SPOTLIGHT: Brassy Pre-Code Blondell (III)

Welcome to a new Film Friday and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of Joan Blondell (1906-1979), an iconic Warner dame known for her snappy speech and straight-shooting style. We’ve covered Illicit (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Night Nurse (1931), but haven’t even yet scratched the surface of her miraculous Pre-Code career. We’re making up for lost time, and so far we’ve featured Blonde Crazy (1931), and Union Depot (1932). Today…


The Greeks Had A Word For Them [a.k.a. Three Broadway Girls] (1932)


Three women take sugar daddies in hopes of marrying millionaires. Starring Joan Blondell, Ina Claire, Madge Evans, Lowell Sherman, David Manners, and Phillips Smalley. Play by Zoe Akins. Adaptation by Sidney Howard. Directed by Lowell Sherman.


“Ex-showgirls and roommates Polaire and Schatze are reunited with their sometime friend and former co-worker, Jean, when she returns from France. Jean, a hard-boiled gold digger, asks the honest Polaire and loyal Schatze to introduce her to a new man, and Polaire calls her boyfriend, Dey, for help. The girls meet Dey and his friend, pianist Boris Feldman, at a speakeasy, where Boris bets Jean that if his piano playing does not induce her to love him, he will give her $5,000. Later, at Boris’ apartment, Jean pretends to sleep through Boris’ concert. Polaire then plays, and Boris, impressed with her talent, offers to be her teacher. He implies that she will have to be his lover as well as his student, however, and Polaire becomes upset when Dey does not protest. Dey mistakenly assumes that an exhibition of jealousy would be unwelcome, and his inaction results in Polaire’s acceptance of Boris’ proposition.


“After Polaire leaves to collect her things, Schatze and the heartbroken Dey also leave, but Jean stays to seduce Boris. Jean’s calculated exhibitionism is successful, and Boris does not answer the door when Polaire returns. After she leaves, Polaire is hurt in an automobile accident and is hospitalized. Sometime later, Jean tires of Boris and breaks up with him, then pursues Dey until Schatze tells him that Polaire has been in the hospital since their parting and they reconcile. Later, Jean makes an unwelcome appearance at Polaire and Schatze’s apartment while Polaire is waiting to meet Dey’s father Justin for the first time. When Dey arrives and Jean learns that Polaire is to meet Justin at the Emery house, she slips a pearl necklace into Polaire’s pocket. Polaire’s interview with Justin is going splendidly until Jean arrives and intimates that Polaire stole the necklace.

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“Indignant that Dey believes Jean, Polaire storms out, while Jean stays to flirt with Justin. Later, on the day of Jean and Justin’s wedding, Schatze and Polaire arrive to retrieve a bracelet that Polaire loaned Jean. Jean returns the jewelry and miserably contemplates her future of wedded boredom as Schatze and Polaire brag about the fun they will have when they sail for France. The trio are soon drunk, and Jean decides that she cannot exchange her freedom for Justin’s fortune. She sneaks out with Schatze, but Polaire is caught by Dey. Dey apologizes to Polaire for misjudging her, but Polaire leaves anyway. The determined Dey follows her onto the ocean liner, where Polaire consents to marry him when he states that he is certain of her virtue. The couple then cuddles happily as Jean flirts with Schatze’s male traveling companion.” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM.)


In between these two contrasts in Blondell, whose character practically plays mediator amongst the trio. Good-hearted and loyal, her Schatze doesn’t forsake the easy snark that we not only want to see from all three characters, but all three actors. So in many ways, Blondell gives the most truthful performance, as everything she does is tossed off with an effortlessness that escapes the other women, who (although not overplaying) are forced to meet the demands of the narrative, which, though crafted mostly by the renowned Akins (a playwright whose works I’ve often tried to seek out and read), does not flow as smoothly or smartly as hoped. [See: the pearl necklace bit.] Yet, these three women are unique, and the premise is fun. And if you know what you’re getting, The Greeks Had A For Them is more likely to delight that disappoint. Recommended to Pre-Code fans, and those interested in Ina Claire.