Hat Check Girl (1932)

Film Review

HAT CHECK GIRL

Release Date: 8 October, 1932

Studio: Fox Film Corporation

Director: Sidney Lanfield

Starring: Sally Eilers, Ben Lyon, Ginger Rogers, Monroe Owsley, Purnell Pratt

Screenplay: Barry Connors, story by Rian James

Cinematographer: Glen MacWilliams

Special Notes: TCM Classic Film Festival, 2014

Hat Check Girl was shown as in the Discoveries (signifying little-known or forgotten films worth rediscovering) category at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. The guest speakers were Katie Trainor and Anne Morra, Department of Film, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Synopsis

Gerry Marsh (Eilers) supports her family by working as a hat check girl in a nightclub. Jessie King (Rogers) works with her. Newspaperman Todd Reese (Owsley) hangs around the club gathering information for his sleazy gossip column. Gerry is courted by millionaire's son Buster Collins (Lyon) whose father (Pratt) disapproves of their relationship. At a party at Buster's home, a parlor game called "Murder" turns shocking when Reese is murdered, and Buster is arrested. Mr. Collins offers Gerry $10,000.00 to stay away from his son, and she withdraws but refuses the money. After the real murderer is revealed, Gerry and Buster reunite.

Discussion

Risqué elements add some spice and interest to a slow moving, weakly plotted drama. The rather confused scenario centers on a common theme: a worthy, but poor, girl gains love and marriage to a rich, handsome boy. The basic formula is heightened by making the heroine a hat check girl fending off aggressive men and including a murder and her lover's imprisonment. Ginger Rogers' slangy delivery of some suggestive dialogue adds some amusement.

Sally Eilers was a busy actress during the early talkie period. Her career slowed in the late thirties, and she only made five films between 1940 and 1950, the last at age 42. Most of her later films were programmers.

Ben Lyon, who entered films in 1923, was a popular leading man during the silent and early sound eras. "Dark eyes, sensuous lips, and slicked-back dark hair earned him leading romantic roles", according to his obituary in the New York Times. His film career was declining in 1936 when Lyon and his wife, Bebe Daniels, visited England and decided to stay. They hosted a popular radio program, "Hi Gang" and made several films. During the blitz, they remained in London broadcasting their program and boosting the morale of Londoners and US servicemen. After the war, Lyon became a casting executive with 20th Century Fox in London and Hollywood, and is credited with recognizing the potential of the young Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe Owsley started his career with Midwest stock companies. His experiences included 119 one-night stands of George M. Cohan's comedy The Meanest Man in the World (1920) during which he played most of the male parts. He reached Broadway in 1925, and in 1928 appeared as the drunken brother in the original cast of the Philip Barry play, Holiday. He went to Hollywood to repeat the role for the 1930 film version. Owsley's thin, sharp face, deep-set eyes, and receding hairline imparted a shifty appearance that lent itself to roles as shady, unreliable boyfriends or husbands. Typically, the heroine preferred him to the leading man before realizing her mistake. A heart attack killed him at the young age of 36.

Guest Introduction

The TCM presentation was the first showing of a new print of the film; TCM and Fox Pictures are supporting film preservation of the large collection of film at MoMA, New York. The film had been shelved at the time the code was enforced in 1934. The forbidden elements included bootlegging, temptations of the heroine, risqué undressing, and showing underwear.

As guests Kate Trainor and Anne Morra explained, Hat Check Girl features elements common to pre-code films, bootleg liquor sold in night clubs and offered at dissolute parties, attractive young women pursued by amorous and decadent men, a risqué undressing scene, and witty, suggestive dialogue. At the center is the poor, but moral and pure, working girl.

Eilers, pretty but rather dull, declined into programmers after the code enforcement and made few films after 1940. Rogers was in the midst of her first screen persona, the wisecracking girlfriend of the heroine. Sidney Lanfield directed many films, and he was active in television, directing episodes of The Addams Family and McHale's Navy.

Katie Trainor and Anne Morra, Department of Film, Museum of Modern Art, New York

References

Ben Lyon, 78, Silent-Screen Star Who "Discovered" Marilyn Monroe. New York Times. March 26, 1979

Monroe Owsley, Hollywood Actor. New York Times. June 6, 1937

Owsley Services in Forest Lawn. Variety. June 6, 1937