Friday, December 2, 2011

The title implies it's a kids' film

TCM is airing a bunch of pre-Codes after the William Powell movies finish up, several of which I haven't seen. One that I have seen and is available to purchase from the Warner Archive in case you miss today's showing is Under 18, at 3:15 PM.

Released at the beginning of 1932, Under 18 is naturally set during the Depression when jobs were at a premium and everybody wanted to get rich quick to escape the financial situation they were in. Marian Marsh is Margie, one such woman. She's got a job as a seamstress in one of the fashion houses in New York's fashion district, and a boyfriend named Jimmie (Regis Toomey) who's trying to get her to marry him. Jimmie is a delivery boy, but has dreams of getting a truck of his own and starting an independent delivery operation. Margie would like more than that, but this being the Depression, it's not as though there's much opportunity out there. A good example of this lack of opportunity can be seen in Margie's sister Sophie (Anita Page). Sophie is already married to Alf (Norman Foster) with one kid, and a second on the way. That in itself doesn't look so appealing to Margie at this point in her life. But to make matters worse, Alf has lost his job, and is constantly spending money on his version of get-rich-quick schemes, which for him means entering pool contests, where he thinks he can win the top prize. Needless to say he doesn't, and it's to the point where Sophie and Alf have had to move back in with the rest of the family and Sophie would like a divorce. If only there were the money for a lawyer.

Margie, to her credit, thinks she sees a way out of this. Although she's only a seamstress at the fashion house, she gets to see the models on a regular basis as they're showing off the designs to buyers, socialites, and playboys who would buy the dresses for their girlfriends. One of the trips out into the showroom brings Margie into contact with one of those playboys, Raymond (Warren William). There's an obvious choice for Margie: abandon the dreary future of being a deliveryman's wife, and spend time being a sugar baby! This would also allow her not only to live on Easy Street, but also to get the money for Sophie's divorce. All it really requires is going up to Raymond's fabulous penthouse and, well, being his....

For me it's that penthouse that's the highlight of Under 18. A lot of the penthouses you'll see in movies from this era are almost impossibly luxurious, which makes for fun set design. The one inhabited here by Warren William is no different in terms of set design, but a bit different in terms of what's going on. When Margie gets there, she arrives at what looks for all the world like the early 1930s version of a swingers' party. (Or at least what I think a swingers' party would have looked like 80 years ago; I don't go to swingers' parties.) It's suitably decadent for the viewer, but for poor Margie, it's enough to give her second thoughts. And to be honest, those second thoughts are one of the things that makes the rest of the movie not so interesting, as Margie resolves the situation in a way that's not quite satisfying for a pre-Code. (Compare this to, say, the end of Jean Harlow's Red-Headed Woman.) Still, Under 18 is a bit of a treat. (But unlike the title implies, not really a treat for kids.)

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