Friday, January 11, 2013

Paid (1930): Joan Goes to Jail

One of the first names that comes to mind when thinking of classic Hollywood is Joan Crawford.  Her amazing career spanned six decades and the longer she made films, the more iconic she became.  As an icon, she sometimes morphed into a caricature of her own screen image.  The eyes bulging under uber heavy, arched brows and lips painted deep crimson, twisted into a melodramatic snarl.  But long before she was Mildred Pierce, Harriet Craig or even Crystal Allen, displaying her learned screen affectations and perfect diction, she was a burgeoning MGM starlet, a movie queen in training.  Her pre-code shop girl was a box office bonanza.  In 1930, after years of being everyone's favorite flapper, Joan made the film Paid, her first real dramatic attempt and it was both a personal and professional success, ranking her in the top tier at Metro.

In Paid, Crawford plays Mary Turner, a young shop clerk who is falsely accused of theft by her department store boss.  As she is literally dragged off to prison, she dramatically declares vengeance against her heartless oppressor.  While in the pokey, she studies law books and meets up with a tough talkin' toots named Agnes Lynch (Marie Prevost).  Upon her release she joins up with "Aggie", who introduces her to Joe Garson (Robert Armstrong), a longtime crook with a smart mouth.  With these two seedy characters, Mary uses what she learned in jail and plans a scam called the "heart balm" racket, where unsuspecting older men are sued for breach of promise, a legal form of blackmail.  The bitter lass carries her revenge even further and closer to home by marrying the son of her former boss, who was responsible for her imprisonment.

Directed by Sam Wood, who had joined MGM just a few years earlier, the movie was based on the play Within the Law by Bayard Veiller.  It was originally slated to star Norma Shearer, the queen of the Metro lot, but when she became pregnant, the role was open.  Crawford pleaded with her bosses to give her the part and Irving Thalberg (Shearer's husband and second in command at the studio) gave her the chance she needed to put her "Dancing Daughter" days behind her.

Paid was a hit and to show his gratitude, head honcho Louis B. Mayer gave Joan a financial boost.  She received a $10,000 bonus with a note that read:  "In appreciation of the co-operation and excellent services rendered by you, we take great pleasure in handing you your check made payable to your order in the amount of $10,000...this does not affect the terms of your contract dated November 2, 1928."  Not bad for a shopgirl.

The film also marked the debut of Douglass Montgomery, billed here as Kent Douglass, who played Bob, the innocent who Mary Turner weds to get her ultimate revenge.  It's fun to watch Crawford here, honing her craft and giving a good performance before she would ultimately become JOAN CRAWFORD.  She and co-star Marie Prevost would become friends during the filming of Paid and remain so until Prevost's untimely death in 1937 of acute alcoholism.  Among a collection of empty liquor bottles detectives found a promisory note of $110 to Crawford and it was reported that it was Joan who paid for the funeral.


  1. One of my favorite Crawford performances. Thanks Rupert for your insightful review that hopefully will lead others to discover this. Available on home video from the Warner Archive Collection.

  2. Thank you very much Eiluv2Write! It's appreciated.

    Tom, knowing you're a Crawford fan, I thought of you while I wrote this. Glad you approve.

  3. OH...Douglass Montgomery was a good Laurie in LITTLE WOMEN. So sad that he died rather young of spinal cancer. I had not heard of this film (mainly because I am not a big fan of Joan's), but this one sounds intriguing.

    Excellent job, as always, Sweetpea ;)


  4. In the end, it didn't cost Shearer a loss for Joan to get "Paid." After the birth of Irving Jr., there was another Ursula Parrott ("The Divorcee") story waiting for Norma, and titled "Strangers May Kiss." It was as daring a pre-Code statement as "Paid," brought Shearer a warm welcome back at the box office in April 1931, and essentially tied her with Joan's own success.
    As Mick LaSalle makes clear in "Complicated Women," despite the competition between the two actresses, neither was nearly the threat to one another as Joseph L. Breen's gaining absolute power of Hollywood's censorship office in mid-1934. Overnight, every 'good' woman character had to be a virginal one again, until a trip to the altar, and the bold, envelope-pushing roles craved by both Shearer and Crawford were no longer allowed a pass. But in that window of time after the talkies got a foothold and before Breen's iron fist, Joan and Norma both got a handful of those pre-Code that –“Paid” included- are increasingly appreciated these days.



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