I have to be honest – my Pre-Code Crazy pick for this month, The Purchase Price (1932), is not exactly one of those films that makes me all ga-ga and gooey inside. But while I can’t say that I count it among my favorite pre-Codes, it does star Barbara Stanwyck and, really, what else do you need? (Also, it’s kinda bizarre, and the more I see it, the more I like it!)
The Purchase Price starts out with Stanwyck’s character Joan Gordon warbling a bluesy love song (in Stanwyck’s own voice, mind you!): “Take me away, my heart only belongs to you.” (She’s kinda pitchy but, hey, who cares – it’s Stanwyck.)
We learn that Joan has a part-time lover, Ed Fields (the always fabulous Lyle Talbot), as well as a full-time boyfriend, Don Leslie (Hardie Albright), who she hopes to marry. Ed warns Joan that Don will never marry her – his family is wealthy and socially prominent while Joan is, as she herself describes, “just a little gal who sings torch songs in a naughty nightclub.”
But Joan wants a change in her life, and marriage to Don is her ticket out. Unfortunately for Joan, Don’s dad has hired a private investigator to do some digging and he’s unearthed Ed’s existence. Don drops this bomb on Joan in the lobby of the hotel where she lives: “Of all the men in the world, Eddie Fields,” Don grouses. “A bootlegger, a racketeer, a crook.” And with that, he’s out the door and Joan’s dream of escaping her current existence disappears like so much smoke in a windstorm.
But she’s no quitter – not this dame. When Eddie comes tipping back in her life, Joan takes a powder, traveling all the way to Montreal, Canada, to get away from him and landing a job singing under the name of “Francine LaRue.” Before long, Eddie’s boys have tracked her down, but the ever-resourceful Joan finds another opportunity to escape. It turns out that her housekeeper, Emily (Leila Bennett), has signed on with a matrimonial agency and is leaving town to marry a wheat farmer . Joan offers the housekeeper a hundred dollars and the next thing you know, Joan’s on her way to North Dakota in Emily’s place.
Joan’s new spouse is Jim Gilson (George Brent), who gets off on the wrong foot (and that’s putting it mildly) on their wedding night when he aggressively tries to put the moves on Joan. She’s not playing that game, and slaps him so hard that he ends up sleeping in the barn with the pigs. Over time, Joan falls in love with Jim, but he keeps her at arm’s length, with his treatment of her ranging from indifference to downright jackassery. “Our marriage is hopeless,” he tells her at one point. “We started all wrong. Like going into a race blindfolded.”
There’s more (much more) to this little tale, but I’ll let you discover the rest of the goings-on for yourself. I will give you this little tidbit, though – you ain’t seen the last of Mr. Eddie Fields. Tune into TCM on March 15th; it’s worth your time.
I have two favorites:
“You daffy little tomato, I’m bugs about you. I’d marry you myself if I wasn’t already married.” – Ed Fields (Lyle Talbot)
“I’m fed up with hoofing in shows. I’m sick of nightclubs, hustlers, bootleggers, chiselers and smart guys. I’ve heard all the questions and I know all the answers. And I’ve kept myself fairly respectable through it all. The whole atmosphere of this street gives me a high-powered headache. I’ve got a chance to breathe something else. And, boy, I’m grabbing it.” – Joan Gordon (Barbara Stanwyck)
Joan and Jim get married by the local Justice of the Peace (Clarence Wilson), who gathers up a couple of witnesses – his wife (Lucille Ward), who’s in the midst of making a cake and keeps stirring her batter during the ceremony, and Clyde (who, I assume, is the couple’s son), whose attention is captured by a fight outside the window between two snarling dogs. Throughout the brief service, the Justice of the Peace is chewing on a piece of tobacco, and at the conclusion of the vows, he declares, “I now pronounce you man and wife – three dollars please.” The wife, still clutching her bowl o’ batter, vigorously shakes Joan’s hand and wishes her happiness, but when Joan’s too-big ring falls off her finger, chaos ensues. The wife’s ample bottom bumps into the pot bellied stove, causing the pipe to topple, and all three end up on the floor as the bowl tips over, slathering the ring in batter.
Look for a young Anne Shirley in one scene – she plays the older daughter of a neighbor who has a newborn baby and gets some much-needed help from Joan.
Near the end of the film, Jim and Ed get into a rip-roaring fist fight. Reportedly, during the action, Lyle Talbot struck his head on a nail protruding from the wall and was bleeding profusely.
In the opening scene, when Joan is singing, she pays special attention to two men in the audience. One of the men is with a date – don’t miss the funky look on her face while Joan is singing to her man. It’s a hoot.
The film was directed by William Wellman, who also directed Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent in So Big (1932).
Clyde (Victor Potel), who was so fascinated by the fighting dogs during Joan and Jim’s nuptials, pops up again late in the film. In the nearby town, Clyde encounters both Joan and Jim separately, and on both occasions, he barks and howls at them like a dog. It’s really weird, y’all.
There are several lines of dialogue that point to the film’s pre-Codiness. In the scene where Joan pays the housekeeper, Emily, the hundred dollars, Emily tells Joan that she can use the money to get herself a husband right there in town. “And then,” she adds with a giggle, “I’d sort of have a chance to try the goods before I bought it.” (Whoa!) More spicy lines can be found while Joan is riding on the train to North Dakota with three other women, also on their way to be wed, who are sharing raucous stories about their spouses-to-be. One woman holds up a banana and proclaims, “You know what they say about men with bushy eyebrows and a long nose!”
Be sure and pop over to Speakeasy to check out Kristina’s Pre-Code Crazy pick for this month!