Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1932. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Seton I. Miller, adapted by Josephine Lovett, Joseph Moncure March from the novel by Harvey Fergusson. Cinematography by Arthur L. Todd. Produced by William LeBaron. Music by John Leipold. Costume Design by Eugene Joseff.
A quaint small town’s adults are scandalized by the presence of a rich playboy (Cary Grant) who is brazenly summering in a lakeside cottage with a woman with whom he is not married. The town’s youngsters are only too happy to accept his invitation, however, when his latest gal leaves him in exasperation over his flirtatious nature and it prompts him to throw an anything-goes all day, all night and all booze bash. Among the guests is bank employee Nancy Carroll, who arrives with a young man who can barely hold her interest; she ends up being whisked away on a romantic walk by Grant and, because of a series of unfortunate circumstances, stays at his cottage later than she means to.
When the news of her scandalous visit gets around town, Carroll is branded as immoral, losing her job and her standing in the community, plus gets the brimstone and fire treatment from her shrew of a mother (Jane Darwell) at home. She tries to escape her problems by marrying visiting childhood friend Randolph Scott, but her former friends enjoy the hell they have plunged her into and go out of their way to foil her plan. In the end, she must decide just how important it is to rise above the standards of her society’s base suspicions, and because this film was made before the enforcement of the production code in 1934, her choice is one that still reads as surprisingly bold today.
Rather than using the story as an opportunity to remind women that their virtue is their only valuable trait, this film finds the sinister underbelly of public morality: the people who spread the rumours about Carroll’s supposed sin aren’t interested in goodness, they make sexual accusations because they have sex on the brain, and our heroine’s realization amounts to figuring out how worthless their good opinion truly is. This town with only one bank and post office has a suspiciously urbane nightclub at which the locals can hit the dance floor, but the atmosphere of pettiness is effectively conjured despite the high number of glamorous evening gowns on display.