There are so many obscure classics on YouTube. I barely scratched the surface with my posts. I figured that with so many, it might be tough to figure out where to begin. So I decided to do a weekly article focusing on one film to watch on YouTube each week.

Cast: Joan Crawford, Pauline Frederick, Neil Hamilton, Monroe Owsley, Hobart Bosworth, Emma Dunn, Albert Conti

In this pre-code soaper, Joan Crawford plays Valentine, a 19 year old girl whose father has just died. She goes to Paris to find her mother Diane (Frederick), who she hasn’t seen since she was five. Mother and daughter quickly bond and straightlaced Val is introduced into her mother’s world of partying, drinking, and frivolity. Diane tries desperately to hide the fact that she is the mistress of wealthy Andre (Conti) from her daughter. Val is persued by the drunken Tony (Owsley) who claims to love her but has no intention of marrying her. When the pair is in a car accident, they are helped by Harvard man Bob (Hamilton) and he and Val fall in love.

This movie has a relatively low rating on IMDb, which surprises me. It’s quite unlike a lot of movies being made at the time. While the romance is very prominant in the film, it’s the mother/daughter relationship that takes center stage. The mother/daughter relationship was rarely explored in 1930s film. Father/daughter was the usual familial relationship in films. Sometimes father/son. And mother/son, generally in a negative light. You didn’t see a lot of mother/daughter relationships explored, and that’s the main element to This Modern Age that really makes it worth watching. Crawford and Frederick share a wonderful chemistry, and from the get-go their relationship seems extremely genuine. It’s the most emotionally engaging part of the film. I found myself not really caring whether Val and Bob remained together or not. What I really cared about was seeing Val and Diane maintain a strong relationship.

Outside of that aspect of the film, This Modern Age is quite amusing. It’s a melodrama, but it has a definite sense of humor. There are good joke throughout the film, and even the atmosphere of the free and easy crowd Diane and Val run with allows for a certain humorous atmosphere. Monroe Owsley’s Tony is a lovable ne’er-do-well. He’s one of the bright spots of the film. You know he’ll never win over Val, and you don’t really want him to, but you still love him while he’s making a fool of himself.

The only real weak link in the film is Hamilton, and that’s not really his fault. With so many colorful characters surrounding him, and with an extremely strong mother/daughter relationship, his Harvard footballer, and his relationship with Val, seem somewhat bland in comparison. Hamilton plays the role as well as he can, but he just seems rather boring in the world of the film. If Crawford was a lesser actress, being shackled to the character of Bob might drag down the character of Val. But Crawford has so much charm and talent. Val always seems like the same person throughout the film, whether she’s drinking and partying with Tony, spending time with her mother, or having a romantic moment with Bob.

All in all, This Modern Age is a very good pre-code melodrama, with a very unique relationship at its core.

This is also one that you really should check out. I saw it once on television years ago, and haven’t been able to find it anywhere since. So getting it on YouTube is certainly a find.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1932

Director: Nick Grinde

Starring:Barbara Stanwyck, Regis Toomey, Zasu Pitts, Lucien Littlefield, Clara Blandick, Oscar Apfel

Kitty (Stanwyck) is an orphaned waitress who goes to live with her aunt in a conservative town when her father dies. She earns a certain reputation when she flirts with the male customers. She falls in love with David (Toomey), the wealthy son of an oppressive and snobbish mother who will stop at nothing to separate the young lovers.

Stanwyck played a lot of these good bad girls in pre-code film. She had a line much later in her career in The Lady Eve – “The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.” – that seemed to sum up most of her pre-code characters. The girls who have reputations that don’t quite match who they really are. Stanwyck was really fantastic with these kinds of  roles. She managed to be both soft and feisty at the same time. Her outbursts weren’t simply indignant, whey were almost embarrassed, and filled with hurt. Her performance in Shopworn may be like others from her that we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t make it any less good.

Overall, Shopworn is just a well structured, well told pre-code romance. It’s nothing jaw dropping or ground breaking – it’s nearly identical to many other films of this type – but it’s still a solid pre-code treat. Stanwyck has strong chemistry with her leading man that makes their romance believable in all of its stages, from the young and idealistic to the older and cynical. It’s a through-the-years love story, and th performance develop convincingly.

There is one thing about Shopworn that makes it stand out from others of its type. The judgmental rich parent may be a stock character in romances like this, David’s mother is a true terror. One of the most detestable characters I’ve ever seen in a film. Definitely in the running for worst mother ever. If there was anything in this film that brought about passion in me, it was this character, because I hated her so much.

A brilliant pre-code this is bot, but it is a very solid romantic melodrama that uses the conventions of these types of films in and interesting way. And Stanwyck, as always, keeps things fresh.

By Katie Richardson