Monday, September 22, 2014

'30s Career Girls and Marriage

Sometimes the occasional rogue woman will try to "live like a man," finding contentment in her career. This week I examine what happens in a pair of films from the 1930s.

  • Female (1933) - What a dazzling display of girl power! Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton) is the CEO of a large company and runs it with finesse and efficiency. She also treats men as they so often treat women. One by one, she invites her male employees home to "talk business." She sets the mood with music and Vodka and has her fun with them. The following morning, she dismisses them at the office. When they become "jealous, moody men," she transfers them out of state. Her career is her life, and she loves it.
    Chatterton in Female - LOVE this powerful dress!
    She meets her match in Jim Throne (George Brent), who is not so easily seduced. He chides her for thinking she's above "love and children, the things women were born for" (ah yes, the every girl should marry message in the movies). Alison is converted. She misses an important meeting to fetch her man and let him know she is his. Girl power? In the end she gives it all up, a gift to the man she wants to marry. Jim will run the business, and she'll run the home--complete with nine children. Now, I'm not advocating women use and abuse men, but the movie's ending was a bit of a let down. So much for the image of a powerful woman... 
  • Ann Carver's Profession (1933) - Here is another woman who loves her career. Ann Carver (Fay Wray) is "aching to go to work" instead of hanging around the home all day. Her husband Bill (Gene Raymond) approves until she gets a $5000 bonus for a court win compared to his measly $10 raise. Bill's delicate male ego is further bruised when he gets no love from his workaholic wife while she entertains business associates. (Hmmm....interesting double standard here. If it was he who entertained, would she be allowed a complaint? I think not.) Ann tries to smooth things over with her unhappy hubby. And behold--a pleasant surprise--she actually admits that she would be lying if she said she wanted to give up her career. Poor guy (ha!) feels forced to take a job as a crooner to make more money and give up his architect job in the process. It is her boss's (Claude Gillingwater) turn to dole out the advice, "a man can't stand the burden of obligation. Especially to a wife." (Good golly--really?!)
    Long story short, Bill becomes linked to a murder, and his wife must come to the rescue. In her final plea to the jury she blames herself for her husband falling into bad company. She believes she deserves the jury's "contempt" rather than her husband "for her blindness and stupidity." She explains she was like a "machine" with her work and "drove him out." She asks the jury to "pity any woman who has the most precious thing in life and blindly sacrificed it." She announces that the conclusion of the case will also be the end of her career as it has brought her "nothing but heartache and despair." Bill is found not guilty, she gives up her career, and they live happily ever after. Message? Career girls and marriage don't mix.
Join me next week as I continue to explore Career Girls and Marriage during the 1940s.

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