Pre-Code Crazy: Millie (1931)

I don’t remember the first time I heard the name “Helen Twelvetrees,” but for many years she was, for me, just an unfamiliar actress from the 1930s with an interesting name – like Gwili Andre or Jobyna Ralston. I never really thought about seeing her in a film, or even trying to.

And then came Millie.

I’m not even sure how I came across this movie, but I fell in love with Helen Twelvetrees the first time I saw it, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Millie opens on the campus of Willows University, and only a couple of seconds pass before we know that the title character is one hot mama. We discover this because a group of college lads are in a local diner when a car approaches, and when one fella speculates that Millie’s in the car, the six of them practically perform a circus act just to wave as she passes. (“Boy, what a qualifier she is,” one boy exclaims, “and just rarin’ to go!”)

Millie wasn’t exactly batting a thousand when it came to picking men.

When we meet her for ourselves, we quickly discover that although Millie is a free spirited, fun-loving girl (“I want excitement! I want to live to go everywhere and see everything and do everything!”), she’s still an old-fashioned girl at heart – when her date, Jack Maitland (James Hall), suggests that she accompany him to New York, she doesn’t give it a moment’s consideration until she realizes that Jack is proposing marriage. And she’s not the worldly wise dame she’d like others to think she is. After their ceremony at the Justice of the Peace, she and her new hubby check in at a roadside hotel and poor Millie looks like she may pass out any second – especially when she catches a glimpse of the bed. She’s really just a sweet, young girl on the inside, who insists on calling her mother to tell her the news, and then can’t stop crying.

Fast forward three years, and Millie’s a wealthy but unhappy wife and mother to a small daughter whose governess whisks her away after allowing Millie just a few minutes with her each day. Her husband is remote and constantly leaving town “for business,” and Millie has transformed into a whiny, pitiful creature, begging her husband for more passionate kisses and constantly referencing the way their lives used to be.  (Of course, it doesn’t help that her husband is a rather officious ass whose appeal I was unable to discern even when she first married him. But I digress.)

This look says “What the hell?!?”

Millie gets a reprieve from her listless existence when she gets a call from Angie Wickerstaff (the always wonderful Joan Blondell), a hometown chum, who invites Millie out for cocktails with her and another girlfriend, Helen Riley (Lilyan Tashman). Unfortunately, the outing turns out to be more than Millie bargained for when she spots her husband there, billing and cooing with another woman. You won’t be surprised to see that Millie is devastated by the discovery – but I’ll bet you won’t be expecting to see her confront her husband’s side chick and clock her on the jaw!

All of this happens in the first 20 minutes of this hour-and-a-half long film, and believe me when I tell you that there’s a whole lot more drama, pathos, and are-you-kidding-me moments ahead. But I’m going to let you discover them for yourself – tune in to TCM on January 22nd.

And in the meantime, here’s some trivial tidbits to tide you over:

Blondell and Tashman. A winning combination.

  • Joan Blondell and Lilyan Tashman steal pretty much every scene they’re in. Many reviews of this film assert with confidence that their characters are lesbians, but I just don’t see it. Just because they live together and, in their first scene, are in the same bed – I mean, really? But whatever. I just thought I’d point that out. And while I’m pointing things out, if you know me at all, you might know that I’m a ginormous Lilyan Tashman fan. If you’d like to read more about her life on and off the screen, click here.
  • Four of the film’s stars Twelvetrees, Tashman, James Hall, and Robert Ames – and the director, John Francis Dillon, all died before the age of 50. Isn’t that weird?
  • Speaking of the director, Dillon directed Clara Bow in the unforgettable Call Her Savage (1932). If you’ve never seen this one, do your best to track it down. It has to be seen to be believed. He also directed The Reckless Hour, starring Dorothy Mackaill, which was the first film I selected for the Pre-Code Crazy series when Kristina and I started it more than three years ago. (Three years ago!?!? That’s crazy. Pre-Code crazy, if you will.)

    And don’t forget about Female!

  • The film was based on a novel written in 1931 by Donald Henderson Clarke. Clarke also wrote Female, which was made into a film starring Ruth Chatterton in 1933. According to numerous sources I found on the Internet, the novel Female was declared obscene by the New York Supreme Court, a decision that was upheld on appeal. What I couldn’t find was exactly what that meant. It certainly didn’t stop the movie from being made, so. . .

Be sure to tune in to Millie on TCM January 22nd you won’t be sorry!  and don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what gem Kristina is recommending for the month!

~ by shadowsandsatin on January 15, 2018.

9 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: Millie (1931)”

  1. I’ll definitely be setting the DVR for this one!

  2. Throw some women into a bed and they are lesbians, right? Lol I think 80% of women view a bed as a place to telephone gab, a spot to fold laundry or lay out a wardrobe, eat snacks… sex would probably only take the 8th spot! But men, on the other hand… speaking of whom, Claude Rains character in Casablanca, dare I say this, is clearly an out and out gay who is intent on bedding Bogie at the (film’s) end, (since he has the upper hand having seen the murder and has Bogie over a barrel), but that would sure screw up the legions of Bogie fans and critics, wouldn’t it? 😂

    • Thanks for your comments on the lesbian issue in Mlilie, Triple T (if I may) — I’ve felt like this about other screen relationships in classic films that many others seem to view as obviously one thing or another. It would be great to know what the filmmakers really had in mind.

  3. Outstanding choice !

  4. People love to read in homosexual references in classic movies that often are just not there. It was not unusual at all in the 1930s for people to share a bed. My grandmother shared a bed with her sister her whole life until she left the house. And women living together in a small apartment in New York would share a bed without thinking twice about it. It’s only since Americans became more affluent in the 1950s that we got the notion that everyone should have their own bed.

    • I’m glad to read this, Tracey. I sometimes feel like I’m being some kind of fuddy duddy or, at the very least, extremely obtuse, when I don’t come to these conclusions that so many others view as obvious facts. There’s a similar situation with the characters Fante and Mingo in the noir The Big Combo, if you’re familiar with that film. I just don’t see it.

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