Core pre-Code excellence! This movie delivers sexy situations while nailing small town intolerance and hypocrisy. When push comes to shove, the slighted and slandered Nancy Carroll makes daring, socially unacceptable choices that would never be allowed after the Production Code was enforced. Gorgeous Carroll is a vivacious blend of Clara Bow and Claudette Colbert. She must choose between slick playboy Cary Grant and hunky geologist Randolph Scott. What she really needs is a bus ticket out of her Town Without Pity. The picture is funny, well observed and well written. And it has Grady Sutton — ooh!
KL Studio Classics
1932 / B&W / 1:37 Academy / 73 min. / Street Date October 26, 2021 / available through Kino Lorber / 24.95
Starring: Cary Grant, Nancy Carroll, Randolph Scott, Edward Woods, Lilian Bond, William Collier Sr., Jane Darwell, Stanley Smith, Rita La Roy, Rose Coghlan, Oscar Apfel, Jessie Arnold, Grady Sutton, Marjorie Main, .
Cinematography: Arthur L. Todd
Original Music: John Leipold
Written by Seton I. Miller adapted by Josephine Lovett, Joseph Moncure March from the novel by Harvey Fergusson
Produced by William LeBaron
Directed by William A. Seiter
We’re always hot for ripe pre-Code movie action. The home video market offers plenty starting with the Warner Archive Collection’s ten Forbidden Hollywood sets. But there’s much more pre-Code we haven’t seen, that simply hasn’t been shown anywere. Maybe the rumors are true, that only Michael Schlesinger has seen everything.
That’s why I envy those that can attend a yearly screening festival in town called Cinecon. It specializes in vintage films not viewable anywhere: titles held by private collectors and those quietly restored by studios and archives. In terms of cable showings and home video the majority of the Fox film library of the 1930s has remained under wraps. Now that Disney controls 20th Fox, even to the point of eliminating the studio’s logo identity, old Fox films may remain buried even deeper in the vaults.
Originally released in October of 1932 near the bottom of the Great Depression, Paramount’s Hot Saturday is a genuinely ‘hot’ pre-Code attraction. It applies potent star power to a fairly legit story of morals and reputations in the midlands of America, at a time when opportunities were slim and the disparity between the well-off and ‘them that ain’t got nothin’ was at its greatest. Sure, the story is sensationalized and the finale is something of a romantic fantasy. But the small-town context is convincing, especially as it relates to young women frustrated by judgmental social limitations.
The emphasis is on everyday American intolerance. In the small town of Marysville, whatever happens on Saturday becomes gossip for the rest of the week. Cute bank clerk Ruth Brock (Nancy Carroll) is one of Marysville’s most popular young women. She supports her family with her tiny salary, yet her bossy mother (Jane Darwell) expects to run her life. Ruth’s gang takes off every Saturday to drink, dance and neck at Willow Springs, a lakeside watering hole. Ruth doesn’t smooch and pet in cars, which mildly frustrates her regular date, fellow clerk Connie Billop (Edward Woods).
Ruth must wrestle free of Connie’s grip: “What do you expect from a boat ride, Marlene Dietrich?”
The biddies and bluenoses are incensed by the newcomer Romer Sheffield (Cary Grant) a wealthy playboy who has bought a lakeside house and lives there ‘in sin’ with a city woman, Camille (Rita LeRoy). Sheffield breezes into the bank to drop off a $30,000 check — and also to chat up the hardworking Ruth. Refusing to take no for an answer, Romer invites the the entire Willow Springs party crowd to his lakeside house on Saturday afternoon, food and liquor provided.
The ‘kids’ are delighted by Romer Sheffield’s house and open liquor bar. When Romer and Ruth disappear for a walk, the mean-spirited party girl Eva Randolph (Lilian Bond) makes sure that Connie gets upset about it. Romer is surprised when Ruth turns down his seductive overture — she saw the $10,000 ‘bye bye’ check with which Romer wrote off Camille. That night at the Willow Springs bash Connie gets drunk. Protesting that he’s been ‘cheated,’ Connie jealously forces his attentions on Ruth during a boat ride, and she must limp alone to Sheffield’s place. Romer’s behavior is respectful, but the envious Eva sees an opportunity to destroy Ruth’s reputation. By Monday an entirely false scenario has circulated. The Ladies’ Club insists that Ruth be fired from her job. She’s effectively tarred and feathered as a slut.
Ruth’s general disgust and disillusion is complicated by the presence in town of a family friend, young geologist Bill Fadden (Randolph Scott). Bill openly admits that he knows little about women — and when the distraught Ruth finds her way to his campsite in the middle of a rain storm, he takes the opportunity to propose to her. It looks like social disaster will be averted — but the malicious Eva and the bitter Connie have other ideas.
Andy Hardy wouldn’t recognize Marysville — this is the ugly underside of Americana. Small-town intolerance runs wild: director William A. Seiter’s film has a nice feel for a value system that encourages licentiousness and then harshly punishes offenders. The randy young swains in this dust-burg (including W.C. Fields’ foil Grady Sutton!) expect whatever girl they date to be in a frisky, cooperative mood. A pack of old crow church ladies assume that Ruth Brock is a tramp just because she’s vivacious and popular. For Ruth it’s a Town Without Pity. Her own ‘friends’ as well as her stodgy employer can’t wait to tie her to the stake.
The small town setup feels very real, but the script amuses us with a full helping of unlikely ‘sensational’ situations. While performing his geologic survey Randolph Scott’s handsome scientist Bill lives in a cave just close enough to town for Ruth to rush to see him when she becomes distraught. Soaking wet, she falls unconscious right outside the cave, giving Randy the opportunity to perform the patented salacious/squeaky clean James Stewart/Kim Novak gag:
“Oh, I undressed you when you were asleep so your clothes could dry out, but that’s okay, right?”
Is that some kind of universal kinky male fantasy? Or is is maybe a female fantasy? This has to be one of the top clichés found in hot-cha steamy books and movies. But it gives Hot Saturday what it wants, a saucy pre-Code setup with the heroine naked under a blanket, out in a cave, with a hunky boyfriend trying his best to be a gentleman.
Earlier on, Hot Saturday takes another opportunity to see Nancy Carroll disrobe, when she catches her little sister wearing her shorty underwear. I can imagine a lot of rural girls feeling inadequate: ‘Why am I wearing cotton underwear from Woolworths?’ Perhaps the fancy lingerie tells us that Ruth harbors a secret desire for sexual adventure! Gratuitous disrobing may have seemed a requirement in racy pre-Codes, as with Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell’s self-aware scenes in Warners’ Night Nurse.
This is not a ‘college’ pre-Code like 1932’s The Age of Consent, but it might be a holdover from the wild party, ‘Dancing Daughters’ flapper-oriented silents from five years before, with their simplistic stories about prohibition fueling loose morals. By 1932 Hollywood movies treated prohibition as a joke.
The movie is introduced with the song ‘Red River Valley’ –does this mean that Marysville is in Texas or Oklahoma? If so, what’s the New York stockbroker Romer Sheffield doing there? Is he living off dividends… at the bottom of the Depression? Romer Sheffield is the 1932 equivalent of Prince Charming, the dream of every woman stuck in God-Knows-Where, U.S.A..
Topical humor sneaks in: Romer jokes about Ruth’s bank still being solvent, a reference to the national plague of uninsured bank failures. And we can appreciate Ruth’s explanation of a tax rule over the phone:
“Oh no, you have to pay it. That tax isn’t just for Democrats, Republicans have to pay it too.”
There’s a vulgar world of temptations out there, kids. Ruth Brock’s well-off friends all have decent clothes and can afford to party at the glorified road house on the lake. Connie Billop drives a terrific modified Model T hot rod. The featured singer at Willow Springs caresses her breasts as she warbles a come-on tune, ‘I’m Burning For You’. Although skirts are below the knee, a light under the dance floor gives everyone a look at women’s legs.
Ruth is her family’s sole breadwinner. Her domineering mother seizes her wages and her useless father pilfers some for cigars. Mother only smiles when the clean-cut, gloriously marriageable Bill Fadden comes calling. Ruth’s disillusion is complete when she realizes the injustice of all of this. She tells Bill that she can’t be safe from the nasty thoughts of evil-minded people. She has no friends and her local boyfriend is a complete rat. The only security appears to be in settling down and getting married.
This isn’t the Catholic Legion of Decency’s vision of Americana.
Spoilers: The surprising finale delivers a major wish-fulfillment for lonely female ticket buyers, but we wonder if early screenplay drafts completed the more realistic arc established in the movie’s first half. Ruth has already been branded a slut. After her fianceé’s rejection, she rebels and seizes for herself a torrid night of sex. She actually ‘does it,’ and then says the hell with everyone including her greedy mother. The ‘upstanding’ Bill comes back to apologize hat in hand but it’s too late: in love the wrong words can have consequences. Ruth Brock may be going off to an unlikely future but her series of rash decisions make sense. Bill’s a nice guy but he failed the trust test hands down. And events have cured her of any desire to be ‘conventional.’
If you reject Hot Saturday’s Prince Charming finale consider the dismal prospects of a more realistic third act. Her life destroyed, Ruth could slink away to live with an Aunt, and try to re-establish her reputation in another town that’s probably equally puritanical. Ruth could later run away from Marysville with the first drifter who asks her. That provides a positive ending for Picnic, but the movie leaves off the true-life epilogue where the small-town Queen ends up broke and abandoned in a big city. If you really want to get radical, Ruth Brock could become so disillusioned that she lounges around her bedroom naked, and on a dare run off with a punk bank robber. That very true story happened in Texas around this time, except Bonnie Parker was no Nancy Carroll in the looks department.
I like the movie’s Cinderella finish just fine. I wonder how scandalized audiences were in 1932, when good girl Ruth Brock throws propriety to the wind? Remember girls, the sure path to happiness and riches is to lose your job, reject all your friends and abandon your family in a terrible scandal.
Director William A. Seiter made at least a hundred silent films, and his name is on some notable titles: Sons of the Desert, Roberta, a number of Shirley Temple pictures, One Touch of Venus. This show is probably considered a minor work for screenwriter Seton I. Miller, a favorite of Howard Hawks whose writing credit would appear on a long list of classics, including several for Errol Flynn. Co-adapters Josephine Lovett and John Moncure March both worked on silent ‘wild party’ movies for the likes of Joan Crawford and Clara Bow. March is the author of the famous poem The Wild Party, as well as the poem that provided the source for the superior Robert Wise/Robert Ryan noir The Set-Up.
I’ve not seen many Nancy Carroll pictures — we recently reviewed the Jame Whale film The Kiss Before the Mirror. We’re told that her starring career ended very quickly, stemming from a dispute with Paramount. In this show she’s a real doll, sort of a cross between Clara Bow and Claudette Colbert, as suggested by commentator Lee Gambin.
Top-billed star Cary Grant was getting serious career traction at this time. He’d just come from a small part in Devil and the Deep and a bigger one in the Dietrich-von Sternberg Blonde Venus. If Hot Saturday originally had a different ending, perhaps it was changed to help groom Grant as a star. Romer Sheffield’s smooth operator is a big step forward from Grant’s previous films, where he’s only asked to be drop-dead handsome.
Randolph Scott started working a couple years before Grant. He split his roles between action men and tuxedo-wearing bachelors. He even found himself marking time as ‘handsome boyfriend’ in horror films: Murders in the Zoo, Supernatural. He and Cary Grant share the screen for maybe fifteen whole seconds.
The rest of the cast is mostly forgotten, even if some were hot prospects in 1932. I often confuse Edward Woods with actor Donald Woods, who had a much bigger career. Poor Ed landed the lead gangster role in William Wellman’s The Public Enemy, only to suffer a major career reversal when forced to switch parts with the new sensation James Cagney.
There’s always Grady Sutton.
Grady Sutton specialized in ditzy college boys as early as 1925… he made ten film appearances in 1932, including the aforementioned Age of Consent and a glorified bit in This Reckless Age where he plays another unlikely girl-chaser, ‘Stepladder Schultz.’ Here Sutton’s nickname is ‘frog face.’ His dullard character’s big contribution is to be caught stealing Romer Sheffield’s high-priced liquor, and to object (ineffectually) to Eva’s vicious persecution of Ruth. That Eva makes out with him in a car is meant to slam her as loose… and maybe a little undiscriminating.
Future Ma Kettle Marjorie Main has an uncredited bit as one of the town’s nasty gossips. Cary Grant’s house servant is Japanese, which seems to be a requirement in 30’s movies about bachelor lady-killers.
The KL Studio Classics Blu-ray of Hot Saturday is a near-perfect polished encoding of this vintage title, with a strong image and audio. We see the influence of the Paramount house style of the time — even when rear projection is used, sunny daytime scenes are extra- light, with gauzy diffusion around the edges.
Some trailers are included, along with a breezy conversational commentary by Lee Gambin. He knows his stuff and his description of the pre-Code world is better than most, even if he does go off in occasional tangents discussing the plotlines of unrelated movies. Most refreshing is his avoidance of the usual gab about ‘Hollywood bachelor stars’ Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. I myself have joked about the possibility of Ruth Brock rejecting both Romer Sheffield and Bill Fadden, so that Grant and Scott could ride off together into the sunset.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Supplements: Audio commentary by Lee Gambin, trailer, reversible cover.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: September 22, 2021
Text © Copyright 2021 Glenn Erickson