“You can make me cheap and common like a million others — but gee, I wish you wouldn’t!”
A chaste chorus girl (Jean Harlow) hoping to marry a millionaire pursues a middle-aged banker (Lionel Barrymore); meanwhile, Barrymore’s playboy son (Franchot Tone) falls for Harlow, but can’t convince her to give up her goal of marriage.
Made just as the Hays Production Code was gaining a serious foothold in Hollywood, The Girl From Missouri shows how clever authors — such as screenwriter Anita Loos — could frame an entire film around sex and sexual mores without offending censors. In this precursor to Loos’ more famous Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the central characters are once again a gold-digging blonde (Harlow) and her best pal, a man-crazy brunette (Patsy Kelly) who cares more about looks than money. More so than in GPB, however, TGFM skewers the duplicity of rags-to-riches men who sneer upon women hoping to make the same social climb; indeed, Barrymore — who utterly refuses to believe Harlow is sincere, no matter what she does or says — is the epitome of such sexist hypocrisy.
Interestingly, Missouri doesn’t rely on the old cinematic trope of mistaken identities to propel its narrative of cross-class romance — while there’s some of this at first (Harlow initially mistakes Barrymore for a waiter), truths are quickly revealed, and barriers arise not so much from misunderstandings as from sheer prejudice. While it’s not quite a classic — and its resolution comes far too quickly — TGFM remains “must see” viewing simply for Loos’ ability to distill the essence of sexual double standards into a fast-moving, enjoyable romantic comedy.
P.S. The Girl From Missouri bears some resemblance as well to 1953’s How to Marry a Millionaire, with Harlow a precursor to Bacall’s no-nonsense “Schatze”, and Kelly a close cousin to Grable’s “Loco”.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Jean Harlow, perfectly cast as Eadie
- Franchot Tone as playboy Tom
- Patsy Kelly as Eadie’s man-loving friend
- Anita Loos’ clever, incisive screenplay
Yes, for its witty screenplay.