Sunday, May 17, 2015

"The Purchase Price": pre-code film by Wellman explores Depression-era marital values

The Purchase Price” (1932) is another pre-code film, relatively brief at 68 minutes, in black and white, by William Wellman (on the same DVD from WB and Netflix as “Other Men’s Women”, May 14), with some interesting moral and plot concepts that anticipate Douglas Sirk.  The film is based on the story  “The Mud Lark” by Arthur Stringer.
The heroine, Joan Gordon (Barbara Stanwyck), singing “torch” in NYC clubs, rejects her Mafia-connected boyfriend Eddie Fields (Lyle Talbot) for the more upstanding Don Leslie (Hardie Albright). For her safety, she flees to Montreal (actually shown once), where she tries to change her name, but the criminal syndicate recognizes her picture.  She bribes a homely chambermaid (who wears wool stockings to cover her own gams) to use her name after the chambermaid tells her that she (Leila Bennett)  had agreed to go to North Dakota to marry a farmer who had found her through a “marriage agency” and that she had used a phot of Joan instead of her own because Joan is more physically attractive, and more likely to get a husband.  This is an example of pre-Internet fraud with “photo-tagging”.
Joan, unaware of what will be like to live on a ranch during the Great Depression, makes the journey. The new husband Jim Gilson (George Brent) has to keep his distance at first, but gradually they fall in love.  The values of rural life (horse-drawn wagons, no cars) become apparent, when a local newspaper prints a story about their two-day journey to get a scuttle of coal.  Neighbors help one another in this culture, as there is now FDR big government yet to help them.  At one point, she visits a neighboring girl, where a teenage girl takes care of her mother and newborn baby brother because father is away, and she finds she can really help people.  That scene, in  particular, shows what family values meant in this culture, even if the topic o arranged marriages seems silly and exploitative. Women really had to take care of the home in this world.

Things get complicated as the bank tries to foreclose on Jim’s farm, and a wealthier neighbor Bull (David Landau) offers to bail them out in return for Joan’s favors.  Then Eddie shows up, having skip-traced her through the underworld. Eddie thinks he can get Joan back if he secretly bails out the farm, but then a jealous Bull almost burns them out.  The title of the film has some double entendre.

The North Dakota scenes sometimes appear to have been shot in Arizona, and other scenes show wooded hills. The western part of the state does have some buttes and badlands (less extensive than in South Dakota), which I visited in 1998. 

The DVD has two shorts. One of these is the 17-minute “Clue” tale, “The Wall Street Mystery” (1931), by Arthur Haley, where Dr. Crabtree (Donald Meek) solves the murder of two stockbrokers at night in an office. The movie has 1929-puns like “killing on Wall Street”, and a woman (found in the “closet”) who had “lost everything but the vote”.  At the end, Crabtree says, “I a man bites a dog, that’s news. But if a dog bites a detective, that’s good news.”
There is also an animated short “Moonlight for Two”, by Rudolf Ising, which WB says it includes only to demonstrate the racial prejudices of the era, but says it does not approve of these.  There is a courtship battle between “white” and “black” dogs,
On a 2011 Samsung DVD player, I found that the player could not access past track 8 on the second feature (because of the unusual organization of the DVD), a software incompatibility.  It did work OK on a more modern player with my newer  computer. 
The Netflix DVD belongs to the Warner Brothers "Forbidden Hollywood Collection". 
The feature film can be rented on YouTube legally for $2.99. The picture above comes from my mother's estate, farm life around 1920 in the midwest (probably Illinois). 


No comments: