Saturday, April 05, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Shopworn (1932)

SHOPWORN is an interesting little Barbara Stanwyck pre-Code film. Stanwyck plays Kitty, a poor girl who falls in love with a young medical student, David (Regis Toomey). David's mother (Clara Blandick of THE WIZARD OF OZ) will stop at nothing to separate her son and Kitty, including conspiring to have Kitty locked up in a reformatory.

When Kitty is released she finds a job as a chorus girl and after about one minute of film passes, she becomes a famous actress. Then David reenters her life -- along with his mother.

Stanwyck does a good job as the tender-hearted girl toughened by life. An early scene where she is trying to improve herself by memorizing the dictionary is particularly touching. (One of the words she mentions would never have made it into a movie after the dawn of the Production Code.) Toomey is right for the part as the mild-mannered doctor, though he's not especially interesting; for most of his career, Toomey would play supporting roles, such as the Monsignor in COME TO THE STABLE.

I've noticed that some of the pre-Code films with strong women's roles correspondingly seem to have fairly weak roles for men, played by actors like Toomey, David Manners, and Norman Foster. This wasn't always the case, however, as actors like James Cagney, George Brent, Warren William, and Ricardo Cortez often had strong male roles.

The supporting cast includes Zasu Pitts, who is good for a few chuckles as Stanwyck's kindly, vague aunt, and Lucien Littlefield as her nasty uncle. The ubiquitous Bess Flowers, mentioned in a recent post on ADVENTURE IN MANHATTAN, pops up here as a dinner party guest.

The film was directed by Nicholas Grinde. Grinde directed PUBLIC ENEMY'S WIFE (1936), reviewed here last fall.

The running time of the print shown on TCM is 66 minutes; apparently this is a version which was unsuccessfully edited from the original 72 minutes, in an attempt to conform to the Production Code for a rerelease which never occurred.

2012 Update: SHOPWORN is now available on DVD in the Columbia Pictures Pre-Code Collection from the TCM Vault Collection.


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