Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Hot Heiress

Tomorrow, August 3, TCM's Summer Under the Stars is bringing us a full 24 hours of the films of Walter Pidgeon. The day spans over 30 years of his career, starting with very early Pidgeon movies such as The Hot Heiress, at 7:30 AM.

You can probably guess that Pidgeon is not playing the heiress, although that would make for an interesting movie. In fact, Pidgeon isn't even the male lead. That honor goes to Ben Lyon. He plays "Hap" (short for "Happy") Harrigan, a construction worker in New York who, at the start of the movie, is working on the latest high rise, riveting girders together. The workers basically throw hot rivets to each other as needed, and Hap is one of the best at catching them and doing his riveting. But something goes wrong with one of the rivets, which whizzes past Hap and into the window of the high-rise apartment building next to where Hap is working. So Hap just goes into the window to retrieve the rivet. In that room is... a woman! That woman is Juliette Hunter (Ona Munson), the titular heiress, daughter of well-to-do Holmes Herbert and Nella Walker. Juliette is immediately taken with Hap's raw masculinity, which to be fair a woman of Juliette's class in the early 1930s wouldn't have come close to. So she and hap eventually meet for lunch, where Hap sensibly tells Juliette that you can't really expect a relationship involving such big class differences to work out. Juliette is oblivious to all this, and eventually winds up going on a double date with Hap and his friend Bill (Tom Dugan) and Bill's girlfriend Margie (Inez Courtney).

Juliette had a nice night out slumming it, but there are dark clouds on the horizon. In the meantime, Juliette was proposed to by Clay (that's Walter Pidgeon). Clay is the sort of respectable man who is supposed to be right for Juliette, but since they cast somebody like Walter Pidgeon in the role, it's supposed to be obvious that she sees something that's missing in Clay but not in Hap. Not that Walter Pidgeon is a bad actor; it's just that his presence screams "safe", "predictable", and "boring" in a way that casting somebody else wouldn't have done. (If the movie had been made at MGM, casting Robert Montgomery as Clay would have made for an interesting conflict.) Further clouds come up when Juliette invites Hap out to the country to meet all her family and friends. She realizes that hey won't accept somebody from Hap's blue-collar background, so she lies to everybody and says he's an architect. Clay learns the truth and, to try to break up the relationship, tells the truth to Juliette's parents. Hap knew he was right all along and leaves Juliette for lying, but she still has a yen for him....

The Hot Heiress is very typical for a movie of its time. It's relatively short, it strongly highlights the class differences, and it expects the viewer to believe things that really strain credulity. Still, The Hot Heiress more or less succeeds in entertaining for its 80 minutes. There are a lot of pre-Codes out there that are much more sizzling, but there are also a lot of early talkies that are quite creaky. The Hot Heiress is in between, competent but not spectacular. And it's fun to see Walter Pidgeon at the beginning of his long career.

As far as I know, The Hot Heiress has never been released to DVD.

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