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Girls Before Swine

Joan Crawford undressing is a perk for Robert Montgomery in the pre-Code hoot OUR BLUSHING BRIDES, now on DVD-R from The Warner Archive Collection.  Anita Page and Dorothy Sebastian costar with Crawford.
Joan Crawford undressing is a perk for Robert Montgomery in the pre-Code hoot OUR BLUSHING BRIDES, now on DVD-R from The Warner Archive Collection. Anita Page and Dorothy Sebastian costar with Crawford.
(c) Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Inc. and Warner Home Video and Turner Entertainment Co.



It all started at Paramount in 1926. A scandalous Jazz Age expose entitled Dancing Mothers revealed that the coital desires of mater were analogous to the pangs of cheating pater and exceeded those of skanky sprout-dater. That the latter was a fetching Clara Bow became a pivotal human template for flapper freedom; in short, Clara became a sensation – one of the silent era's biggest stars.

None of this was lost on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who went one better. Paramount could keep their mothers. Metro was perfecting their target practice on far more exploitable ticket-buying damsels; thus, when they dropped their flaming youth bombshell in 1928, it was appropriately christened Our Dancing Daughters. It, too, proved a bonanza at the box-office. In an attempt to best the competition, they offered not one, but THREE sun-kissed babies, namely Joan Crawford, Anita Page and Dorothy Sebastian. All became major attractions at the Culver City factory, with Crawford rivaling Bow.

A sequel was a no-brainer and Crawford and Page next appeared the following year in Our Modern Maidens; well, it wasn't really a sequel so much as just another Our...or, to be precise an our-and-a-half of lascivious mishegas.

With talkies all the rage, it was a natural that a third Our be unleashed on the public – this time with sound (the previous pair had synchronized music tracks). And so it came to pass that in 1930 MGM unveiled the final and most elaborate Our pic, OUR BLUSHING BRIDES, now available on DVD-R from The Warner Archive Collection.

Reuniting the original trio from Daughters – Crawford, Page and Sebastian – BRIDES takes a penetrating look at Depression-era cuties and their formidable survival instincts amongst the birds of prey in the metropolitan jungle. It's not only All Talking (as advertised), but All Stalking.

The girls all are gainfully employed at Jardine's Department Store, an upscale establishment along the lines of Selfridge's, Saks, Lord & Taylor and Harrod's. We know it's upscale, as it has its own salon for fashion shows (which probably didn't cater to the ever-increasing breadline crowd). While Page and Sebastian work as shopgirls, Crawford is a Jardine model. Of course, she's not stuck-up or anything like that, even if she does make $22.50 a week; au contraire, she clocks in like all the other 9-5 sheep – and shares the locker-room accommodations, an estrogren-fueled sanctuary which provides much of BRIDES’ smutty fun. If you haven't yet guessed, OUR BLUSHING BRIDES is a pre-Code pip, chock full o' Say Girls, lowlifes and high times. It's not to be missed.

Being a woman working at Jardine's is kinda like the actual Hollywood Wampus Baby Star industry exhibitor's contests; in other words, it's a meat show where you're apt to become the next hammock ride for the two swaggering Jardine bros, Tony, aka Robert Montgomery, a total scumbag, and his twentysomething protégé, Davy (Raymond Hackett), or Scumbag, Jr. They essentially use the firm's females like the proverbial Kleenex: get blown once, and tossed away. Jardine's is nothing less than their private brothel.

Crawford, Page and Sebastian, brandishing the vastly inappropriate confusing androgynous names of Jerry, Connie and Franky, while wise to the game, are nevertheless susceptible. Each yearns for the better life. As pre-Code dames, it ain't just the dough – it's vo-dee-oh-do; what I'm sayin' is they like the sex.

The trio share a hovel (well, an MGM hovel) on the lower east side of Manhattan. Like the locker-room shenanigans, this cleverly allows us eager voyeurs to catch them discussing the ho's and cons of hooking up whilst running around in their underwear. Crawford, not surprisingly, is the smartest of the mini-tribe; Page the beautiful-but-dumb good-natured good-time girl and Sebastian the sassy-lassie with the robo-chasis.

Crawford is hot for Montgomery, but determined not to become another one-night stand; Page is gettin'-it-on-the-side from Hackett; while Sebastian, stuck in the Blanket Department, longs to move into bedding.

Before long, Crawford is hired to model for Montgomery at his private Long Island estate soiree. Concurrently, Page is moved into Hackett's posh midtown deco love nest (rife with leather-bound books, all different...and some with writing in 'em); not to be outdone, Sebastian is wooed by lounge lizard extraordinaire John Miljan, who purchases a truckload of linens from the easily impressed honey (presumably for his hotels) as an aphrodisiac cocktail with himself as a chaser.

Hot-to-trot Dottie doesn't get it – or she obviously doesn't go to The Movies. One always refrains from accepting or touching ANYTHING from John Miljan, as you never know where he's been; this is underlined in a sequence where he picks Sebastian up at the ladies' digs, taking full advantage of the opportunity to make a move on Crawford. By the next morning, Miljan (which I'm convinced translates to “oily mustache” in some banned foreign tongue) and Sebastian are supposedly legally hitched – a short-lived union interrupted by his arrest as a career criminal con-artist. Before you can say “Get a blood test,” Sebastian is tossed in the clink as an accessory (which apparently was also her job description on their marriage license; Miljan, we sorrowfully learn, was also attached to “three other skirts.”).

Joanie, meanwhile is having her own problems. At the aforementioned fashion show, she is stealthily maneuvered into a rowboat and whisked away to Montgomery's private sex isle (located on the estate) – a spectacular penthouse/treehouse with retractable ladders to prevent the babes from exiting until dawn. Crawford verbally kicks his ass, and manages a perilous escape by mere inches.
This is particularly disturbing – if not insulting – to the gaggle of svelte society debs smothering Montgomery with demands that they be his ride for the night.

It's poor Anita Page (and isn't it always poor Anita Page?) who gets the worst of it. Thinking that it's just a matter of days before Hackett proposes, she dreamily spends her down time devising new ways to please her lover. Crawford retreating to a local bijou to combat the summer heat not only views the current on-screen presentation of Let Us Be Gay, but gets an extra live show of louse Hackett petting with a member-of-the-400, who just happens to be the little bastard's fiancée. Within nanoseconds, Hackett is planning to bounce Page out on her magnificent behind.

This leads to a thoroughly melodramatic climax where Crawford pressures Montgomery to see the evil of his lecherous ways; together they kidnap a reluctant Hackett (in the middle of his wedding reception) to have a person-to-person showdown with the now-tormented/demented Page. Other than the last act, which I found unrealistic (Montgomery's regeneration coming way-too-easily – coupled with the shock of seeing a doctor who actually makes house calls), OUR BLUSHING BRIDES is mouth-watering cinematic beverage to be ravenously gulped by thirsty pre-Code fans.

Aside from the salacious narrative, there are numerous other reasons to savor this tainted bon-bon. The fashion show sequences alone are jaw-dropping, once again cementing the fact that the best clothes EVER came out of the early 1930s. I always try and judge an audience reaction to these DVDs I review, and the women sitting on and around my couch went completely ga-ga over these moments (as I'm sure their ancestors did in 1930, making it a perfect date movie). Squeals of “I want that dress!,” “I want that hat!,” “I want that swim suit!” filled our living room's air space during these delirious Adrian-decorated sidebars.

There are some other ancillary factors as well that make OUR BLUSHING BRIDES a worthy addition to the classic movie collector's shelf. Key for me is the bittersweet character portrayed by master supporting player Ed Brophy. Brophy plays Joe Munsey, a Jardine “cloik” and lamentably a “joik,” but not in the traditional sense. He's a genuinely love-struck coworker with a serious Jones for Crawford. “They got a million-dollar picture playin' down da street,” he swoons to her. His eventual persistence pays off when she at last agrees to go for a night drive with him in his “new” second-hand car. When Connie asks Jerry what Munsey thinks is going to happen, Crawford, in stellar Say Girl form, replies “He's got a...Ford and lots of ambition.” Actually, Crawford would probably be better off with honorable Brophy than with shifty Montgomery, who you KNOW is gonna start cheating approximately ten seconds after they exchange “I do”s. I truly feel sorry for the working-stiff schmoe, last seen defiantly calling for yet another date just as Crawford and Montgomery are about to seal the deal.

And speaking of Say Girls, there's the dialog – always a prime reason for watching any pre-Code pic. Again, OUR BLUSHING BRIDES doesn't disappoint. Since 90% of the movie revolves around sex talk and bad carnal decision-making, the conversation is a cornucopia for bon mot zingers.

Comparing working class to upper class males, Crawford philosophizes “...they all act the same in a taxicab!” During the attempted seduction in Jardine’s treehouse, Tony explains the architecture with “I'm mad about the benefits of Nature.” Finding that Jerry has a mind in addition to her incredible body turns him off. Appreciate a man's ideas, he instructs her. This is “no time to be clever.” Nevertheless Montgomery gets aroused enough to “ruin” Crawford's dress. Joe's repeated date denials are misinterpreted during a memorable nocturnal phone call. “I'm all undressed and ready for bed,” says Crawford, to which an excited Brophy shouts, “I'll be right over!” Montgomery's tutoring of younger sib Hackett to the conquest of women is via a callous “Brains always spoil a woman's charm.” Later, when he tries to repent his chauvinistic ways, Hackett sneers with disbelief “...after the things you taught me.” The implication is enough to make even a CraigsList subscriber shudder.

Sebastian, too, delivers some brilliant barbs at the expense of her horny roommates. Don't be “…a prize simp,” she cries, further insisting that they spread it around because there's nothing to be gained “as long as we're dumb...and virtuous!” Slimy Miljan's line of attack comprises his wink-wink declaration to Franky's inquiry of cash or charge: “I always pay cash for what I want!”

It's the locker room at Jardine's that provides the plethora of quotable retorts. Limp lovers are dismissed with hilarious abandon. “He doesn't know what a couch is for,” complains a frustrated twist while another mouse can barely keep awake as she “didn't get to bed all night.” Crawford reveals her admiration of Montgomery via his technique: “The only man I've seen who looks at your face.” The piece de resistance corker, however, is “Say, did you hear that dame ask for a black nightgown ‘cause her husband just died?” It's a SG Hall of Famer.

OUR BLUSHING BRIDES is directed with verve and slick inventiveness by the prolific Harry Beaumont (who had done the first Our). Unlike the stodgy confining early talkers of just one year previous (including Beaumont’s own creaky Broadway Melody), BRIDES moves with amazing fluidity – a bow to the director's adaptability to the new medium. The crackling script is by Bess Meredyth and John Howard Lawson, with some salty peppering later added by always-dependable Edwin Justus Mayer (best known as the writer of Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be). I suspect the sympathetic rendering of Brophy's character was mostly Lawson's – a progressive champion of the working everyman – which ended up later destroying him when he was blacklisted during the Red scare witch hunts.

The lush linen-backed photography is by the great Merritt Gerstad, ably displaying silky monochrome and silkier lingerie with equal panache. The 35MM source print is in extremely nice shape.

Once more, for those craving the untold delights of pre-Code fare, OUR BLUSHING BRIDES, while not in the league of Baby Face, Blessed Event or Red-Headed Woman (then again, what is?), will certainly suffice. To paraphrase Brophy's fantasies, it's ambition with a cherry on top!

OUR BLUSHING BRIDES. Black and White; Full frame [1.37:1]; Mono audio. UPC # 883316921401. CAT # 12937501. SRP: $21.99.

Available exclusively through the Warner Archive Collection:

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