LAMB Acting School 101: Pre-Code Joan in Our Blushing Brides
I love Joan Crawford’s pre-Code work. She was in so many memorable features from this era – Possessed, Grand Hotel, Letty Lynton, Sadie McKee. But I think my favorite is Our Blushing Brides. It’s got so much going for it. Entertaining performances from Anita Page and Dorothy Sebastian. Gratuitous scenes featuring lingerie-clad ladies. A deliciously scandal-filled pre-Code plot. Robert Montgomery, playing a character just to the left of a full-fledged cad. Elaborate costumes by the famed Adrian. Gorgeous Art Deco sets courtesy of Cedric Gibbons.
But best of all, it has Joan Crawford.
Our Blushing Brides was the third in MGM’s “jazz age” trilogy; unlike Our Blushing Brides, the first two – Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and Our Modern Maidens (1929) – were silent films. Brides was based on a story by Bess Meredyth, who also co-wrote the screenplay – the wife of director Michael Curtiz, Meredyth was an Oscar-nominated writer who was one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In Our Blushing Brides, she offers up a tantalizing tale of young girls in the big city.
Brides was Joan Crawford’s 31st film and her fourth talking feature. In it, she plays Geraldine “Gerry” March, a department store model who lives with her two buddies and fellow shopgirls, Connie Blair (Anita Page) and Francine “Franky” Daniels (Dorothy Sebastian). The plot, according to one reviewer, centers on the girls’ “private lives and their struggle for happiness and the things that youth desires.” More specifically, Gerry refuses to compromise her virtue although she has a crush on Tony Jardine (Montgomery), the elder son of the department store owner; Connie throws caution to the wind when she falls in love with the younger son, David (Raymond Hackett); and Franky gets more than she bargained for in her quest to snag “an old guy who’s just ready to leave her a million and croak.”
The film was a hit when it was released, and Crawford’s performance was lauded by most of the critics of the day – in the New York Times, Lucius Beebe praised the “humorous and intelligent acting of Joan Crawford, who plays the part of a mannequin with enough assurance for a marchessa and enough virtue for a regiment,” and Harrison Carroll wrote in the L.A. Herald, “In Gerry, Joan Crawford finds a role admirably suited to her, and she gives the best performance of her career.” Interestingly, Crawford herself once labeled the film “a dud,” but she added, “fortunately my part was okay.” I’d say it was more than okay. Here are some of the reasons why I can’t get enough of Joan Crawford and Our Blushing Brides:
There’s a scene near the opening of the film that shows the three girls at work – Connie works at the perfume counter and Franky sells blankets in the basement. But Gerry has the most interesting job – we see her, along with several co-workers, modeling lingerie for a wealthy customer (while Tony Jardine, the store owner’s son and the object of her longing, looks on appreciatively). The women are all shown in various stages of undress, but Joan’s outfit is one of the most revealing, as she’s seen wearing a bra and lace step-ins under a satin robe. The scene does little to advance the plot, but what would pre-Code be without a scene with women in their undies?
Of the three roommates, Gerry is the most practical, the most sensible and the most virtuous – she demonstrates her unflagging wisdom in one scene when she sarcastically sums up the viewpoint of the department store heir that has captured Connie’s heart: “Young David Jardine wants you to give up work. He hates to see anyone so beautiful standing behind a counter all day. He wants to buy you a lovely little apartment. And he wants to see you in beautiful clothes. He can’t marry you just yet, but later on, of course – mm hm.” She represents David’s stance so closely, in fact, that Connie wonders if Gerry has been talking to him. “Nope. But I’ve talked to lots of other men,” Gerry replies.
Gerry visits Tony Jardine’s country estate, where she and her fellow models have been invited to provide entertainment to a visiting dressmaker from France. The models put on an elaborate, nine-minute fashion show, which starts out with them clad in winter wear, and ends with them donning blond wigs, wearing see-through white gowns and performing a lengthy dance number (during which their high kicks display their undies more than once). Again, the scene does little more than provide a showcase for Adrian’s talent for clothes design, but it’s a hoot, nonetheless.
While at the estate, Tony invites Gerry to his oh-so-fancy “treehouse,” where he assumes he will have his way with her. But Gerry has other ideas. When Tony confesses that she’s “driving him mad,” Gerry replies, “Just a moment, Mr. Jardine. Why is it when men get emotional, they all use ridiculous, rubber-stamp lines?” Despite Tony’s obvious intentions, and in spite of her attraction to him, Gerry refuses to be swayed by Tony’s insults about her “morbid sense of virtue.” She doesn’t cry or sulk or struggle – but she lets him know, in no uncertain terms, that she’s not that kind of a girl. And when Tony insists that she’ll change her mind next time, she coolly informs him, “Don’t hold your breath until then.”
Although Connie and Franky both think they have everything all figured out, Franky’s marriage to a millionaire and Connie engaging in a “back street” affair don’t exactly turn out to be the rosy experiences that they’d initially seemed. And while they both view Gerry as a “prize simp,” it turns out that Gerry is the rock that they both come running to when their respective worlds crumble. And to her credit, nary an “I told you so” ever escapes Gerry’s lips – she’s never judgmental or condescending – she’s simply there for both of her girlfriends, to the end.
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop divulging the plots of the films I write about here, so I won’t say more about how Gerry and her pals wind up – suffice it to say that, for Gerry at least, all’s well that ends well – and sometimes virtue is more than simply its own reward. If you know what I mean.
Our Blushing Brides is not yet on DVD, but it frequently pops on TCM – if you haven’t seen it, check it out – you only owe it to yourself. It has a lot to recommend it, and Joan Crawford is the most of these!