Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 12 min.
Release Date: February 15th, 1927 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Clarence Badger Actors: Clara Bow, Antonio Moreno, William Austin, Priscilla Bonner, Jacqueline Gadsdon, Julia Swayne Gordon, Elinor Glyn
t’ can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.” In essence, it’s the notion of sex appeal – and it wins over all men if you’re a woman and all women if you’re a man. Or so claims writer Elinor Glyn, pulling concepts from her story in Cosmopolitan and even appearing as herself in the film to speak with characters about the attributes that compose that elusive property. She sets out to epitomize her theories with the delightful Clara Bow, who proves beyond any doubt that she’s the leading lady most representational of “it.”
Waltham’s, the world’s largest store, is left in the care of Cyrus T. Waltham (Antonio Moreno) when his father heads to Herrin, Illinois, for the shooting (presumably the 1922 massacre involving coal miners). Carefree pal “Monty” Montgomery (William Austin) wishes Cyrus good luck on his first day in charge. When he reads about “it,” he immediately commends himself for possessing that rare quality, and shakes his head at Cyrus, who couldn’t possibly enjoy that trait. Monty breaks the rule, however, as Glyn suggests that the most desirable people are completely un-self-conscious about their fortuitousness in the matter.
Down on the sales floor, all the female shopgirls drool over the new boss, while Monty exclaims that he’s inspected them all, but not a one exhibits “it.” That is, until he spies Betty Lou Spence (Clara Bow), a young woman pining over Cyrus but failing to grab his attention, even after more than one physical interaction. In fact, Cyrus is entirely oblivious to her existence. She overhears of his engagement at the Ritz that night and plots to be there. She rides home to her unfashionable place at the Gashouse Gables with Monty and agrees to dine with him – but only at the Ritz. Betty’s sickly, unemployed roommate Molly (Priscilla Bonner), with a new baby, has been having problems with the landlady and welfare workers intent on taking the child away. Nevertheless, she gladly helps Betty cut apart her work clothes to craft an evening dress for her big date.
To complicate matters, Cyrus’ longtime friend Adela Van Norman (Jacqueline Gadsdon), just one of a million blonde women in the city, is keen on receiving a proposal. And the waiter discourteously recognizes Betty as attempting to appear of a higher class than she really is. A final twist involves Betty posing as the mother of Molly’s infant to prevent its removal from the home – the news of which makes it back to Cyrus, who then loses all interest in the woman.
The film is consistently lighthearted and comical (nicely supplemented by William P. Perry’s original piano score), despite tackling themes of deceit (disguised as ambition), sabotage (disguised as flirtation), mischievousness, and emotional reprisal. A rollicking day at the beach gives way to misinterpretations (even when Cyrus steals a kiss and Betty gives him a slap for it, it’s just part of a game of feigned decency to toy with his emotions and seduce him), with the one concerning motherhood eventually leading to brief relationship tragedy. Obviously, the times were different, and many of the now sexist themes will be viewed less favorably. But Betty has wits and confidence – inarguably timeless qualities – and knows how to manipulate pawns like Monty to orchestrate reparations.
The pacing is swift, the expressions priceless, and the confrontational, situational comedy uproarious. In a particularly hilarious scene, Betty fixes her makeup joyously as she heads to manager Cyrus’ office to be scolded for insulting a customer. There’s also brilliancy in the editing, highlighted by the action of the finale in the water and with Bow and Moreno embracing in front of the yacht Itola, while covering up just that last three letters of its name. Much of the seafaring conclusion and the laughably uncomfortable role-playing seem inspirational for Preston Sturges’ “The Lady Eve” in 1941, which would put Barbara Stanwyck in the position of masterminding far-fetched methods of winning back her lost lover.
– Mike Massie