It’s a pretty tough time money-wise for a lot of people. Unemployment rates are rising, people are getting laid off and losing money left and right. Right now, we’re in recession. But there are a lot of people worried that we’ll soon be in a depression.

This, of course, would not be the first depression. The Great Depression in the 1930s was one of the bleakest times in history. But hey, it produced some great films. Especially some great films set during the Depression. So maybe we should take some tips from these movies on how to get through these rough times.

Tip #1: Find a rich man to keep you
See: Bed of Roses, The Easiest Way, Our Blushing Brides, Possessed
You’re down on your luck. You’re a girl living in a poor neighborhood, you either can’t find a job or you have a really crappy one. But you’re damn pretty, and with the right dress and hair, you could look damn classy.

And hey, here’s a handsome (hopefully) rich guy who likes you. Really likes you. You’re one of the lucky ones now. He like you so much he wants to set you up in a nice apartment so he doesn’t have to go to the bed part of town to see you. Of course he doesn’t want to marry you. He may already be married, or the idea of marriage just doesn’t interest him. But that’s probably a good thing. Why ruin something so simple with marriage?

Now you have a fancy apartment to yourself, an bottomless bank account, and you get to rub elbows with all of your man’s high class friends.

And hey, this is the 21st century. There are plenty of rich, powerful women, so it’s completely possible for a man to find himself a cushy situation like this.

Be careful, though. These situations don’t always end happily. Unfortunately for Constance Bennett in The Easiest Way, she lost the man she really loved when she couldn’t resist the life of luxery. And don’t go thinking this guy’s going to marry you. That idea turned out not too well for Anita Page in Our Blushing Brides.

Of course, you could get Joan Crawford-in-Possessed lucky, attract a handsome rich guy like Clark Gable, fall in love with him, and then have the good fortune of him falling in love with you.

Tip #2: Find a rich man (or woman) to marry you.
See: Red Headed Woman, Mannequin, Platinum Blond
You’re situation is probably pretty similar to the one above. However, finding a rich man to marry you might be a littler tougher than finding a rich man to keep you. Marrying a poor girl takes on some more social implications than just keeping her in a nice apartment and buying her stuff.

So you may have to resort to complete bitchery. Like Jean Harlow in Red Headed Woman. Easily one of the biggest bitches to ever hit the big screen, she did every single thing she had to do to get her rich boss to marry her. Even though he was already married.  Sure, the marriage was absolutely miserable, but she had all the money she wanted.

You may get lucky, though, and find a rich guy who’s just plain infatuated with you, like Joan Crawford found Spencer Tracy in Frank Borzage’s Mannequin. Sure, she didn’t love him at first. But there’s a lesson there in itself. Love will eventually grow.

Of course, it’s entirely possible for a man to marry a wealthy woman. It just doesn’t usually take much scheming. According to Platinum Blond, heiresses like to take on poor, unsophisticated men to see if they can change them. Just for fun. So all you boys have to do is be unsophisticated and put yourself in front of some rich chicks. But, seriously, if you’ve got someone as cute as Loretta Young already in love with you, save yourself the trouble.

Tip #3: Use sex in the workplace
See: Baby Face
The last two options were good options. But of course, you’re a modern woman. Maybe you don’t want to be married or kept. Maybe you’ll only feel complete if you’re working.

Yes, these days it is much, much easier to climb the corporate ladder for women than it was in the 1930s. But it’s still not the easiest thing in the world. Especially right now, when some people are having a hard time finding a job.

So if there’s any time when you shouldn’t feel ashamed to get on your back to get up the ladder, it’s now. You should always use what god gave you. And if he happened to give you some good looks and a fair amount of sex appeal, you should use it.

Just be careful. In Baby Face, Stanwyck got into a few sticky situations doing this very thing. Try to keep the amount of men with whom you exchange sexual favors to a minimum to avoid that.

Tip #4: Crime pays…. to a point
See: Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces, Scarface
During the Depression, gangsters were almost treated as heroes in film (and even outside of it). Life was tough. The world, the country, fate, God… these things had taken everything from people. And the gangsters were the ones rebelling against that and taking it back. By any means possible. Sure, they were doing bad things. But they were getting the money they wanted. And in times like these, sometimes that seems like the most important thing.

Without fail, whether it’s Cagney in The Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces, Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, or Paul Muni in Scarface, things always go amazingly well for these guys for some time. They climb the ranks and live very comfortably.

So yeah, a life of crime is always going to be dangerous. But unlike the guys in these movies, be smart. Don’t want to much. Once you get to a certain point where you’re living comfortably, let it be. Don’t try to get any higher. And for the love of god, don’t try to take over the organization. That’s the kind of shit that gets you killed.

Tip #5: Turn to prostitution
See: Faitless, Anna Christie, Midnight Mary
Now things are seriously bad. You can’t find a job at all. And the idea of marrying or being kept by a rich man isn’t happening (maybe you just can’t find one, or maybe you’re so much in love with someone poor you can’t bring yourself to leave them). You have no choice. You must turn to prostitution.

Sure, it’s probably the least dignified thing on this list. But when you’re desperate, you’re desperate. You gotta eat. You gotta keep a roof over your head. And maybe like Tallulah Bankhead in Faithless, you have to find some way to pay for your husband’s medication. She got lucky, though. When husband Robert Montgomery found out that she was a prostitute, he was moved by her sacrifice.

Tip #6: Split a nice apartment with some pals
See: Ladies In Love, Beauty For Sale, The Greeks Had a Word For Them, Our Blushing Brides
Probably the easiest option so far. You’re single, you don’t have a lot of money. But you do have two good friends who are in the same situation. So how much easier would it be on all of you to split an apartment!

This can be done just for necessity’s sake, as it was for Joan Crawford, Anita Page, and Dorothy Sebastian in Our Blushing Brides, and Madge Evans, Una Merkel, and Florine McKinney in Beauty For Sale.

But you can also do the three way split in a fancier way. It might require a bit more money, but getting a nicer apartment in a better part of town with three friends could be a bit of a confidence booster, which is always needed in times like these. In Ladies in Love and The Greeks Had a Word For Them, three single ladies (Constance Bennett, Janet Gaynor, and Loretta Young in Ladies, Madge Evans, Joan Blondell, and Ina Claire in Greeks) split nice aparments in nice neighborhoods to make themselves look classier and like they have more money, presumable to attract wealthy men.

Tip #7: Embrace your poverty and realize that love is ultimately what matters
See: Bad Girl, Man’s Castle
Yes, times are indeed tough for you. But they’re tough for most people.

Not everyone loves the idea of trying to find a rich person to take care of them, or turning to crime, or getting on their backs. So they just accepts their circumstances. And sometimes they’re really lucky, because they might have love in their life.

Tenement life blows, obviously. But if you have a husband or wife that you love very much, and a baby on the way, like Sally Eilers and James Dunn in Bad Girl, that becomes more important than everything else, even if there are some bumps along the way.

Even worse than tenement life was life in the Hoovervilles, where families lived in little more than tiny shacks. No matter how bad a living situation might be, look on the bright side like Loretta Young in Man’s Castle does. At least she has a place to live. Add to that the fact that she’s in a (somewhat complicated, admittedly) relationship with Spencer Tracy. Life is difficult, but Borzage films the movie almost like a fairy tale. Their love is so powerful, it can make a little shack seem like a castle.

There you go. Seven tips from the classics on how to get through these tough times.

I’d love it to here any tips you guys can come up with from watching 1930s films!

By Katie Richardson

Today in film, like in regular life, pregnancy is no big deal. There are pregnant characters in film all the time. Movies about being pregnant, movies about giving birth, movies about having a new baby. In this day and age, “which actress is pregnant now?” talk is the most popular type of gossip you can find in the rags.

But back in the earlier days of film, having a baby apparently wasn’t so commonplace. The word “pregnant” was never uttered on screen. In the cases it was a happy thing, they would just say that they were “having a baby”. In unhappy cases, films usually allowed the shocked, uncomfortable silence tell the story.

And women NEVER showed. Apparently, back in the 1930s, babies didn’t actually grow in utero. They must have been like those toys that get bigger as you add water, only with 1930s babies you added air and as soon as they were delivered they ballooned into a regular sized infant.

In pre-code film, there were a lot of cases of women having babies or getting pregnant before marriage. These were usually portrayed as unhappy situations, but sometimes the woman was still able to raise the child happilly. After enforcement of the code began, it seemed like it wasn’t even possible to conceive a child out of wedlock. It was quite awhile before women were allowed to have children outside of happy marriages, and even then, in most cases, they were still married. They had just separated from their husbands.

Yes, pregnancy in classic film is a strange thing. Here are some films with notable, baffling pregnancies.

Mary Pickford isn’t pregnant in Tess of the Storm Country, but she vows to help out a woman who is. Pickford falls in love with the wealthy Lloyd Hughes, whose sister becomes pregnant. Before she can marry the father of her child, he’s killed. So Pickford takes pity on the poor woman, helps her through the pregnancy, and then takes care of the child.

This pregnancy is a classic example of the shame that came along with having a baby out of wedlock. To protect her friend, Pickford allows people to think the child is hers, even risking her relationship with the man she loves. And in those days, a sin like this had to have punishment, and in the end the child dies.

In Bad Girl, Sally Eilers and James Dunn are young lovers during the Depression who marry quickly after meeting and struggle financially, especially once Eilers finds out she’s pregnant. Director Frank Borzage creates a really interesting and intimate drama between these characters based  almost entirely around the pregnancy. Both characters have a hard time handling the idea that they’re going to be parents, and both of them thing that the other doesn’t want the baby.

Eilers becomes pregnant early in the movie, and it’s a very prominent plot point in the film. But she never shows and it’s difficult to keep track of how far along she is until the baby is born. But Borzage’s look at the anxieties and uncertainty of being parents for the first time was a rare look at pregnancy in classic film.

Life Begins is a film all about pregnancy. Hence the title. Loretta Young plays a young married woman who is in jail for murder. She’s also pregnant, and is apparently far enough along that she must be admitted to the maternity ward of a hospital (you’d never know she was that far along, though). It’s there that she meets a whole bunch of other pregnant women, all very different, including brassy showgirl Glenda Farrell.

It’s a very moving film with a lot of top notch performances, but it’s also a really interesting look at the way hospitals worked back then. It’s movies like these that really give you a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. It’s just so strange and baffling the way things were done. First of all, the fact that pregnant women had to be admitted to the hospital months before he due date. Husbands were only allowed to visit their wives at the hospital for an hour or two a day. There were no private rooms for the women.They all had a bed in a large single room. And the husbands weren’t even allowed to be in the delivery room. It’s just such a strange look back.

Pregnancy isn’t the main theme in Beauty For Sale. This is one of those cases where it’s never implicitly stated, just silently and shamefully suggested. The story revolve around the romantic troubles of three friends, and troubles of Florence McKinney is the saddest of all. She’s in love with the boss’s son, having a clandestine affair. When she frantically tries to convince him to marry her, it’s made clear, without words, that she’s pregnant. He promises to marry her, but abandons her the night before the wedding, leaving the country. It’s a small part of the movie, but it’s certainly the most tragic, and Florine McKinney delivers a really fantastic performance.

Beauty For Sale is another example of the “secret shame” pregnancy story lines. The film is full of pre-code goodness, and it balances the lighter side of those ideas (gold digging, whee!) with the darker side (McKinney’s pregnancy) extremely well. The idea is that being pregnant before marriage is so horrible it can’t even be spoken aloud, only alluded to. While it’s wonderfully pre-code, it still takes on the idea that those who sin must be punished (or at least the women who sin), and McKinney’s character meets a tragic fate.

It’s pretty much a rule that I have to write about Man’s Castle at least once a week here, so here we are, filling that quota. It’s one of the most lenient of pre-code films. Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young live together in their Hoovershack, clearly sharing a bed and having a sexual relationship, without being married. Young becomes pregnant. While the revelation comes somewhat late in the film, it’s the main conflict point in the film. And, refreshingly, the conflict has absolutely nothing to do with societal norms and expectations. Frank Borzage couldn’t care less about the social implications of an illegitimate child on these people – it’s hardly the worst thing that’s happening in the world at the time. The conflict is completely between Bill and Trina and what the baby does to their relationship.

It looks like they’re caving to societal expectations by getting married. But as with most Borzage weddings, it doesn’t seem to be a legally binding ceremony. It’s performed by a man who is no longer a minister, with no legal documents being signed. The marriage is completely spiritual (and isn’t even really consummated as such until later in the film when Bill realizes he wants to stay with Trina). In Man’s Castle, pregnancy is not a plot point to shock or hold a mirror up to society. It’s simply a driving force for two characters. While initially it looks like it’s going to drive them apart, the pregnancy just brings them closer together. And we’re given something of Christ-story correlation, when Bill does the math and figures out the baby will be born in December. “Sort of a Christmas present, huh, Bill?” Trina says.

Men In White has perhaps the most controversial use of pregnancy in pre-code film. Clark Gable plays a doctor who is engaged to Myrna Loy. When the couple has an argument, Gable has a one-night stand with Elizabeth Allen. She becomes pregnant, and instead of having the baby or even telling Gable, she has a back alley abortion. The procedure is botched, and she’s admitted to the hospital to repair the damage, where Gable finds out that she had been pregnant with his child.

Even in pre-code, the topic had to be handled delicately. The one stand is only implied, with a discreet fade out. The abortion is never calle as such. They dance around it in their dialogue:

“Ruptured appendix?”
“Worst than that.”
“……..why didn’t she come to us?”

But from their behavior, it’s clear what has happened. Men In White is one of the most daring pre-code films.
 

When Kitty Foyle was made in 1940, the code was still being strictly enforced. So Ginger Rogers, in the title role, becomes pregnant while she is still marriage to her husband, Dennis Morgan. But she doesn’t find out she’s pregnant until they’ve separated. This is one of the many ways films made during enforcement worked around the code and bent the rules. Rogers was no longer with her husband, she was single woman, but she had committed no sin since they had been married when the baby was conceived.

However, she still plans on raising the child as a single mother. The pregnancy moves quickly, and is not a major part of the story. The baby dies, which is an important part of the formation of Kitty Foyle’s character.

With it being such a rare thing in classic film (as opposed to today), pregnancy in film was always a major plot point. Either it was used to shock the audiences or drive the story further. 

 

By Katie Richardson

By Katie Richardson

Once I finish my Frank Borzage project over at Rotten Tomatoes (I’ve been procrastinating so badly. I work all day tomorrow, and if we’re slow enough, I’m just going to sit down and write as many of the final 8 essays as I can before close), I want to do a list of my favorite romantic pairings in classic film. I did a similar list a few years ago, but that was about the actors and their chemistry, not the characters and their stories, which what I want to focus on mostly for this upcoming list. I’ve been working on it, but I’ve been having a tough time with it. Here are some ones that I really like and will definitely hope for find room for on the list from some obscure classics. And I’d love any input from you guys on this topic.

Bill and Trina – Man’s Castle

Of course, the couple from my favorite movie. I could write a book on the relationship between Bill and Trina. I recently posted a small essay about Trina as a heroine that covered a good deal of their dynamic. Maybe once I finish the Borzage thread, and before I start the couples list, I’ll do an essay about Bill’s side of the relationship.

Letty and Mr. Sherwood – Beauty for Sale

The age difference, the class difference, the fact that he’s married – it all makes for a great love story between two people who meet by chance, become friends, and fall in love, all while knowing they can’t be together. It all leads up to a really rewarding and lovely finale.

Zack and Mary – I’ll Be Seeing You

The war changed the way a lot of romantic dramas were done. I’ll Be Seeing You was one of the first films to really deal with the negative effects the war had on the boys who were coming home. The relationship between Zack and Mary overcomes all the emotional damage that they’ve both endured.

Larry and Blondie – Blondie of the Follies

I have a big soft spot for these kinds of romances. Two characters who obviously love each other so much, but have a hard time being together because the relationship isn’t really in either of their natures and they’re never on the same page at the same time.

Una Merkel is one of those stars I’d really, REALLY like to have a site for soon. She’s one of my favorite character actresses of the 1930s. Since she was almost exclusively a supporting player, her depth and range as an actress are often overlooked. From her smart ass dummy in 42nd Street, to her overly sensitive bride in Private Lives, to her brainy gold digger in Beauty for Sale, to her deep and sensitive nanny in Day of Reckoning, Merkel consistently knocked it out of the park, sometimes just brilliantly propping up the films’ leads, and sometimes stealing the show from them completely.

She wasn’t conventionally beautiful, and she wasn’t as glamorous as Joan Crawford or Myrna Loy. But she had something that no other actress had. An undefinable quality that made her likable, funny, and sexy as hell. She was just charming, whether she was smart assing the hell out of a man, or being sweet and playing dumb.

She made a number of films with close friend (and Obscure Classics favorite) Madge Evans. The two made an excellent pair. Merkel’s unique sass and flair balanced perfectly with Madge’s more reserved and refined performances. Merkel was often the live wire that allowed Madge to let loose. Watching the two of them together in Beauty For Sale and Paris Interlude is simply a blast. Their real life friendship shows through on screen. Both were brilliant actresses, but they never felt more genuine than they did when they were together.

Merkel’s characters often made a practice of duping simple men. She could play dumb like few actresses could, and the men were like putty in her hands. That sweet baby voice, the raise of her eyebrows and turn of her lip, and they were hers. Temptresses like Garbo and Dietrich are remembered today for turning men into jelly with their smoldering glances and sex appeal, but they had nothing on Merkel’s baby talk.

Few actress were, and ever will be, as unique as Merkel. Everything she did and possessed was so uniquely her, so completely unlike an actress out there.

By: Katie Richardson