Robert Armstrong

Kansas City Princess

Kansas City Princess (1934)

Rosie (Joan Blondell) and Marie (Glenda Farrell) are two manicurists from Kansas City. Rosie has been seeing a gangster who goes by the name of Dynamite (Robert Armstrong) and just before he leaves for St. Louis, he gives Rosie an engagement ring. While Dynamite is out of town, Marie, who thinks Rosie could do better, encourages Rosie to go out with one of their rich clients. Rosie reluctantly goes along with it and the whole thing goes horribly wrong when it turns out her date is also a criminal who steals her engagement ring. Things get even worse when Rosie hears that Dynamite is coming back to town earlier than expected so she doesn’t even have time to fix things.

Rosie and Marie know Dynamite will be furious when he finds out what’s happened, so they disguise themselves as members of the Outdoor Girls of America and get on a train headed to New York. But Dynamite finds out what’s going on before they can leave the station so he follows them to New York. Once in New York, Rosie and Marie hop in a cab with two businessmen and stick with them as they board a ship headed to Paris with Dynamite hot on their trail.

While on the ship, Dynamite meets millionaire Junior Ashcraft (Hugh Herbert), who is heading to Paris to put an end to his wife’s affair. When Marie and Rosie hear about a rich man being on board, they can’t resist posing as manicurists so they can try to play him. The plan falls flat when Junior reveals the truth, but Junior is still willing to help the ladies out. Once they get to Paris, Junior comes up with a plan to stop his wife’s affair by having Rose pose as her lover’s boyfriend. Little does he know his wife and the detective he’s hired to follow her have plans of their own.

Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell are two of my favorite sassy, fast-talking pre-code actresses so any movie that features both of them is going to be very intriguing to me. Kansas City Princess starts out being so much of what I love about many Warner Brothers pre-codes — fast-paced, funny, and full of snappy dialogue — but, unfortunately, the movie loses a lot of momentum about halfway through. Considering how many things Kansas City Princess had working in its favor and it did start out looking promising, the fact that it failed to hold my interest for 64 minutes was pretty disappointing. Not even the fabulous chemistry of Blondell and Farrell could save it. They did the best they could with what they had to work with, it’s just they didn’t have much to work with.

Paid (1930)

When Mary Turner (Joan Crawford) is unjustly accused of stealing from her workplace, she’s sentenced to three years in jail.  But she isn’t about to go down without a fight and vows to make her boss Edward Gilder (Purnell Pratt) pay for what he’s done to her.  Mary spends her time in jail brushing up on the law and realizes that there is a way for her to get money out of men legally.  All she has to do is get a man to agree to marry her, but when they back out, sue them for breach of contract.

When she gets out of jail, she joins up with more seasoned criminals Agnes (Marie Prevost), Red, and Joe Garson (Robert Armstrong) to put this plan into full force.  This scam proves to be quite lucrative with Mary calling the shots and dismissing anyone questioning the legality of their racket.  But Mary hasn’t forgotten her promise to make Edward Gilder pay for sending her to jail.  To get back at him, she sets her sights on his son Bob Gilder (Douglass Montgomery).  She starts seeing him, but he genuinely falls in love with her and they soon get married.  When Bob brings Mary to meet his father, Edward is furious and wants the thing annulled, but Bob and Mary won’t let that happen.  Even though Mary insists that she’s only in it for revenge, she really has fallen in love with Bob, too.

Edward isn’t willing to give up so easily on putting an end to Bob’s marriage.  With the recent theft of the Mona Lisa, he gets Eddie Griggs to give Joe a false tip that the real Mona Lisa is hanging in Edward Gilder’s house.  He knows that Mary is tied up with them and thinks that when Joe comes to steal the painting, Mary will be right there with him and that will be the end of that.  But when Mary finds out about this plan, she wants nothing to do with it.  She thinks they should stay within the law, but Joe and his gang insists on going through with it.  In the middle of the heist, Mary shows up to put an end to it, and Joe and Eddie get into a fight that ends with Eddie being shot and killed.  Mary tries to tell the police that it was self defense, but the police aren’t going to buy the word of someone who has done time in jail before.  But Mary sees to it that justice is served.

Not only is Paid a very strong movie with a good supporting cast, but it was a very important movie in Joan Crawford’s career. Before this, she hadn’t done any serious dramatic roles and the part of Mary Turner was originally intended for Norma Shearer.  But then Norma got pregnant and went on leave, which left the door open for Joan to step in.  As much as I love Norma, I think Joan was perfect for this movie.  She brought a lot of that steel will and determination that would go on to become her trademark.  It’s a must see for Joan Crawford fans, but even if you’re not watching it just for Joan, there’s a lot to like about it.