The following review is one of several that I composed for the ClassicFlix site under the column title “Where’s That Been?” Most of those columns made the transition to CF’s new site but some of them stayed behind for reason or another…and since my writer’s ego is just big enough to where I don’t like having what I’ve penned shielded from the large number of folks who surf the Internets I have reprinted it here. Enjoy!
Chorus girls Kay Curtis (Glenda Farrell) and June Dale (Mary Brian) are on the make in Palm Beach, Florida…and are most unapologetic about their gold-digging aspirations. Their latest sugar daddy, a lecherous old codger (Guy Kibbee) who answers to “Kenneth Van Dusen,” is wise to them, however…and skips out, leaving the girls with a whopping big hotel bill they can’t possibly pay. Seeing in a newspaper that one of their fellow chorines, “Dumb” Daisy Bradford (Peggy Shannon), is about to mosey down the matrimonial aisle with millionaire Henry Gibson (Ben Lyon), Kay and June attempt to put the bite on her for the lodging tariff they owe.
Daisy, accompanied her “parents” (Helen Ware, Ferdinand Gottschalk), snubs her former friends—claiming she’s never seen them before. Resisting the urge to inform her fiancé of her past, Kay and June get ready to shake the dust of Palm Beach off their dancing feet and head back to the Big Apple, thanks to the generosity of one of Daisy’s former gentleman callers, Raymond Fox (Lyle Talbot), who squares their hotel bill and fronts them the wherewithal for train tickets. But the two women decide to stick around and investigate when Daisy vanishes not long after her wedding…particularly since Henry the husband is offering a $25,000 reward for her safe return.
Girl Missing (1933) might, at first glance, seem like your run-of-the-mill Warner Bros. programmer; the studio cranked them out fast and furious in that era, with their onscreen running time nearly matching the breakneck pace at which they were produced. It’s a real treat, however, to find a Warners flick that has a little bit more to recommend to the classic movie fan; the appeal of Missing is the plethora of snappy one-liners in its script (written by Carl Erickson and Don Mullaly, with dialogue courtesy of Ben Markson), tossed off with aplomb by actress Glenda Farrell. Opening a letter left behind by the now-departed Van Dusen, Farrell’s Kay reads: “‘For the G.D. sisters’…I don’t know if he means ‘golddiggers’ or another well-known word.” (Pre-Code…there is no substitute.)
“Now don’t disturb Mother while she’s making biscuits” is another beaut, addressed to Brian’s June while Farrell is on the telephone. Glenda Farrell personified the sassy, wisecracking blonde in much of the studio’s product in the 1930s (notably in Little Caesar and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang), culminating with the Torchy Blane movie series, in which she played the brassy gal reporter in seven of nine programmers released between 1937 and 1939. Her movie career petered out after the 1930s (Farrell elected to go back to working on the stage), but when she did turn up in movies like Johnny Eager (1942) or Susan Slept Here (1954) she was always a most welcome presence.
Glenda’s Kay Curtis in Missing is one of her best film roles: a refreshingly blunt working girl who makes no bones about the fact that she’d like to land a man with money and enjoy a life of leisure; she’s often direct when dealing with the other characters but never obnoxious about it. Mary Brian—often referred to as “The Sweetest Girl in the Movies”—is the perfect counterpart to Farrell; Brian’s June Dale practices a little more diplomacy (she’s the good cop to Kay’s bad cop) but is certainly no innocent. It’s June who talks Kay out of telling Gibson about Daisy’s unscrupulous past despite having designs on the millionaire herself (the two of them have a “meet cute” in the hotel elevator). The two women are so darn likable, and the hardships they experience in Girl Missing—wondering when they’ll eat again or if they’ll find a place to sleep—are negated by the ample rewards they receive at the end.
My only nitpick with Missing is that the wonderful camaraderie between June and Kay often comes to a screeching halt with the presence of Ben Lyon, the actor who plays Henry Gibson in the film. If only the filmmakers had let him recite poetry (Laugh-In reference for the win!); it might have added an interesting facet to his character but Lyon’s millionaire has all the excitement of a milkshake with two straws. A popular leading man in the 1920s/1930s (best known for his heroics in the Howard Hughes-directed Hell’s Angels), Lyon later became a 20th Century Fox executive and after that, continued his vanilla ways with wife Bebe Daniels (whom he married in 1930) on the popular BBC radio series Hi, Gang! and Life with the Lyons (which later transitioned to TV), making them the British counterparts of Ozzie and Harriet. Missing has the foresight to compensate for Ben’s thespic handicaps by casting stronger male performers like future character great Lyle Talbot (who was a regular on Ozzie and Harriet’s series) as the oily Raymond Fox, Harold Huber as the mysterious Hendricks (he ends up knifed shortly after Daisy vanishes). and “thin man” Edward Ellis as the police inspector investigating Daisy’s disappearance.
Two familiar faces do not receive billing for their work in Missing: that’s Louise Beavers as Daisy’s maid—you know her for another domestic role in Imitation of Life (1934), but I’m a huge fan of her unconventional turn (as the operator of a numbers racket with Joan Blondell) in Bullets or Ballots (1936). Joe, the garage mechanic, is practically unrecognizable but the actor playing him would go on to win a record three Best Supporting Actor Oscars and later star in the hit sitcom The Real McCoys. (Yes, that’s Walter Brennan.)
Robert Florey directed Girl Missing—considered by many as “the best director working in major studio B-films,” Florey eschews the German expressionistic methods he displayed in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) in favor of the no-nonsense economical style of his later efforts. (In the 1940s, Robert held the reins on two of Peter Lorre’s best vehicles, 1941’s The Face Behind the Mask and 1946’s The Beast with Five Fingers.) The director’s creativity is in evidence with the brief flashlight bit during the opening titles (pretty impressive for a programmer), and the overall pace of the film (it’s over-and-done at 69 minutes) meshes perfectly with its snappy dialogue and general atmosphere of insouciance. It’s one of the best “new” classic movies I’ve watched this year, and I heartily recommend a look-see at your convenience.