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1934

Director: William Seiter

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Joel McCrea, Fay Wray

The Richest Girl in the World is a thinly veiled attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on the publicity surrounding Woolworths heiress, Barbara Hutton. The lead character’s name has a similar ring to it: Dorothy Hunter (Hopkins). The film doesn’t have a particularly fresh plot as The Prince and the Pauper story and several others come to mind involving the exchange of identities. What this picture does have, however, is excellent acting from the three principals. Oh yeah, putting Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea in a Pre-Code film doesn’t hurt much either.

The narrative of this story is basically told through the self-absorbed POV of Miss Hunter. She is obsessed with the prospect of falling in love. But she demands 100% affirmation that a potential suitor would not be wedding her for the sizable fortune she stands to inherit. Dorothy’s best friend and secretary is Sylvia (played by a brunette Fay Wray). They conspire to switch identities with the idea being that any guy who chooses the secretary over an heiress would be pure of heart. Sylvia is very happily engaged so that limits any complications. Along comes Joel McCrea’s bachelor, with his athletic build and breezy charm, and he sweeps the wealthy young woman off her feet. Against the protests of her estate Chief Trustee, she really puts Tony (McCrea) through the wringer with a series of tests involving Sylvia (who he thinks is Dorothy).

Despite Tony’s repeated attempts to romance her (Hopkins) instead, our heroine manages to convince him that Sylvia would accept his marriage proposal and that he would gain a financial windfall. The handsome bachelor is flummoxed by his feelings for Dorothy, but he asks for Sylvia’s hand. She pretends to accept and Dorothy realizes that her fixation has screwed herself out of what could have been a wonderful relationship. Instead, her duplicitous shenanigans have backfired. Later that evening, McCrea’s suitor is sitting on top of a staircase when he sees Sylvia’s real fiancee enter her room in a stealthy manner. Tony is incensed. He jumps to the conclusion that the “heiress” is nothing but a wealthy tramp. The next morning at breakfast he really lets her have it claiming that she is unfit for matrimony. Surprised and thinking fast, Dorothy manages to convince him that the two women had switched rooms and it was really her receiving the late night visit from Phil — played by Reginald Denny.

What leads up to the ending then of this briskly paced film is somewhat strange. I’ve read several complaints about the resolution seeming rushed and illogical. For my part, I’ve come to expect the unexpected from the Pre-Code era and learn to relish it. The picture poses some interesting philosophical questions about love and who is worthy of it. Her elderly guardian suggests that no human male should be expected to successfully pass her tests of pure love and that Dorothy’s charade is psychologically cruel to Tony. A woman as rich as Miss Hunter is a target for gold diggers. While I sympathize, her wealth is an important aspect of her identity and representing yourself as otherwise might make an interesting premise for a film but doing so in real life would sabotage any potential union. I have an enormous crush on Miriam Hopkins so The Richest Girl in the World gets an endorsement from me. One “genius” @ IMDB.com is quoted as follows:

Miss Hopkins was a good actress, but not very attractive. I would put her in the same category of Glen Close today. Fay Wray, her co-star, was far prettier.

One glance at the image above and I am convinced that this amateur critic has had a frontal lobotomy.

By James White

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