Thursday, January 29, 2015


Film: Bad Girl
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The “idiot plot” is a movie plot where all of the problems of the plot could be solved if the principle characters just had a conversation about what was going on. For a modern film, it’s pretty unforgivable, but it’s easier to overlook in a film that was released a couple of years after the advent of sound. Bad Girl is exactly this sort of film. Our two principle characters spend the entire movie not communicating with each other, which leads to everything that happens until the end.

Dot Haley (Sally Eilers) has a job modeling clothing, particularly bridal gowns, to patrons of the story she works in. She finds that the male customers in the store do little but try to pick her up. She does her job as best she can and enjoys her evenings at Coney Island with her friend and coworker Edna Driggs (Minna Gombell). For these two, men are little more than things there to harass them, so it comes as a shock to them both when they discover a man at Coney Island who seems completely uninterested in flirting with them. This turns out to be Eddie Collins (James Dunn), although he offers Joe as his name. “Joe” and Dot get to talking and more or less insult each other. Before you can say “doodley-doodley-doop” we’re back at Dot’s place and the pair are making plans to see each other again.

Eddie is a man with a plan. He’s been saving up his money to open up his own radio shop. He’s pretty much adamant that he doesn’t want any romantic entanglements, which means of course that he and Dot quickly become an item. After a couple of missed engagements with each other, the two stay out all night, which causes friction between Dot and her brother. To deal with this, Dot and Eddie decide to get married.

I’m going to short-circuit this. They get married and shortly thereafter Dot finds herself pregnant. This is a problem because Eddie seems to be staunchly anti-children. Edna tells Dot to give Eddie the news, but she balks and tells him she wants to go back to work. Eddie decides that that means she’s bored in the apartment all day, so he blows his money he had saved up for his shop to rent them a much nicer place. Once he finds out about the baby, he starts working himself to death to provide, doing side jobs to make more money. But he doesn’t tell her, so Dot thinks he’s just staying out all night. When she decides she doesn’t like her doctor, he arranges for a very expensive specialist, and even signs up for amateur boxing matches to earn money to pay for things. But of course, he still can’t tell her this.

That’s really the entire plot here. Eddie, for all of his devotion to Dot and to the coming child, can’t even bring himself to tell his wife that he loves her. He’ll do anything for her, even taking a pretty serious beating (at least for a round—he tells his professional opponent why he’s boxing and the guy takes it easy on him to help him earn more money) to provide. Eddie is a mug, but he’s good-hearted and generous; he just can’t admit to Dot what he’s doing for her.

For her side of the tale, Dot is convinced that Eddie’s silence means that he doesn’t really care about her, the upcoming child, or the marriage. She immediately takes steps to distance herself from her husband so that she can better care for the baby. And at the same time, Eddie is fairly certain that Dot doesn’t want the baby, and he plans to do everything he can to provide for both of them so that his child will have the sort of home he didn’t have.

It really is an idiot plot, because at any number of points in the film, all of the problems our young married couple experiences could be solved with a two-minute conversation. As I said at the top, this is far more forgivable in a film of this age. Filmmakers were still figuring out how to tell stories with sound, so I’m happy to give Bad Girl a lot more license in this respect than I would a film from more recent year.

Despite the plot that is transparently silly in that respect, there’s a lot of Bad Girl to like. Both Dot and Eddie are completely likeable characters. There’s genuine desire to see them together and happy at the end of the film, and the plot does manage to keep up the tension in this respect until the last two or three minutes of its running time. The performances, particularly that of James Dunn, are decent, although Sally Eilers comes off as wooden in a number of places.

The thing I don’t understand is the title. Why call this Bad Girl? Dot isn’t a bad girl at all. It seems like this title was given to the film as a way to get people into the theater, and that’s dirty pool. I’m not sure what I’d end up calling this, but I expected this to be a prurient tale of crazy lust and a young woman who spent her nights drinking and dancing. That’s nowhere near the case. It’s more or less a bait and switch, and that’s just unconscionable.

Why to watch Bad Girl: It’s actually kind of sweet.
Why not to watch: The title makes absolutely no sense.


  1. I liked this one a lot though I totally agree on the crazy title. For some reason, I bought the idiot plot here. Both of these people were shy and distrustful of the opposite sex and I believed they would have a hard time really communicating.

    I haven't seen a lot of James Dunn's work but I've liked him very much in everything. At about the same time, he made a perfect Daddy for Shirley Temple in a couple of films.

    1. I'm pretty sure this is my first James Dunn film and I liked him quite a bit. I get what you're saying about the two characters, and that helps with the believability a bit. Everything would be solved if they talked to each other, but again, that's a much lesser sin in a film with a 1931 vintage than it would be in a film with a 2011 vintage. Also, it's easier going down when those miscommunications aren't played for comedy.

    2. Dunn is fantastic in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I know you have ahead of you.

  2. I've never seen this one but I adore Sally Eilers.

    This week I saw Condemned Women, with Sally Eilers as a woman in prison falling in love with the prison doctor. It's a great 1930s prison movie, with corrupt matrons, a riot, a daring escape and a bunch of tough female convicts who ain't too tolerant of snitches. Also, Anne Shirley - I love her to pieces! - is the naïve sweet convict who took the rap for her boyfriend so he could finish law school.

    I love the way Eilers takes her roles so seriously. no matter how ridiculous the movie is.

    I highly recommend Without Orders, a 1930s airplane movie where Sally is a flight attendant. OMG! The ending! They're flying through the worst snowstorm in 20 years and one of the pilots goes nuts and knocks the other pilot unconscious then jumps out of the plane with the only parachute! So Sally has to grit her teeth and fly the plane with instructions from a guy in the control tower! But the airport is closed! So she has to land on a frozen lake where there's been a bunch of flares set up for a runway!

    I watched it because Robert Armstrong was in it, but I can't remember a thing he did in it.

    1. I think you'd find a lot to like with this one. It's not particularly easy to find, but it's worth it. This is especially true if you love Sally Eilers to distraction.

      As much as she's wooden in part of this, I can't say that that's a bad attraction. She's pretty adorable.

    2. She's also in a not-very-good spy movie called They Made Me a Spy. It's barely over an hour long so it's not so bad that it's hard to watch. But Sally is great! She's taking the whole thing so seriously, always a worried look, her jaw set in permanent determination.

      She's also in The Black Camel, an early Charlie Chan movie with Bela Lugosi.

    3. Eilers was practically unrecognizable as the hero's mother in Edgar J. Ulmer's 1945 B film noir for PRC. Actually, while no Detour, that's not a bad film and in the public domain.

    4. You're talking about Strange Illusion, I think. It's available on YouTube and it also stars Warren William, who was so awesome as Julius Caesar in Cleopatra and as the Philip Marlowe character in Satan Met a Lady.

      I've never seen Strange Illusion. I might give it a try this weekend. Ulmer, Eilers, Warren William. It has a lot to recommend it.

    5. Right you are. Don't know how I missed the key bit of information!

  3. I finally got around to seeing Bad Girl. I loved it! I mostly love the New York setting, the dialogue (the mean things they say to each other) and the three main performances from Sally Eilers, James Dunn and the actress playing Edna.

    People in movies are stupid. But people in real life are stupid too! This movie may have an idiot plot, but that doesn't mean people don't act this way.

    The reason it's called Bad Girl is that it's based on a 1923 novel titles "Bad Girl." I think it's either ironic or sarcastic. Sally Eilers is considered a "bad girl" by many of the people of the time because she runs around, acts and talks tough, stays out late and says mean things to the guys who hit on her. Maybe the novel focused more on that kind of behavior in the early part of the book? Who knows.

    1. Yeah, that's a plausible reason for the weird title of this.

      It's kind of a cute movie when you get down to it. With a better, more appropriate title, it might be something that's a little better remembered than it is.