendricks could blackmail Henry. Despite Henry’s protests, Kay tells the papers that he died in the car accident, hoping that Daisy will return when she hears the news. Daisy does return, claiming that Henry drugged her and had her kidnapped, and when Hendricks tried to stop it, Henry murdered him. Kay believes that Hendricks discovered that Daisy was going to elope with Raymond and when he tried to stop her, Raymond killed him and arranged for Henry’s murder. To prove her point, she grabs a gun and forces Daisy to call Raymond, who confesses to the murder. Henry immediately leaves for Reno, planning to marry June after his divorce.” (This summary is brought to you by TCM.)
Well, this picture won’t earn any accolades for its narrative accomplishments — it’s a pretty straightforward mystery with little doubt as to its heroes and villains (or their motives for such) — and it doesn’t present anything fresh or original in terms of the Pre-Code perspective. But goodness, if it isn’t an amiable and easy “B” programmer that encapsulates the era so delightfully! That is, this 69-minute film isn’t particularly special or even very notable, but it exists as a pure, unadulterated look at the storytelling tropes, archetypal characters, and aesthetic elements inherent throughout the Pre-Code genre. From the snappy dialogue underscored by romantic, but not cloying, musical motifs, to the endless parade of gold diggers, millionaires, crooks, and cops, all of whom inhabit the story, Girl Missing is so perfectly of its time (and the Warner Brothers factory, especially) that if an extraterrestrial life force were ever to inquire about this period in our world’s cultural history, this picture could very well serve as a “time capsule.” The fact that, by all cinematic accounts, the film — especially when compared to the Essentials we’ve highlighted here — is mediocre, only enhances its representational charm.
After all, the Pre-Code era is situated upon honesty, so why should a terrific picture symbolize the genre when an average one, by definition, displays a more accurate and overarching sense of these films’ qualitative identity? This is the crux of Girl Missing‘s specific enjoyment, for — at the risk of a backhanded compliment — I must reinforce that this isn’t a brilliant film or one even close to becoming one of my Essentials; rather, it’s well-made and easily watchable — which, frankly, makes it deserving of mention. (In fact, Maltin generously gives it three stars — half a star more than the visually reminiscent Havana Widows, which also co-starred Glenda Farrell and was covered back here in 2015; I must admit to enjoying that film a trifle more.) But when you stuff the proceedings with performers like Farrell, a charming wisecracker in the Blondell vein (but with a unique sense of her own toughness — less tangible vulnerability) and Guy Kibbee, in a small part as another “dirty old man” with moola that he uses to buy, ahem, a lady’s company — while allowing the stars to banter about delicious lines like, “It says, ‘For the g.d. sisters.’ I don’t know if he means gold diggers or another well-known word” — mediocrity seems more than fine; it seems fun.
I think this is why the Pre-Code era has its own appeal: even this period’s mediocrity is a cut above others’, for there’s something electric about that aforementioned honesty, in which an overwhelming ambition to present contemporary life (and the shifting cultural morality) as it was occurring and being perceived — with nary more glances toward fantasy than realism — hits our 21st century achingly self-aware sensibilities just right; yes, people in this era had sex in exchange for money, killed their enemies, and spoke, or at least, knew dirty words. And they wanted us all to know it. Girl Missing shows us all of this — and with friendly, dynamic people like Glenda Farrell, and even Mary Brian, who’s saddled with the requisite love subplot (representing the Depression’s unbrekable link to optimism), doing most of the walking and talking, this ordinary uninspired story becomes a smile-inducing uncomplicated way to spend an hour-and-change. An ideal Pre-Code representational comedy for these lighthearted summer months; what’s not to enjoy?
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in on Tuesday for more Dream On!