This post is my entry in the Hot and Bothered: The Films of 1932 Blogathon, hosted by Once Upon a Screen and CineMaven's Essays from the Couch. A lot of great films are being covered, so go check out the rest!
Gold-digging, boyfriend stealing, drinking all night and yes, dress doffing. The three ex-showgirls at the center of Three Broadway Girls (also known as The Greeks Had a Word for Them) were the inspiration for many movies about girlfriends on the make. Few of the films to come would have the sizzle and snap of this one though. Most famous as the inspiration for How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), this comedy of acquisitions, friendship and frenemies has a naughty sparkle that is firmly pre-Code.
The movie is all about the ladies. As the love interests, David Manners is blandly handsome and unexciting as usual and Lowell Sherman (also the film's director) is a snob and has an unsettling habit of wearing eyeshadow all the way up to his eyebrows. Stars Ina Claire, Madge Evans and Joan Blondell, as the ex hoofers Jean, Polaire and Schatze respectively have the best quips and the most fun.
The trio is in the business of finding wealthy benefactors, and it is implied that they've made a better success of that than show business. Schatze and Polaire live in a fancy apartment beyond their means so that they can better lure wealthy suitors. Jean is more freewheeling in her pursuit of wealth, which leads to her being forced to leave her steamer trunk and a large hotel bill and jump on the next boat out of France.
|Manners, Evans, Blondell and Claire|
While Polaire and Schatze scope out millionaires with survival and a little fun in mind, Jean does whatever she wants, whenever she wants, just because she feels like it. She doesn't care about anyone but herself, but it's hard not to admire how free she is. Maybe you wouldn't trust her as a friend, but she'd be fun over cocktails (for which you would end up paying).
Jean is also the one of the trio who brings the most Hot and Bothered pre-Code zing to the film. Her sexuality is a tool that she uses with all the emotion and zeal of a carpenter wielding a hammer. The pursuit of wealth is serious business for her.
When Polaire's boyfriend Dey (Manners) introduces Jean to the concert pianist Boris Feldman (Sherman) while she is out with Polaire and Schatze, she threatens to leave, thinking he's an ivory tickler for a jazz combo. When she finds out how wealthy he his, the crafty dame is suddenly on the market. Boris is so sure of the sexual potency of his playing that he bets her the price of a mink that she will fall in love with him when she hears him perform. Her interest aroused, she agrees to the pact like a businesswoman closing a deal.
The group moves on to Boris' apartment, where Jean's progress is slowed when his playing makes her fall asleep and he in turn becomes fascinated with Polaire after she plays for him. Claiming that he can make her wealthy and famous, he manages to convince her and Dey to give each other up so he can take her on tour. Boris offers her the price of the coat, but Jean is having none of the golden egg if she can get the goose.
As Schatzi and Dey prepare to leave, Jean wiggles out of her dress. Polaire discovers the slinky garment hanging out of the back of her fur coat when she complains of being cold. Suspicious of her ambitious friend's motives, she nevertheless leaves to prepare for her travels with Boris.
With the apartment cleared out, Jean gives Boris a peek at what's under her fur coat. The pianist realizes he may not like her, but he'd sure like to give her a try. Polaire doesn't take long to figure out why Boris doesn't answer the bell when she returns.
In the end, sex doesn't hold Boris. No musician can handle his lady constantly snoozing through his performances. If she'd managed to prop her eyelids open long enough, maybe a missing dress would have been enough.
This episode does nothing to discourage Jean. She goes after Dey, and failing that, goes after his father. When she realizes she doesn't want to marry Papa either, she escapes with Schatzi, and the reunited Dey and Polaire to a Paris-bound ship. There she finds her next conquest, and hints that there will be plenty of dress-doffing to come.
Three Broadway Girls is a lot of fun, and thanks to Ina Claire, it also is a perfect example of what made Hollywood films in 1932 so Hot and Bothered.
The film is in the public domain, and unfortunately in desperate need of restoration, but if you'd like to take a look, it can be found at Internet Archive and is free to stream for Prime customers at Amazon.