Movie Review: Girls Can Play (1937)
The title doesn’t lie.
The girls are two actresses—Julie Bishop (going by her period stage name Jacqueline Wells) and Rita Hayworth (shortly after she Anglicized it from Margarita Cansino)—along with some obvious ringers from a women’s softball/baseball team. The actresses aren't bad but the ringers are great. They field, throw, catch and hit; they go ’round the horn like pros. Sadly, they get no cred. They‘re not named in the credits, on IMDb, on Wiki, anywhere. Anyone know anything?
At under an hour, “Girls Can Play” is hardly a feature. Indeed, in the Berkeley Daily Gazette from Oct. 1937, the movie is listed as second-billed to Columbia’s forgotten, and un-starred, “Outlaws of the Orient.” That’s how unimportant it was.
At the same time, it packs a story into that small space. Not a great story, but a story.
Rita Hayworth and the shank redemption
I like the roundabout way it starts. A Hollywood photographer is hiring a secretary who can also double as a model, and so, as the ad says, she needs to be pretty. A local newspaper editor (Joseph Crehan, chomping cigars) sees the ad and sends sports reporter Jimmy Jones (Charles Quigley), who longs to be a crime reporter, to get a human interest angle on one of the girls. From the long line, he choose Ann Casey (Bishop), who’s reluctant to talk, and immune to his B-movie charms; but she winds up spilling her story to him over lunch at one of those ’30s drug stores that has a soda fountain and everything.
She’s from the Midwest, used to be a sports star, and oddly carries around an album of her sports clippings even though she’s trying to give it up for frilly girls stuff. That’s why she’s going out for the secretary/model job ... which she doesn’t get. The girl Jones hired to stand in for her (so he could take her to lunch) gets the job. She blames Jones.
Reluctantly at first, she winds up pitching for the drug store’s women’s softball team—New Deal Drug Company: “Whatever it is we sell it for less”—which includes Sue Collins (Hayworth) and Peanuts O’Malley (Patricia Farr), the latter of which is in the film’s publicity shots, but is introduced here only to vanish. The owner of the drug company, and Hayworth’s main squeeze, is a former bootlegger named Foy Harris (John Gallaudet, looking a bit like Elisha Cook Jr.’s older brother). Jimmy Jones thinks he’s still in the rackets, but Jones’ crabby editor doesn’t want to hear about it; so Jones teams up with the a local cop, Lt. Flannigan (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, who could be a tall, meatier version of George W. Bush), to get to the bottom of things.
A torn-up telegram and a murder by a woman in gray are among the mysteries—though the murder isn’t that mysterious (we know it’s Foy in drag) and the torn-up telegram hardly factors (it doesn’t say anything we don’t already know). For comic relief, we have Jones’ photog, who attracts errant throws, and an umpire (William Irving), who stutters. At one point, with two strikes, Casey throws one down the pike and the ump begins “Buh-buh....” Sue objects until the ump finishes: “Buh-buh-batter out!” Like that.
There's a good recurring bit. Behind the plate, Sue dries her throwing hand in the dirt then wipes the dirt on the ump's pants leg—to his fussy objections. But this is Hayworth, remember, so I'm sure the actor didn't mind.
Quigley down under
Hayworth is the standout here, but two-thirds through she’s killed by Foy for the usual reasons: She knows too much. The cops and Jones figure it out, Foy in drag tries to skip town with a gun on Casey; but a flying tackle from Jones stops him, and we get our quick happy end: in suburbia, a handyman paints “Mr. and Mrs. James Jones” on a mailbox (did anyone ever really do that?) as the former leaves for work as a crime reporter and the latter throws one last pitch—with a newspaper—at his head.
It’s not exactly “A League of Their Own,” but the softball scenes are good. According to IMDb, it was one of five Columbia quickies Hayworth and Quigley made together in ’37 and ’38. A few years after that, Hayworth was one of the top pinup girls of WWII while Quigley ... was he at war? In 1941, he was in seven pictures, usually in a starring role. Then from ’42 to ’45 he was in just six, and most were bit parts or uncredited. But there’s not much more info I can find on him.