Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review: The Girl from Missouri

Released on the cusp of the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code, the censorship system set up in 1934, The Girl from Missouri started out with the title Eadie Was a Lady, then changed to Born to Be Kissed, then once again to 100% Pure, all deemed too suggestive for a Jean Harlow film which focused on sex or at least potential sex. Potential because Harlow plays a gold digging chorus girl looking for a rich husband while keeping her chastity in tact, a hot topic for MGM with a brand new board of censors breathing down its neck. But then most any early Harlow film would prove a challenge for the censors.

Jean plays Eadie Chapman, a platinum cutie who leaves her home town of hard knocks and heads to New York City, with her wisecracking girlfriend Kitty (Patsy Kelly) in tow. Once there, they get jobs as dancers in a chorus. While Kitty is on the make for any good-looking man that crosses her path, Eadie is determined to find a husband of the wealthiest order and she makes it crystal clear that its hand off in the romance department until the ring is on her finger and the license filed at city hall. While working as one of the entertainers at a party thrown by down on his luck businessman Lewis Stone, Eadie privately meets with the host, unaware that he is now broke, in hopes of attracting him as a potential suitor cum husband. Not realizing he is about to commit suicide, she accepts a pair of star ruby cuff links from the depressed gent. When she leaves his private office, she hears the fatal shot and runs back in as the gun falls from his hand (the irony of the scene can't be lost considering her husband Paul Bern had committed a similar suicide two years earlier). As the authorities arrive and question her presence in the dead man's office, she worries about the jeweled cuff links, which she has pinned in her stockings. To her rescue comes wealthy tycoon, T.R. Page (Lionel Barrymore, with more boot black on his eyebrows and moustache than on his shoes). Page retrieves the links before Eadie is searched. From that point on the middle aged T.R. is Eadie's marital target. She uses the money he lends her for bills, to follow him (along with Kitty) to Florida. There she inadvertently meets his young and handsome son, Tom (Franchot Tone), who falls head over heels for her, much to his father's chagrin.

Because of the new censorship restrictions, Harlow's character was softened from her previous roles. Before the Codes enforcement she was the whore with the heart of gold, ala Hold Your Man and Red Dust, both with Clark Gable in 1932, or the man eating vamp of Red Headed Woman, which had a similar storyline to The Girl from Missouri, but with Harlow's character much more lax in her morals. The newer, softer Jean Harlow, though still a red hot bombshell, had a more endearing, every girl quality, that made her more popular than ever. Never claiming to be a great actress, Harlow does much better in the light-hearted and comic scenes than in those that require more dramatic depth from her. She is particularly animated in her jail scene, voice rising and limbs flailing, its almost camp.

The stock MGM cast offers ample support to its blonde star. Franchot Tone (who would become Mr. Joan Crawford the following year), an actor who never made it to true star status, is fine as Harlow's young amour. Lionel Barrymore, as Tone's wealthy father, has fun going from playfully needling Harlow's Eadie to vengefully trying to destroy her in order to get her out of his sons life. Patsy Kelly is a real comic gem in the film. She wisecracks aplenty while working her way through an assortment of handsome lifeguards and doormen.

Though a problem for MGM in trying to keep the censors satisfied, The Girl From Missouri (which is where the films' star was actually from) ended up a more than adequate Harlow vehicle. Not as raw as her earlier films, nor as polished as her latter ones, it played as an excellent transition film between the two. It was one of many films she left as her legacy when she died tragically three years later at the age of 26.


  1. I love this film.
    It struck me that you used the word "cusp" in your review, because I was just thinking myself that this film is on the cusp between pre-Code melodramas and screwball comedies, leaning more toward the screwball side. Patsy Kelly provides much of the comic relief, but Jean is no slouch herself! Even Lionel Barrymore seems to enjoy being made a fool of.
    -Rosie Sayer

  2. I haven't seen this film and I always wanted to!! I have seen all the other Harlow movies you mentioned and most of the better known ones. I have been looking on TCM for a while for this one to record and I don't even know if they show it but now you are making me want it even more with your wonderful review Rupert. Shame on you!! lol

  3. This is a fine film and I love Harlow and her films especially Dinner at Eight. She was quite the dame and this movie crackles along. Franchot Tone was a very fine actor and a bit of a lad off screen too and was great in the 30-40s period. Well worth is any Harlow movie...

  4. I have never seen this film - is it EVER aired on Turner? I would love to see it. I'm a big Harlow fan and would love to be able to say I'd seen ALL her films.

    Terrific essay - as always!

  5. The movie is something of a hybrid-not wanting to abandon the pre Code Jean but softening the hard edge as Rupert points out. I thought at my first viewing the studio was insensitive to cash in on the Bern tragedy, and as if once was not more than enough MGM did it again in "Reckless" the following year.Jean's star quality shines through some odd acommodations to the newly enforced Code. Great review Rupert!



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