Pre-Code Corner: Girls About Town (1931)

Pre-Code Corner: Girls About Town (1931)

Things were a bit turned on its heels from the norm in 1931. The stock market crashed in October of 1929 creating the start of The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl was ramping up in the Midwest, and FDR was not yet elected into office to save the day. Pre-Code films responded to the down-and-out by breaking a few rules.

A common characterization trope in Pre-Code films is gold-digging women in lingerie. In George Cukor’s Girls About Town (1931), we are presented with a positive spin on a couple of gold diggers, Kay Francis as Wanda Howard and Lilyan Tashman as Marie Bailey. Like 1931 audiences, they are working gals who yearned for the good life. In their case, the good life translates into partying all night, sleeping in until 5:30 pm, and being draped in furs and jewels. Make no mistake, these are working gals – paid escorts.

Girls About Town (1931) Kay Francis and Lilyan TashmanKay Francis (left) and Lilyan Tashman (right) take their profession as gold diggers seriously

Another frequent theme found in Pre-Code films is the parody of the wealthy. Everyday society struggled to eke out a living so they desired wealth, but resented the wealthy. This is an important difference in understanding the psychology behind a Pre-Code like Girls About Town (1931). Gold diggers Wanda and Marie want the luxury life, but unlike the those born into wealth, they work hard and must break a few society rules to get it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to look like Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman.

As escorts, they are paid to entertain men, who are generally middle-aged men of wealth, donned in top hats and tails, and as handsy as octopuses. Clever Marie and Wanda always manage to thwart their advances from going too far. Remember, these are good girls.

Girls About Town (1931) Joel McCrea and Kay Francis YachtJoel McCrea (left) and Kay Francis (right) take romance for a dip

Wanda and Marie take their next job aboard a yacht cruise, where they are surprised by their two hosts. Instead of the typical gray-haired, married, wolves, they see a young, handsome Joel McCrea as Jim Baker walk in. He is a charming breath of fresh hair. His business partner is big practical joker Benjamin Thomas, portrayed by lovably frog-voiced Eugene Pallette.

Girls About Town (1931) Kay Francis WandsKay Francis as Wanda is shocked to discover her date is young and handsome
Girls About Town (1931) Eugene Pallette and Lilyan TashmanBenji (Eugene Pallette, left) and Marie (Lilyan Tashman, right) both enjoy a good laugh

Kay Francis’s Wanda is immediately smitten with Joel McCrae’s Jim. And as much as they try to pretend Wanda is just playing a part for a paid gig, they both realize their connection is very real. Meanwhile, Marie appreciates Benji’s prankish humor so they have natural chemistry. She discovers that his reputation as an extreme tightwad serves as a challenge to her gold-digging goals. To further complicate matters, yes, Benji is technically still married. His wife (Lucile Gleason as Mrs. Thomas) is still in love with him yet sued him for a divorce, due to his cheapskate ways. Even though Benji is the wealthy “Michigan Copper King,” after many years of marriage, she never received a ring!

Ultimately, despite challenges over money, trickery, and reputations, all of these characters make the right decisions, no matter the societal norms. Here are some fun highlights that make this film an especially fun ride, which I encourage you to explore for yourself:

An opening montage of partying with fun close-up shots
Girls About Town (1931) Louise BeaversTheir maid Hattie (Louise Beavers) helps foil unwelcome suitors with pranks their own

Small role by Louise Beavers, as “Hattie” their maid, who performs a witty and integral role in tricking suitors with bad intentions.

Girls About Town (1931) Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman in bedWanda and Marie find that two heads are better than one in solving any problem

Any possible opportunity to show Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman in lingerie (Would it really be a Pre-Code without this detail?)

Girls About Town (1931) AuctionThe ladies decide to band together and solve matters with an auction.

An auction scene where fellow working ladies band together to raise money for a noble cause is a nicely feminist touch. Marie shows us she is as lucky as she is a loyal friend.

-Without revealing any spoilers, I enjoyed the handling of the threesome of Marie, Benji, and Mrs. Thomas. Typically, such an awkward trio would be hostile or contentious at the very least. But here, it’s another example of women working together to support each other. And don’t worry about our beloved Benji. He emerges wiser.

For these reasons and more, I recommend Girls About Town (1931). As the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin famously sang in their 1985 classic, yes indeed, “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.” I guess that applies to Pre-Code gold diggers with hearts of gold, too.

*You can watch George Cukor’s Girls About Town (1931) for free on YouTube here

–Kellee Pratt for Classic Movie Hub

When not performing marketing and social media as her day gig, Kellee Pratt writes for her own classic film blog, Outspoken & Freckled ( Kellee teaches classic film courses in her college town in Kansas (Screwball Comedy this Fall). Unapologetic social butterfly, she’s an active tweetaholic/original alum for #TCMParty, member of the CMBA, Social Producer for TCM (2015, 2016), and busy mom of four kids and 3 fur babies. You can follow Kellee on twitter at @IrishJayHawk66

This entry was posted in Posts by Kellee Pratt, Pre-Code Corner and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Pre-Code Corner: Girls About Town (1931)

  1. Vienna says:

    Great review and thanks for YT link. I’m trying to catch up on Kay Francis films.

  2. Pingback: A Big Thank You from CMH: The 3rd Annual “Give a Gift, Get a Gift” Promotion | Classic Movie Hub Blog

  3. Sara Stewart says:

    I’m going to have to find this film, it sounds amazing!

    • Kellee says:

      Easy to find because I provided the direct link for the free domain version via the YouTube channel at the end of this article. Hope you get a chance to watch it and hopefully enjoy it!

  4. Brad Harju says:

    I think the actor Eugene Pallette is great. I’ve seen him in many movies including The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Bride Came C.O.D., and The Big Sleep. He can be serious or comical.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.