Thursday, May 12, 2016

Gold Dust Gertie (1931): Whoa, Mama!

Note: The following post contains subject matter that may not be suitable for younger audiences. Parental discretion is advised.

You know how there's a mystique about PRE-CODE cinema, as if everything made in the early 1930s was kind of sexy? Well, that is a gross generalization, just as me implying that everyone thinks that is a gross generalization.

There are plenty of movies like "Gold Dust Gertie" which do involve adult themes like divorce and implied sex, but, hey, it's all in fun. That is, it is until you see a shocking image like the one below, when a woman models a scandalous bathing suit at the company which employs the comedy team of Olsen and Johnson:

Hey, now! Just look at the faces of everyone in this shot (That's right, the FACES, fellas, even though I know how tempting it is to ogle the pulchritude on display in the frame). They know how scandalous these duds are. I mean, really, a two-toned swimsuit? I NEVER!

"Gold Dust Gertie" is pretty edgy for 1931, even with the rampant sex and violence paraded on movie screens (Pre-Code, remember?), and even today, while I am poking fun at it, it is interesting to see how sex is handled. It has some romps, some wooing, and some fearsome battle axe broads.

It's also interesting that, if the original poster art adorning the menu of the Warner Archive DVD is indicative, the real star was top-billed Winnie Lightner, a major attraction in the early days of Warners who somehow faded quickly, married director Roy Del Ruth, and left the biz.

I don't know much about Lightner, but she makes an impression in this picture and makes me want to see more of her starring roles. Her conniving alimony seeker brings more energy than the rest of the cast combined (well, with the possible exception of that spicy swimsuit model), including Olsen and Johnson. The duo is rather low key in this one, with Johnson's high-pitched giggle the main bit of personality they get to display.

The story is a little thin, but it does get away with some things that would be verboten just a few years later, and Lightner is nothing if not distinctive. If you're looking for a little bit of 1930s-style comedy, there's enough here to make a watch worthwhile, but it's not as zany as I expected from the Olsen/Johnson duo.

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