Friday, June 07, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Three Wise Girls (1932)

THREE WISE GIRLS is an entertaining pre-Code melodrama starring Jean Harlow, released shortly before she moved to MGM and attained superstar status.

Harlow plays Cassie, a poor, virtuous smalltown girl who earns $15 a week working at a soda fountain. Cassie sees the expensive things her old friend Gladys (Mae Clarke) sends to her mother from New York, where Gladys is supposedly making $200 a week as a model, and decides to follow Gladys to make it big in New York.

Cassie arrives in New York and discovers Gladys actually makes $60 a week, with the rest of her lavish lifestyle supported by Arthur Phelps (Jameson Thomas), a married man.

Cassie finds New York a rough place, losing several jobs due to harassment, and she also copes with being wooed by wealthy Jerry (Walter Byron), trying to figure out if he's on the level or a sleazy type like Arthur and all the other men she's met.

It's an entertaining, fast-paced story which is all neatly wrapped up in roughly 72 minutes. (Recorded running times vary by source, but I think the time on the DVD box was correct.) Harlow is appealing in a fairly straightforward performance as the girl trying to navigate life in the big, bad city with her virtue intact.

This Columbia film was released just months after Harlow starred in Frank Capra's PLATINUM BLONDE (1931). Later in 1932 Harlow would move to MGM. Harlow is solid in THREE WISE GIRLS, though she's saddled with unfortunate Betty Boop lipstick; however, there is little hint here of the remarkably assured, wickedly funny performance she would give in MGM's RED DUST (1932) just months later, which pushed her stardom to new heights.

It's interesting that Harlow's friend is played by Mae Clarke, given that Clarke and Harlow both played James Cagney's girlfriends in THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) for Warner Bros. the year before. Clarke is touching in a sensitive performance as the girl who sees what she wants to see in her boyfriend, though she also readily admits that life as a mistress isn't all that swell.

Harlow's typist roommate is played by Marie Prevost. It's an amusing role which includes a romance with Jerry's chauffeur, played by Andy Devine.

Tragically, both Harlow and Prevost would be gone by mid-1937. In fact, I realized after finishing the movie that by a strange coincidence I'd watched it on the 76th anniversary of Harlow's death, which occurred June 7, 1937.

Mae Clarke, on the other hand, though she transitioned from leads to supporting and bit roles, continued acting for decades. She passed on in 1992.

THREE WISE GIRLS was directed by William Beaudine and filmed by Ted Tetzlaff, billed here as "Teddy." The dialogue was credited to longtime Frank Capra associate Robert Riskin.

This film is available in a lovely print as part of the five-film TCM Vault Columbia Pictures Pre-Code Collection.

It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.


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