Girl From Missouri, The (1934)

“You can make me cheap and common like a million others — but gee, I wish you wouldn’t!”

Girl From Missouri Poster

Synopsis:
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.

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Review:
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
    GFM Harlow
  • Franchot Tone as playboy Tom
    GFM Tone
  • Patsy Kelly as Eadie’s man-loving friend
    GFM Kelly
  • Anita Loos’ clever, incisive screenplay

Must See?
Yes, for its witty screenplay.

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One Response to “Girl From Missouri, The (1934)”

  1. First viewing. A once-must for its place in cinema history, for its screenplay, and for Harlow.

    A hard one to track down, for sure – but possibly the most unsung among Harlow’s work. If it’s not completely successful, it’s never less than entertaining – and the whole thing is worth it for the last ten minutes alone, which (if you ask me) pack a surprising wallop. This time out, Harlow is given a real opportunity to show what she could do when given good material. No, she was no Streep (she never knew how to rise above a mediocre script and make it and her shine) – but Harlow knew how to come up to the plate when what was written allowed her to do so. Watching her in this flick, you just want to be on her character’s side throughout, and you keep hoping things will go her way. You like her.

    Though I’m a big Kelly fan, I’m slightly disappointed in her here – but that’s because she seems slightly miscast. She naturally has the ‘chum’ aspect on the nose, but it’s a little hard sensing her genuine, insatiable interest in and enjoyment of a variety of men. I wish she were a little more on the madcap side, as opposed to just ‘chummy and available’.

    Tone and Barrymore turn in solid work as father and son, as does director Jack Conway. This is a rather lively romp, well worth a viewing.

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