Sunday, January 1, 2012

THE GIRL FROM MISSOURI (MGM 1934) Warner Archive Collection

Jean Harlow is Eadie Chapman, The Girl From Missouri (1934) in director Jack Conway's saucy romantic yarn about a good girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Eadie's mom started out that way, but fell hard for men who passed her around until her looks and fresh faced innocence turned to chalk. Now she's the hostess of a seedy dive that caters to more of the same rough trade. But that life's not good enough for Eadie. She wants something better for herself. Together with friend, Kitty Lennihan (Patsy Kelly), Eadie makes a late night break for Manhattan where she lands a job as a chorus girl who does private parties for rich millionaires. Her most recent client is Frank Cousins (Lewis Stone); a onetime captain of industry who's fallen on his own hard times. Frank is too old for Eadie but kind to her nevertheless. He gives Eadie his ruby cufflinks and proposes marriage. But the moment she leaves him alone he takes his own life with a revolver.
Frank's rival, Thomas Randall Paige (Lionel Barrymore) wastes no time covering up the truth about Eadie and the cufflinks to the police. To show her gratitude Eadie latches onto Paige, following him back to his stately office under the accusatory glare of T.R.'s secretary, Ms. Newberry (Clara Blandick). T.R. attempts to thwart Eadie's advances. After all, he's just been appointed the head of the international trade mart and doesn't need any complications on the home front. But Eadie is hard to get rid of. After T.R. gives her some cash to go away, she instead takes Kitty and tails him to his working vacation in Palm Springs. There, Eadie is inadvertently introduced to T.R. Jr. (Franchot Tone). The young Tom falls hard for Eadie, but sees her just as his dad does; as a flashy gold digger he can bounce on his knee without any fear of commitment.
The wrinkle here is that Eadie really is a good girl. After T.R. Jr. takes her to his bedroom inside their palatial family estate she breaks down, but bears only her soul to him. Tom is genuinely touched by Eadie's sincere confession of hard knocks. He rushes to his father's side to tell him that he intends to propose to Eadie at the first possible moment. Publicly T.R. Sr. gives his blessing. But behind the scenes he is determined as ever to rid their lives of Eadie once and for all. Hiring an actor to play Eadie's lover, T.R. Sr. sends the press and the district attorney to Eadie's hotel suite. The very public scandal sends Eadie to jail and fills Tom Jr. with disillusionment about his future bride. Eadie turns to Charlie Turner (Hale Hamilton); a rich, but slithery friend of T.R. Sr. who has no quam about taking advantage of Eadie's precarious predicament. Charlie pays her bail with the expectation that she is now to become his kept woman.
Instead Eadie makes haste to confront T.R. Sr. She stows away inside his ship's stateroom as he is about to embark upon his first trip abroad as director of the trade mart. At precisely the right moment she emerges in her scanties and clutches his arm. Members of the press take T.R.'s picture as Eadie shouts "There! See how you like it!" Angry and tired of being a good girl, Eadie succumbs to Charlie's advances. He gets her drunk and promptly takes her to his home while his own wife is away in Egypt. But Kitty has wisely assessed the calamity about to occur. She intervenes and lets both T.R.'s into Charlie's home. T.R. Sr. confesses that he admires Eadie's spunk and determination; qualities that will be useful to him on his world tour, but only if she and Tom Jr. are married. After some apprehension, Eadie agrees. She still loves Tom Jr. and he is very much in love with her.
The Girl from Missouri is typical 1930s fluff and nonsense sold with great conviction and the chic good taste that only MGM in its heyday could sell as pure gold. Anita Loos' screenplay makes its points but never remains on one for too long. Harlow is sublime as the proverbial good girl with a heart of gold buried under, mounds of tacky clothing and some very harsh makeup.
This reviewer has never been a fan of Harlow's early look; the bee stung lips, painted mole and pencil drawn brows. Although it was the 'hot' look of its period, when viewed through contemporary eyes it really is a freakish parody of womanhood; like Kabuki makeup designed to mask an asexual creature lurking beneath. Franchot Tone's rather effeminate visage is a good match for Harlow's severe facade. Moreover, he and Harlow have real on screen chemistry. Lionel Barrymore and Lewis Stone give solid back up and Patsy Kelly is always good for a laugh. In the final analysis, The Girl from Missouri is a gritty dark romantic comedy that sells its wares with great gusto.
Warner's Archive MOD DVD falls short of expectations. Although advertised as remastered, the image is very grainy and riddled with age related artifacts. The image appears rather 'thick' instead of refined with fine details wanting throughout. Contrast levels seem just a tad darker than they ought to be. Once one gets used to these visual shortcomings the image has a consistent rendering that is tolerable. But the heavy patina of grain looks digitally harsh at times. The audio has been cleaned up but continues to exhibit slight hiss and pop that will not distract. The only extra feature is a Spanish theatrical trailer.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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