Okay, so I have to admit I am in a massive Warren William phase. It started when I finally got the chance to watch The Gold Diggers of 1933 and was absolutely smitten with the relationship between his and Joan Blondell’s characters. Mind you, had my first run in with Warren been in the depression tragedy Skyscraper Souls I may have felt differently. And now, I can’t seem to stop foraging for any movie in which he may appear, even ones with questionable titles like “Under Eighteen.” Needless to say one can only pray when i’m at the library counter checking out these films that they think I have an elderly grandmother with an old movie fetish. Fingers crossed.
Under Eighteen showcases Marian Marsh as Margie, the young, beautiful, bent-on-not-marrying-anyone-ever newly independent woman. After seeing her sister fall in love, vow never to get divorced, run into hard times with a husband who refuses to work, and get pregnant twice, she reconsiders the current marriage proposal on the table and turns her attention to a higher priority matter; how to get 200 dollars to give her sister, so she can get divorced. Margie does pursue respectable avenues. She gets a job as a seamstress and asks for an advance on her salary without much success. She asks her ex-boyfriend who is excited to loan it to her until he realizes the money is for a divorce. She finally gives in and asks an extremely rich man, Raymond Harding, played by Warren William. See, he had met her one night after work when he brought his girlfriend to buy a coat. She was the only person left in the shop and the owner required her to quickly model the coat, before she had a chance to put her clothes on. Typical forbidden Hollywood story line- right?
When she finally shows up at Harding’s penthouse to ask him for the money he’s hosting a large swimming pool party and says “well, why not take off your clothes and stay awhile”?
But really, this film ends up turning out rather respectable. Harding hears her out and listens to her story. And yes, while she has changed into a kimono, nothing much happens between them. This is hard to believe of course when her ex, Jimmy, comes barging in and punches out Harding. After that the regular rigmarole often found in old films commences. Harding is lying on the floor, the cops are called, everyone thinks Jimmy has killed him, etc. etc. It all gets worked out in the end and you learn that Harding is fine and really liked Jimmy, so no hard feelings.
Margie “learns” her lesson as the independent woman and quickly conforms back into the marrying kind.
The messages against a woman leaving her husband in this film are strong. Meanwhile if we actually paid attention to the other messages in this film we’d see the store owner cheating on his wife as is expected, the rich playboy hosting orgy pool parties for the pretty girls, and the battered wife returning to her loafer husband because it’s the “right” thing to do. At one point in the film one of the men at the party tosses a very expensive diamond necklace in the pool calling out that the first girl who can find it, can keep it. This kind of gluttonous behavior is an interesting touch for a film made during the depression.
Warren William was 37 in this film. He looks very very young. Under Eighteen was one of three films he made in 1931 and the beginning of a long run in Hollywood. Marian Marsh, on the other hand, was a two year Hollywood veteran, only 18, and due to the critical failure of this film at the box office, hit a roadblock in her career. Leaving Warner Brothers Marian found herself at 19 a freelance actress accepting work where she could find it. It wasn’t until 1935 that she was able to regain some momentum by signing with Columbia to star in Crime and Punishment, most notably the best film of her career.
While the box office ruled this film a failure, I imagine it has more to do with storyline than the acting. Both Warren and Marian had worked to some success together earlier in the year on The Beauty and the Boss. A film with more music and glamour and less social messages that did rather well. Needless to say the people attending the films during the 30’s were either very rich or very poor. This film highlights all the pain points of the poor and all the weaknesses of the rich. Entertainment-wise this isn’t easy to watch if your in either situation on display. The poor women wouldn’t be able to deal with the idea that they need to stay in a bad relationship just because its right and the rich women wouldn’t want to see that they are indeed objectified, trapped by the men they need to support them.
This was an interesting film all around, but definitely not a must-see.