Beginning in November 2019, I embarked on the Old Hollywood Best Picture Challenge, where I will endeavor to watch all 270 films that were nominated and/or won for Best Picture at the Academy Awards between the years 1927-1969. For a list of all films and reviews, please see my original post.
- Film & Year: Bad Girl (1931)
- Standing: Nominee for Best Picture 1931/1932
- Type: Drama, Romance, Pre-code
- Other AA Wins: Best Director (Frank Borzage), Best Writing Adaptation (Edwin J. Burke)
- Director: Frank Borzage
- Studio/Producer: Fox Film Corporation
- Cast: Sally Eilers, James Dunn, Minna Gombell
- Production Notes: Based on the novel of the same name by Vina Delmar and the subsequent play by Vina Delmar and Brian Marlowe and adapted for the screen by Edwin J. Burke, Cinematography by Chester Lyons, Costumes by Dolly Tree
- Viewing Order: 19/ 270
Summary & Viewing Experience:
Clothing store models Dorothy “Dot” (Sally Eilers) and Edna (Minna Gombell) complain that they’re sick of guys constantly making passes at them after a long day of fending them off with excuses and icy wisecracks. Later, on the boat to Coney Island, they are stunned that there’s one solitary man who doesn’t appear to be a wolf and make a bet that Dot can’t get him to hit on her. She proceeds to lob the full force of her charms at the man, Eddie (James Dunn), by way of strumming a ukulele, which she just happens to have with her, and singing off key while casting simpering glances at him underneath the brim of one of the most unflattering hats I’ve ever seen come out of the 1930s. She is stunned when he is unimpressed and fesses up to her motives. He, in turn, calls out the narcissism in her assumption that every man she meets would find her attractive…then goes on to backhandedly imply that her dress is sexy. Considering that the outfit looks like someone stretched out a child’s jumper, cut off a piece at the bottom, and then made a necklace out of it to match, I can only assume that the film’s costume designer was bribing the screenwriter quite a large sum to add that line in.
Eddie is a practical, unromantic sort (on the outside), which naïve and exuberant Dot finds intriguing. They spend the rest of the evening together and Eddie, in spite of himself, finds himself falling for her. Eddie has been saving his money for a long time in the hopes of opening up his own radio shop and is warned by his boss that romantic entanglements leading to marriage would most likely hinder his plans. After losing track of time and accidentally standing her up on their date, Eddie is surprised when Dot tracks him down to his room and is prepared to give him hell, but he talks her into staying, and the argument ends in a kiss. They wake up in each other’s arms at 4:00 a.m. with the lights off…though fully clothed and noton the bed (just in case you had any ideas). Dot is reluctant to go home to her abusive brother Jim, who she lives with, so Eddie proposes marriage. Dot returns home to find the irate Jim and worried Edna sitting up waiting for her and tells them the news. Despite having a crush on Edna and knowing that the two are best friends, Jim proceeds to call Dot a tramp in front of the both of them and kicks her out. Edna, a young widowed mother who dispenses wisecracks and sage advice interchangeably, is probably the best character of the bunch and cuts him down with this gem:
“You called her a tramp, didn’tcha? Just because she stayed out ‘til 4:00 o’clock in the morning and you suspect where she was. Well I stayed out ‘til 4:00 in the morning and you knew where I was, so I have a pretty good idea what you think of me. See you in the cemetery!”
Eddie and Dot marry as planned and she soon discovers that she’s pregnant, but a series of miscommunications lead to marital problems. Will Dot and Eddie get their marriage on track?
This was a confounding film, surprising me at various turns here and there. The title of the film is somewhat misleading. The only real “bad” moment the girl of the film (Dot) has is staying too late alone at a man’s apartment with a makeout session (and perhaps more). She is essentially a good girl, though, and is not inclined to lounge in sexy lingerie like the movie poster above suggests.
The film itself felt like something that came out of a major studio’s B picture unit. It wasn’t bad, but it felt like money was just not put into it.
Shallow as it is, I couldn’t get past Sally Eilers’ entire wardrobe as Dot (Minna Gombell’s character Edna fared slightly better in that department), with its babyish frills, unnecessary plastic looking bows, and unflattering hats and necklaces. She either really ticked off someone in wardrobe or they were going for a low budget look, which I appreciate considering a main theme in the film is money woes, but even budget conscious fashion can look stylish. This didn’t. If you are reading this and can’t imagine why I’m still going on about this, I give you the untidy bust bow, whose apparent purpose is for potential suitors to hold on to while they’re asking you for a date:
However, the care that wasn’t given in the wardrobe department sort of found its way into the screenplay. There were some really great lines in this film, which sort of came out of nowhere in between the “gee Eddie”s and made me wake up every time. For instance:
Edna – “Don’t talk back to the customers, you’ll get fired.”
Dot – “When they deliver baloney at my door, I always give them a receipt.”
Behind the Scenes:
The original novel the film was based on was written while author Vina Delmar was pregnant and finished when her son was 3 years old.
Why was it nominated for Best Picture?
One of the main draws of the film and something commented on frequently by reviewers was the human appeal of the story. The themes of not having enough money for the lifestyle you want, raising a family on a budget, the fears of what a baby will bring to a marriage and etc. were issues that many people seeing the film had faced or were currently facing. It was a hit with viewers.
How does it hold up today?
So-so. While some advice in the film (usually given by Edna or Eddie) and scenes of Eddie in an apron doing the dishes so his pregnant wife won’t have to completely hold up today, there’s a bit of 1930s style chauvinism too (in the MY wife won’t have a job, I’m the breadwinner vein). Still, it’s hard not to forgive most of this. Eddie is truly a man who loves his wife and is willing to sacrifice his own dreams to make her happy, while Dot feels the same way about him. A well-balanced partnership always holds up.
Would this be my pick for 1931/1932 Best Picture?
While I did like the film and could possibly be inclined to watch it again, it was nowhere near the quality of the actual Best Picture winner that season, Grand Hotel.
*UPDATE: See my full 1931/1932 ranking here