Anita Page

Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

Our Dancing Daughters 1928

Diana Medford (Joan Crawford) is one of the most popular young women in town. She’s outgoing, flirtatious, and loves to go out dancing until dawn. Her freewheeling image leads many people to believe she’s a real wild girl and a generally bad influence, but although she may flirt with all the young men, she’s very virtuous and old-fashioned at heart. Her friend, Ann (Anita Page) is quite the opposite. She’s a gold digger, raised to be one by her mother, and is more like the person people think Diana is, although she tries to keep that under wraps.

While at a party one night, Diana meets Ben Blaine (Johnny Mack Brown), who comes from a very wealthy family. He admires Diana and the feeling is mutual, but when Ann finds out he has money, she sets her sights on him. As Diana and Ben get closer, he really loves her but mistakenly thinks she’s not interested in him. So when Ann gets him alone and convinces her she’s a good girl who wants marriage and a family, he buys it and they soon get married, much to Diana’s disappointment.

After 10 months of marriage, Ann is already cheating on Ben. Diana is still heartbroken without Ben and on her last night of visiting with friends, they throw a big going away party in her honor. Ben won’t let Ann go, so she tries to sneak out with her lover and gets caught. After getting into a fight with Ben, Ann goes off with her boyfriend to get drunk while Ben goes to the party alone to see Diana. Ben still has feelings for her and Diana would love to be with him, but then Ann shows up, drunk as can be, and causes a scene, showing everyone her true colors.

There isn’t nearly enough love out there for young, flapper-era Joan Crawford. Our Dancing Daughters is the movie that made her a star and it’s easy to see why. She’s the absolute height of the youthful, exuberant flapper image that was so popular at the time. Watching her wild dancing scene early in the movie is truly something wonderful to behold and it doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being such an amazing dance scene. Joan is positively mesmerizing so even though she certainly had many more interesting and complex roles ahead of her, it’s not hard to see how she was such a hit with moviegoers of the time. Plus there’s Anita Page, who is a rather delightful villain. I always love watching her when Ann starts showing her true self at near the end of the movie.

In the grand scheme of things, Our Dancing Daughters isn’t one of the all-time greats or anything, but I love it because I have a soft spot for these types of flapper-oriented movies. In terms of style and fashion though, it’s truly amazing. Because it’s one of those movies that tries to embrace a cultural movement as it’s happening, the fashion and style of set design you see in it is a very heightened version of what was in style at the time. As someone who loves 1920s fashion, I could watch Our Dancing Daughters over and over again just to admire all those spectacular flapper dresses Joan Crawford and Anita Page wear in it. In terms of style, this is absolutely one of my favorite movies.

Pre-Code Essentials: Skyscraper Souls (1932)

Warren William Skyscraper Souls

Plot

There are only two things bank owner David Dwight (Warren William) cares about: women and his hundred story skyscraper in New York City. He’s married to Ella (Hedda Hopper), but as long as he keeps paying her bills, she doesn’t mind if he steps out. He’s been carrying on an long-term affair with his secretary Sarah (Verree Teasdale), who really wants to get married, but David has no interest in doing anything more than give her a trust fund. Instead, David is far more concerned with protecting his prized skyscraper from bank inspectors, who are after him for taking out a huge loan from his own bank to pay for the building.

To get the investigators off his back, David merges the bank with another one and conspires with the president of the other bank to inflate their bank’s stock, then sell it short, even though it would ruin the other investors. Meanwhile, Sarah’s secretary Lynn (Maureen O’Sullivan) has been dating bank teller Tom Shepard (Norman Foster), although she’d much rather be married to a rich man. After Lynn and Tom have a fight, Sarah talks to him and gives him a tip about investing in the bank, not realizing what David plans to do. Hoping to get enough money to marry Lynn, Tom buys the stock only to end up being just one of many people financially destroyed by David. Everyone is angry at David, except for Lynn, who David has been setting up to replace Sarah as his next girlfriend. But Sarah cares too much about Lynn to let David ruin Lynn the way he’s ruined everyone else.


My Thoughts

Before there was Michael Douglas in Wall Street and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, there was Warren William in Skyscraper Souls to serve as the cinematic poster boy for corporate greed. Considering what a contemptible person David Dwight is, it’s rather baffling that this is such an overlooked movie nowadays when people start talking about portrayals of corporate greed in film. Over 80 years later and I’d say Warren William remains the king of playing cold, ruthless characters. But as great brilliant as Warren William is in this, I also really love Verree Teasdale as Sarah. I love how in the end, as devoted as she was to David, she was even more devoted to and protective of Lynn. You just don’t see that kind of relationship often enough in movies.

The movie on the whole is very much worth watching. It has a bit of a Grand Hotel vibe to it, but on a smaller scale. It really deserves to get more credit for being a great movie in general, and not just for being a great pre-code.

And be sure to keep an eye out for a particular dress worn by Anita Page. Perhaps you might recognize it from another certain MGM hit from 1932…

Anita Page Joan Crawford Dress


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Murder, suicide, unscrupulous businessmen, prostitutes, cursing, womanizing…let’s just say that if we had a game of Pre-Code Bingo going, you could fill up your card really fast by watching Skyscraper Souls. Pretty much the only ways this movie could get more pre-code is if they had worked in some drug use, gay characters, or some kind of blasphemous statement.

Skyscraper Souls (1932)

Skyscraper Souls 1932 Warren WilliamDavid Dwight (Warren William) is a man who only cares about two things: the hundred story skyscraper he’s built and women.  Lots and lots of women.  He’s married to Ella (Hedda Hopper), but only technically.  He pays all her extravagant bills and she doesn’t mind the many other women in his life.  There’s Sarah Dennis (Verree Teasdale), his long-time secretary and mistress.  Sarah wants him to divorce his wife and marry her, but he says Ella won’t divorce him.  The truth is, he’s never even asked for a divorce.  And then there’s Lynn Harding (Maureen O’Sullivan), Sarah’s secretary.  Lynn’s has been seeing Tom Shepard (Norman Foster), a bank teller, but she’s more interested in marrying a rich man.  So when David tries to phase things out with Sarah and make Lynn his new girl, it’s hard for Lynn to resist.

When David isn’t trying to manage all the women in his life, he’s desperately fighting to save his bank and his building.  Bank examiners are investigating him for taking out a massive loan from his own bank to build his skyscraper and to save his bank, he arranges a merger with another bank.  When Tom gets a tip about the merger, he buys up stock thinking that once the stock went up, he’d have enough money to make Lynn want to marry him.  Lots of other people have the same idea, not knowing that David has worked out a plan to get the price of the stock to soar, then get out and leave everyone else holding the bag.  When the stock plummets again, many of the shareholders are completely ruined, including Tom.  David couldn’t possibly care less about the jilted shareholders, though.  Now he owns his building outright and he’s got Lynn willing to go to Europe with him.  When Sarah finds out about what he’s done, she refuses to let him destroy Lynn’s wife the way he destroyed hers.

Skyscraper Souls is really a lot like Grand Hotel.  Only instead of a fabulous art deco hotel, it takes place in fabulous art deco offices.  There’s even a scene where Anita Page’s character wears the same dress as Joan Crawford in Grand Hotel:

But despite the similarities between the two movies, Skyscraper Souls never feels like a cheap imitation of Grand Hotel.  If you know someone who claims they don’t like old movies because they’re cheesy and unrealistic, Skyscraper Souls is a good one to show them to try to change their mind.  It’s definitely a movie that could still be made today.  People who think old movies were all like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals would definitely be surprised to see David’s very open marriage, murder, suicide, Anita Page playing a prostitute, and how virtually everybody is trying to use other people to get what they want.  There was nothing even remotely safe about this movie.  It’s even got a little bit of cursing, if you listen carefully:

Warren William gave an outstanding performance as such an incredibly ruthless and unethical business man.  I loved how he was able to walk the line between being a horrendous jerk but remaining charming enough that you can see why all these women were attracted to him.  Maureen O’Sullivan did a great job of remaining quite likeable even though she played a self-confessed gold digger.  I thought Sarah was quite an interesting character, especially in regard to how she was torn between being a jilted lover and protective of Lynn.  She and Lynn were very close friends and Sarah would do anything to see that Lynn was happy.  But then when David’s all set to run off with Lynn instead of marrying her, Sarah had very good reason to wash her hands of Lynn forever.  In many other movies, this would have played out differently and more predictably.  But this one takes the less-traveled path and ends with the ex-mistress trying to save the new mistress.

My only complaint about Skyscraper Souls is that some of the subplots felt kind of tacked on.  I like Anita Page, so I really would have liked to have seen her in a bigger part here.  Especially since her acting here was much better than it was in The Broadway Melody, so she had really grown as an actress for talkies.  If I had a star rating system, I’d give it three out of four stars.  Not perfect, but it’s certainly something I’d gladly watch again.

In Defense of The Broadway Melody (1929)

I don’t think any Best Picture winner gets a bad rap more than The Broadway Melody.  And, to an extent, I do agree with it.  I don’t think the story is particularly great.  The premise is pretty basic: two sister vaudevillians move to New York to be in a new show, success drives a wedge between the sisters, drama ensues.  If you want to see some backstage drama, things like All About Eve and 42nd Street would go on to do a far better job.  The acting’s alright, I liked both Bessie Love and Anita Page.  But the thing is, I actually quite like The Broadway Melody.

(more…)