“I’ve kept myself fairly respectable through it all.”
Purchase Price is a delightful, fresh and funny film starring a young Barbara Stanwyck as “naughty nightclub” singer Joan Gordon. When the film begins, she’s hoping to leave her singing career behind and marry the son of the wealthy Leslie family, but that romance ends when a private detective reveals Joan’s liaison with racketeer Eddie Fields (Lyle Talbot). Eddie is only too happy to see Joan back in circulation again, but Joan impulsively takes a train to Montreal and works at a nightclub there under the assumed name Francine La Rue. With Eddie on her tracks, Joan decides to switch places with a maid who’s just arranged a mail-order marriage to a wheat farmer. On the way to the farm, Joan sits with other mail-order brides who brag about the various amenities their bridegrooms have, and the expression on Joan’s face is priceless as the other brides brag about plumbing and radios. But at this point, Joan has gone too far to back out, and she arrives in a desolate, dusty little town.
Laconic, sniffing wheat farmer Jim Gilson (George Brent) marries Joan, and they begin their bumpy married life together. There are some great scenes when the neighbours arrive for the traditional, bizarre “shivelry” ceremony–an evening of uninhibited, raucous, drunken rioting. The rest of the film juxtaposes their rocky romance against the financial troubles of the farm.
This is a great role for Stanwyck–her strong character possesses a wonderful sense of wry humour–often directed at her own decisions, and her reactions to the behaviour and bizarre customs of the locals are priceless. When the film begins, she has the world-weary, savvy-edge of the experienced nightclub singer who has heard ever pick-up line in the book. She’s tired of it all, and she wants a change, and that’s exactly what she gets when she decides to be a mail-order bride. There’s a slight issue with believability (Joan’s marriage to a complete stranger)–but the film is so funny, Joan’s decision to launch herself into an unknown fate with a farmer is acceptable. Directed by William Wellman, the film’s conclusion was rather abrupt, but Stanwyck fans will love every minute of this lighthearted, perfectly paced comedy.