Monday, February 1, 2016

#1,995. It (1927)

Directed By: Clarence G. Badger

Starring: Clara Bow, Antonio Moreno, William Austin

Line from the film: "I feel so low, old chap, that I could get on stilts and walk under a daschund"

Trivia: The picture was considered lost for many years, but a nitrate-copy was found in Prague in the 1960s

This is the film that made Clara Bow a star, forever giving her the moniker “The It Girl”. And for good reason: while the movie itself is a fairly typical romantic comedy, Bow’s magnetic screen presence transforms it into something much more substantial.

Betty Lou (Bow) works at the ladies clothing counter at Waltham’s department store. One morning, she spots the new manager, Cyrus Waltham (Antonio Moreno), while he’s out making his rounds, and falls head over heels in love with him. But, alas, Cyrus doesn’t even glance in her direction. Instead, Betty Lou catches the eye of his best friend, Monty (William Austin), who, moments earlier, was reading a magazine article titled “It”. Written by Elinor Glyn (who appears briefly as herself in a later scene), the article attempts to explain that special quality some people have (whether they realize it or not) to attract members of the opposite sex. The moment he sees her, Monty realizes that Betty Lou definitely has “it”, and invites her out to dinner.

Seizing the opportunity, Betty Lou asks Monty to take her to the restaurant where Cyrus will be dining with his longtime girlfriend, socialite Adela Van Norman (Jacqueline Gadsden). Sure enough, Cyrus spots Betty Lou while she’s sitting at a nearby table with Monty, and is immediately smitten with her. It isn’t long before she and her new boss are an item, but when Betty Lou tells a little white lie to help out her friend, a single mother named Molly (Priscilla Bonner), it leads to a misunderstanding that could cost the “It” girl her job, as well as the man of her dreams.

Quite a bit is said during It about Elinor Glyn’s story, and it’s obvious that, at least initially, the movie’s intent was to draw attention to these articles, which appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine the same year the film was released. At times, we’re treated to excerpts lifted directly from Glyn’s writings, explaining her definition of “It” (“That quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With 'It' you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man. 'It' can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction”), and the author’s brief appearance (at the restaurant, she stops by Cyrus’ table to talk with him and Adela) offers yet another chance for her to clarify her concept of “It”. 

It isn’t Glyn or her articles that command the spotlight in this movie, however; it’s Clara Bow. Yes, her Betty Lou has sex appeal, and plenty of it, but there's more to her than that. As portrayed by Bow, Betty Lou also possesses a strength that, more often than not, is unwavering, like when she’s standing up to two social workers (Eleanor Lawson and Rose Tapley) who have come to take Molly’s child away (this sequence that also features a young, uncredited Gary Cooper as a beat reporter). Betty Lou’s tenacity shows up at other times in the film as well, like when Cyrus suggests that she become his mistress, as opposed to his wife (her pride will not allow it).

Combining beauty with a depth of character that never wavers, Bow took a standard love story and carried it to a whole new level.

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