Tag Archives: golddiggers

Ladies of Leisure (1930)

The 1930 Frank Capra film Ladies of Leisure stars a very young Barbara Stanwyck as tough, independent party girl Kay Arnold. It’s New Year’s Eve in New York, and it may be Prohibition, but that certainly doesn’t stop the booze from flowing at the penthouse apartment of dilettante rich boy/artist Jerry Strong (Ralph Graves), son of a railroad tycoon. The party spills over into drunken absurdities and Jerry, suddenly losing his taste for the wild high life, ditches the party and his love interest Claire Collins (Juliette Compton) and goes off for a solitary drive.

While driving through deserted streets Jerry spots a  young woman as she rows towards shore away from a party taking place on a yacht. The woman, who accepts a lift back to New York, is Kay Arnold, and to Jerry she seems like a breath of fresh air. She’s unpretentious and unaffected, and on the drive back, Jerry and Kay impress each other for various reasons. As a party girl (which is a euphemism for prostitute), Kay fully expects Jerry to step out of line–after all, her line of work involves men just like Jerry–men rich enough to afford her company while they simultaneously don’t expect to be restricted to polite behaviour.

Jerry asks Kay to model for him, and although she’s suspicious at first, she soon ends up at his penthouse apartment putting in long hours. Jerry just can’t seem to get his painting right. In his head he has a vision of Kay gazing toward the heavens with a beatific gaze, but he just can’t seem to get the pose. He buys Kay clothes, wipes off her makeup, but there’s still something missing.

In the meantime, everyone sees Jerry’s real motive for employing Kay as his model. Jerry’s amusing, permanently boozed-up friend, Bill (Sherman Lowell) fancies Kay for himself, and he makes it clear he’s interested, even dangling a cruise to Havana in front of her nose. Claire senses a shift in Jerry’s interest, and Jerry’s parents step in with separate attempts to prise Jerry away from Kay.

The role of Kay Arnold was a breakthrough in Stanwyck’s career, and she’s really wonderful as the gum-chewing, rough-around-the edges party girl who reforms thanks to love. I’ll admit, though, that I prefer Kay in the beginning of the film. She becomes far less interesting when she falls in love and giddily dons an apron. The role of Jerry is problematic–mainly because he’s such a wanker. He’s completely out of touch with his feelings–which isn’t a problem in itself, but then he orders Kay around in a most annoying fashion. He doesn’t make much of a romantic figure especially when Kay appears to transform, dropping some of her most appealing characteristics as she tries to please Jerry. There’s a vast gap between these two and as far as the love story goes, I don’t hold out much hope for this couple.

On the other hand there are two other performances well worth noting: Lowell Sherman as Bill and Kay’s hilarious chubby best friend: Dot Lamar (Marie Prevost): a woman who believes “you can’t weigh sex appeal.”

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Filed under American, Barbara Stanwyck

His Kind of Woman (1951)

“I was just getting ready to take my tie off. Wondering if I should hang myself with it.”

his kind of womanHis Kind of Woman begins in a beautiful villa in Italy where exiled drug czar and psychotic crime boss Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) paces the marble floor like a trapped animal. One of Ferraro’s minions listens to a radio broadcast that states that Ferraro should be rolling in dough–even on Italy’s far-flung shores, but while Ferraro is trapped in Italy, the boys back home aren’t sending along those ill-gotten gains from all the gambling and narcotics scores. And so Ferraro decides it’s time to get back to America and straighten out his rackets. But the problem is he’s been deported and as an undesirable, he’s not allowed back in….

Meanwhile gambler Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) returns to his Los Angeles haunts after thirty days in the slammer. He strolls into one of his favourite late night diners to order milk, but there’s something wrong. Sam, the server seems tense and nervous, and Milner takes the hint, strolling back to his apartment where he finds three hoods waiting for him. The hoods are there to collect $600 dollars that Milner doesn’t owe. After being beaten up, Milner receives a phone call asking him to go to the home of a local crime boss and here Milner gets an offer he can’t refuse. He’s offered a cool $50,000 if he just goes down to Mexico and stays there for a year.

Although Milner hadn’t planned on going to Mexico, he realises that he can’t refuse, so he takes the downpayment and heads to Nogales. In a tatty Nogales bar, he runs into Lenore Brent (Jane Russell), a woman who claims to be a millionairess. While Milner, is strongly attracted to Lenore, she brushes him off as she sniffs that he’s not in her league, but nonetheless the pair find themselves on a chartered plane heading for Morro’s Lodge, an exclusive, isolated coastal resort.

Upon his arrival, Milner makes it a point to try and discover why he’s in Mexico, and he does this by trying to mingle with the guests. Striking up relationships with some of the guests proves difficult, and no one seems to be quite who they claim. There’s writer Martin Krafft (John Mylong)  a man who plays solitary chess games against himself in a distinctly anti-social way. Another man Myron Winton (Jim Backus) has the persona of a buffoon, but he’s a card sharp intent on separating a pair of newlyweds.  Meanwhile Milner is closely watched by a couple of hoods who refuse to give any information but don’t want him mingling with the guests too much.

The resort is obviously the hangout for millionaries who don’t want the hassle of publicity, and the guests seem to be a strange blend of the extraordinary wealthy along with a few playmates. Milner doesn’t make much headway in the information department but thinks that at least he can while away the time massaging suntan oil onto Lenore’s shoulders. And then married Hollywood actor Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price) shows up for a tryst with Lenore.

From the very first scene as Ferraro menacingly walks through his villa, His Kind of Woman is great entertainment. The film is an interesting blend of hardboiled noir laced with comic elements, and most of the film’s humour comes from Cardigan–a thwarted Errol Flynn type who can’t wait to act out his heroic fantasies off screen using real guns for a change.

The film’s strength is in its well-fleshed characters. There’s a strong sense of just who Milner, Lenore, Cardigan and the psycho Ferraro are, and even minor characters are given quirks that make them fascinating and three-dimensional. Mitchum–as always–is superb. Cool and laconic, he never breaks a sweat until the film’s final scenes. Milner knows that he’s been set up from the very beginning, but he doesn’t fight it and goes along for the ride until that ride gets too bumpy. The film’s title His Kind of Woman refers to the fact that Milner recognises Lenore as his type of dame from the moment he sets eyes on her. When Mitchum first sees Lenore, he buys her a bottle of champagne and carries it over to her table. While he may be hoping to impress her, the way he holds the bottle looks like he intends to slug someone with it. She may act as though she’s slumming by hanging out in a scruffy Nogales bar, but she’s more at home singing in bars than she is sporting with the rich and famous at Morro’s Lodge. Jane Russell as Lenore has a fantastic wardrobe–with gowns that look as though they’ve been poured on to her luscious full curves. The scenes between Mitchum and Russell snap as dialogue is exchanged. One of my favourites scenes involves Lenore discovering that Milner likes ironing his money. Milner is a tough guy but he’s so tough, he doesn’t have to worry about displaying that toughness at every turn.

The comedy takes over at a few points during the film. The Shakespeare-quoting Cardigan becomes the focus of some of the scenes, and with a captive audience made up of Mexican police and American holidaymakers, the opportunity for real-life adventures swell his already impossible ego. But it’s all great fun and Cardigan’s very genuine relationship with Milner–a relationship of contrasts plays well on the screen. Similarly Milner’s relationship with Lenore believably simmers while she struggles with the idea that she needs to nail Cardigan to a commitment in the next two weeks.

Raymond Burr as savage crime czar Nick Ferraro is suitably psychotic, and as it turns out Martin Krafft is a Nazi doctor, so there are all these characters who may have disguises and fake names but who in the end run true to type. The film’s final scenes involve some rather convoluted back and forth fighting, and while some of these scenes drag out the ending, it’s all to allow the film to conclude in splendid, no-holds barred Errol Flynn fashion. 

The film, from Howard Hughes RKO studios, is directed by John Farrow.

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Filed under Film Noir, noir quotes

Priceless (2006)

 “It seems a man like you can’t be bought, even by me.”

pricelessIn Priceless (Hors de Prix) Irene (Audrey Tatou) is a svelte gold digger who haunts the playgrounds of the stinking rich looking for her next victim. Irene gets herself picked up by solitary, wealthy men, and then she milks the new relationship for all it’s worth before she moves on and latches onto the next sucker. One night she spies Jean (Gad Elmaleh) a waiter in the swanky hotel bar. She mistakes Jean for a wealthy millionaire, and he doesn’t bother to correct her mistake.

Fast forward to another encounter, and Irene and Jean find themselves in hot water. Irene reverts to her profession of choice, and Jean, well Jean picks up some lessons along the way.

Priceless, with its 30s madcap comedy feel, is from director Pierre Salvadori, and it’s a much more polished film than his earlier comedy, Apres Vous, a film that never quite managed to maintain the laughs–in spite of the talents of seasoned actor Daniel Auteuil. Priceless is…well, priceless, slick while seemingly almost guileless, this highly polished film manages to pass off some very awkward moments delightfully.

Irene is essentially a hooker, picking up customers and bleeding them for hotel stays, clothes and expensive jewelry. The film doesn’t tackle the idea of sexual favours traded for stuff  head-on, but neither is the story a preposterous Cinderella tale (the very silly Pretty Woman springs to mind). While Priceless glosses over the seedier aspects of Irene’s manipulative ways, nonetheless the plot does address the sex-for-hire aspect–lightly and with humor. Plus a few plot surprises keep us guessing, and ultimately the plot works. Jean finds himself broke and homeless, and once he’s in this vulnerable position, he finds out first hand how it feels to be Irene. It would have been a horrible mistake for the film to emphasize this point and create a heavy moral point in the middle of the laughs, but instead the plot makes its point and then continues on. The next point the film makes is that the lifestyles of the rich and famous can be addictive….

Wealthy socialite Madeleine (Marie-Christine Adam) is a marvelous addition to the film, and when she enters the picture, the comedy ramps up a notch. Jean and Irene are ultimately people who do some sleazy things to maintain their lifestyles, but the film never once dips into that sleaze. Yet at the same time it’s not too sticky sweet, and this is achieved partly through meeting the ‘victims’ who are played here as not very nice people who know what they want and are perfectly willing to pay for it.

Tatou is an actress who has been criminally underutilized and it’s great to see her here, showing her claws and playing a whole range of emotions as she steps away from the ingénue role. If you like frothy French romantic comedy, well it doesn’t get much better than this. Highly recommended


Filed under Comedy, France

Girl From Missouri (1934)

 “You could make me cheap and common.”

In Girl From Missouri Jean Harlow plays Eadie Chapman–a lowly chorus girl who’s determined to marry a millionaire. She gets herself added to the bevy of dancers slated to entertain geriatric millionaires and soon latches onto the crusty T.R Paige (Lionel Barrymore). Paine is at first amused by Eadie’s brazen behaviour, but sensing she’s trouble (and calling her a “blonde chiseller”) he fobs her off with some money right before he leaves for his home in Palm Beach. Eadie follows in hot pursuit–dragging along her faithful friend Kitty (Patsy Kelly).

girl from missouriOnce in Palm Beach, Eadie elbows her way into Paige’s life and meets his playboy son, Tom (Franchot Tone). He severely underestimates Edie’s gold-digging tendencies, and interprets her morality to mean that she can be had for a few sparkly trinkets. He doesn’t realise that her insistence on marrying a rich man is based on her experiences with poverty. While he’s wildly attracted to her, marriage is the last thing on his mind, and it’s the only thing on hers.

Girl From Missouri is a wonderful, light film, and with a sparkling script written by Anita Loos, Harlow is at her comedic best. Some of the funniest scenes occur when she crashes into high society and tries her best to act like a lady. In one hilarious scene, Eadie wears an atrocious, impractical negligee that’s covered with ostentatious feathers. Friend Kitty helps with the comedy–while Edie hunts for millionaires, Kitty eyes any man in sight. The role of Eadie also allows Harlow to display the breadth of her acting skills in a scene when she tackles Tom and stands her ground fiercely. There’s nothing too serious here, but it’s all great fun. From director Jack Conway.

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Filed under Jean Harlow

Baby Face (1933)

 “Yeah, I’m a tramp, and who’s to blame?”

The marvelous Barbara Stanwyck stars as gold-digger Lily Powers in the pre-Hayes code film, Baby Face. Lily is raised in a depressingly poor and grimy mill town. Her father runs an unofficial speakeasy and makes his own moonshine in the outdoor shed. Lily serves drinks–and a lot more–to the male customers. When Lily becomes tired of her father’s ‘arrangement’ with some of the male customers, she escapes to New York. Here she begins her long, hard climb to wealth–man by man. Along the way, she ruins careers, wrecks lives and even causes a suicide.

babyfaceLily Powers is a great character–very focused, avaricious, hard-edged and driven. Thanks to the early scenes that depict the harsh realities of her life, her ambitious and self-protective need to accumulate wealth is clearly understood. When she first arrives in New York, she identifies a building she wants to work in, and then rapidly rises to the top of the food chain using her looks and various male supervisors along the way. The film doesn’t try to hide Lily’s harpy-like materialistic tendencies, and she’s seen beginning work at literally the bottom floor of an office building. Then scenes depict Lily’s plying her tactics (this includes letting men look down her blouse). Honky tonk music plays as the camera sweeps the front of the office building and Lily moves up to another department (and figuratively improves her place in society). With each new department, she brings herself to the attention of increasingly wealthier men–until she manages to reach the top floor–leaving a trail of broken men in her destructive climb.

As Lily’s jobs become more important, so do the men she seduces. At first, the men have little to lose–she discards a very young John Wayne with little more than a broken heart, but as she crushes more powerful men, the stakes become greater. And this inevitably leads to a front-page scandal.

Stanwyck fans will love watching her unleashed in this role–at one point she acknowledges: “I’m not like other women. All the gentleness and kindness in me has been killed.” There’s little pretense regarding her single-minded ambitious drive, and from the beginning of the film until the last scene, this is clearly Stanwyck’s film.

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Filed under Barbara Stanwyck