Saturday September 24, 2022
Movie Review: She Had to Say Yes (1933)
“I suppose it's just a matter of choosing the lesser evil.”
I’d love to watch this with a group of twentysomethings just to see their heads explode.
First there’s the title, titillating back then, a lawsuit waiting to happen now, and not even true in terms of the story. Loretta Young didn’t have to say yes, and she didn’t say yes. And anyway there’s a better title—which I’ll get to by and by.
In the midst of the Great Depression, a New York clothing company run by Sol Glass (Ferdinand Gottschalk) uses “customer girls” to entertain out-of-town buyers. You’ve got to do what you can to survive, right? The problem is Sol is losing business because his girls are “worn-out gold diggers.”
Let’s pause for a moment over the term “gold digger.” The original meaning was literal, of course, a 49er in the 1840s, say; but in the 1920s it began to mean a woman, usually unmarried, often a chorus girl, who uses her wiles to get men to part with their dough. It was the title of a silent movie in 1923, and became the title of a series of musicals at Warner Bros.: Gold Diggers of 1933, 1935, 1937. Here’s a newspaper.com chart of how often the term shows up in American newspapers from 1910 to 1950:
1933 was the peak year, with 21,201 references.
The problem with Sol’s girls isn't that they’re gold diggers; it’s that they’re bad gold diggers. A rep from “Beau Marche” (nice) is locked out of his hotel room in his underwear. That’s a gold digger? Not from Sol’s perspective, since he loses the dude’s business. Which is the point he makes at an emergency meeting: “Gentlemen, our customers must be entertained but never insulted.”
One manager, after a failed attempt at the high road (getting rid of customer girls altogether), says their girls aren’t just “worn out”; they’re the same. The out-of-town buyers have seen them before. Which is when up-and-comer Tommy Nelson (Regis Toomey) gets an idea: Why not use the girls from the steno pool? They’re new, cute, “and they got brains that work standing up, too.”
And hey, he just happens to be dating one of them: Flo (Loretta Young). And she’s willing to help the team, and big buyer Luther Haines (Hugh Herbert of the high-pitched laugh) certainly has an eye for her, but no, Tommy loves her too much for that. Tommy may seem like a crass jerk but he keeps doing the right thing by her.
Until he doesn’t. Then he’s cheating on her with Birdie (Suzanne Kilborn). And when a big shot, Daniel Drew (Lyle Talbot), comes to town, hey, could Flo show him around?
Talbot’s the leading man, so we assume he’ll be a nicer guy than Tommy. Not really. He puts the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door while plying Flo with booze.
He: You’re a funny little thing. C’mere, will you—
She: Oh, please don’t.
He: Yours is the penalty for being so lovely.
She: I suppose yours is the privilege for being so important.
And even later:
She: I hate being pawed.
He: Maybe you’ve never been pawed properly.
Reminder: This is the movie’s leading man.
With the help of brassy friend Maizee (Winnie Lightner, the best thing in the film), Flo eventually learns Tommy is cheating on her and breaks up with him. Then Tommy shows up drunk and mashes her: “My money’s as good as theirs! Now you just close your eyes and pretend I’m a buyer.”
Seriously, half the film is Loretta Young politely and/or tearfully fending off the amorous advances of jerks. And when she tells Sol she won’t do the “customer girl” thing anymore, he insists, so she quits. She tells Maizee that she’s quitting men, too. But as soon as Danny “You’ve Never Been Pawed Properly” Drew calls, she’s back in the game.
It’s an awkward game. One moment he’s all over her, the next he’s professing his love. The latter scenes are actually worse. They visit the 86th floor of the newly opened Empire State Building, he says he feels on top of the world, then adds, “With you by my side, I’d get the same feeling in the subway.” Uck. She looks over the edge and says it makes her dizzy, and he looks at her and says the same. Uck.
And then he pimps her out! Kinda sorta. The guy holding up his high-priced merger is Luther Haines of the high-pitched giggle; and even though it makes her eyes dim with sadness, Danny asks her to use her connection to get to Haines. I guess she assumes the worst? Because she winds up using her beauty, and Haines’ lechery, to trick him into the merger. And then Danny assumes the worst—that she slept with Haines? Because he drives her to an out-of-the-way house and tries to rape her.
How long did you think I was going to fall for this wide-eyed stuff? Me with a reputation a mile long. And I fall as though I’d never met a little tramp before.
Reminder: This is the movie’s leading man.
Hey, guess who’s outside the house? Tommy! The other jerk. He’s been following her because he needs to know the age-old idiot-man question—saint or whore?—and for a moment he believes the former again. Then her purse spills, he sees the $1,000 check for the merger deal, and assumes it was for, you know, whoring. Which is when Danny comes to her rescue. He can accuse her of whoring but no one else can!
Of course, silly!
That’s pretty much the movie: Men force women to use their sexual allure to get money from other men, then accuse the women of being tramps.
I was curious how it would end. Would Flo just declare her independence? Could she and Maizee take to the road like an ur-Thelma and Louise? Of course not. Either way, she couldn’t wind up with Danny. Not after all he said and did. They wouldn’t force that on us, would they?
They would. Mel Gibson’s Jesus was less tortured this dialogue:
She: Oh, why doesn’t a woman ever get a break? You treat us like the dirt under your feet—first Tommy, then you, and now Tommy again.
He: I guess I’m just thick, darling. I love ya, I really love ya. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have said those terrible things to you. … Will you forget all this, and forgive me, and marry me? I’m terribly sorry.
She: I suppose it’s just a matter of choosing the lesser evil.
He: Then you’ll marry me?
She: Of course, silly!
That's my suggested title: “The Lesser Evil.” Both of you are jerks, he’s a bigger one, so I guess I’ll live with you forever. Imagine poor Maizee when she hears the news.
The screenwriters (Rian James and Don Mullaly) and directors (George Amy and Busby Berkeley) manage to do one thing right. After the above, Danny says he needs to get his hat and coat, Flo whispers in his ear, and he picks her up and takes her inside. Fade out. We never find out what she says. That’s good—both in a “Lost in Translation” way and because we don't have to hear any more dialogue.