Saturday 14 July 2012

Under 18 (1931): Film Review

The first in my Marian Marsh marathon, the cute but realistic depression era flick, “Under 18”.


The film begins, optimistically, with a wedding. Sophie Evans (Anita Page) is marrying Alf (Norman Foster) in the prosperity of pre-depression era America. Her sister Madge (Marian Marsh) dreams of the same happiness that her sister is experiencing – a stable lifestyle and a loving husband.
But it doesn’t last.  Three years later, as financial ruin inflicts the nation, the Evans family is no different. With the death of Pop Evans, Madge and her mother lose their main source of income and are forced to move to a rundown apartment in the poor slums of the city.

Even though she is happy with her deliveryman boyfriend Jimmy (Regis Toomey), Madge is not content with her situation and dreams of a life of wealth and luxury.

Madge: “I’m sick of everything…Of being poor.”
Madge and Jimmy

A knock at the door late at night, makes her situation worse. Sophie has returned, also feeling the burden of the “Great Depression” and her husband not willing to take a job, asks to stay with Madge bringing the addition of their newborn baby.

Meanwhile, Madge’s work doesn’t provide her with good influences. She is a seamstress at a clothing business that also employs a group of models that boast about their expensive possessions and the wealthy men that give it to them. When the models go to lunch, the store owner finds that he needs a model to showcase a new fur coat to a wealthy man and his girlfriend. He prevails upon Madge and, elated, she accepts. Enter Warren William.
Warren and his leer

Raymond Harding (Warren William) is a bored millionaire chaperoning his girlfriend Babsy (Claire Todd) on her shopping excursions. Madge opens the coat to show the lining and reveals a glimpse of her lingerie. This makes Raymond take notice. He is immediately transfixed by her beauty, innocence and sincerity.
Jimmy on Raymond: “I know all about him, he’s girl nutty.”

Understandably, Jimmy is jealous; he doesn’t trust Raymond’s motives and wants a declaration from Madge that she will marry him. His method works and they become engaged. Although, Madge is euphoric, the drama doesn’t end. The next morning in the midst of another of their customary arguments, Alf punches Sophie and runs out of the apartment. She immediately wants a divorce; her situation affects Madge and she is resolute that she will not become like her sister and declares she will never marry.

Madge: “I made up my mind that when I give myself to a man for life, its cash on delivery.”

But to get Sophie a divorce, Madge needs $200 from her male friends. Her employer refuses, her model friends refuse and so does Jimmy; therefore, Madge takes the only option available to her, Raymond Harding. She boldly goes up to his apartment - a luxurious penthouse where the party is 24 hours a day.
Party central!!!
He convinces her to join the party and his servant leads her to Raymond’s den (a large lavish room with lots of bench-seats) with the purpose of changing into a swimsuit. As she is changing, Raymond comes in and begins feeding her champagne and trying to seduce her. But instead of going further, he relents. In a moment of weakness, he sees her virtue and innocent love for Jimmy and chooses not to corrupt it and her like the other girls.They are in the room when Jimmy arrives and the trouble starts.  
Does Madge choose Jimmy or Raymond?

“Under 18” is a cute depression era film about a virtuous girl whose entire world is persuading her towards a life moving from one rich man to another. Because the plot is heavily centred on the problems of the “Great Depression” it should be dated and irrelevant - in some ways it is – however, overall the issues Madge Evans (Marian Marsh) has to face are modern troubles. She has to choose between money and a life of true happiness. These are deep topics but instead the film is full of light-hearted moments and warmth.  Most of this quality comes from Marian Marsh whose elfin looks, brilliant smile and soft acting techniques change the entire air of the film which would have been harsher if Ann Dvorack or Joan Blondell were given the part. Her relationship with the kind and lovable Jimmy adds another layer of sweetness and light to a film that should be dark and depressing.
The beautiful Marian

And of course there’s Warren William as Raymond Harding and his great leer. No one actor is more appealingly sleazy or more apologetically so. Although, he doesn’t look so hot in a bathing suit, Raymond is obviously a ladies’ man.
Warren in a swim suit, he doesn't really fill it out...
He has a closet full of expensive women’s clothing next to a room entirely filled with alcohol and a servant that understands how his ‘system’ works. He has list of readily available comebacks and sexual innuendo prepared to seduce an array of young women. He is the master of sin but, in a twist, shows his soft side at the end by choosing to help Madge and extricate her from the corrupting influences of himself and his “lady friends”.    

The movie is filled with Precode moments. Alf (Norman Foster) provides a lot of the questionable scenes; he is a supposed gambler, likes to drink, refuses to work and in his last onscreen appearance bashes his wife to the point that she demands a divorce.  Like most films from this era, there is constant dressing and undressing; mostly involving the models at the shop who spend the majority of the film in lingerie and Madge when changing from different outfits.

Similarly, it wouldn’t be a Warren William film without sexual comments and the odd scene with his character bobbing a woman around the water on blow-up toy while she giggles wildly.
I didn't know what to think of this scene...
These are a few of his remarks below:
            “Why not take off your clothes and stay awhile.” Raymond to Madge.

“How will you pay the money back?” Raymond
“From my salary.Something each week.” Madge
            “Oh. Wouldn’t you take it as a gift.” Raymond

“Yes. If it’s necessary. I suppose that’s the only way you lend money to girls like me.” Madge
            “Yes, that seems to be the customary arrangement.” Raymond

And, overall, landscapes of the depression are constantly in focus – dirty streets and slum-like housing and desperate people covered in dirt and worn-out clothing. 

To see this film and fully appreciate the underlining messages, it is a necessity to understand the depression and its effects on the American people. However, on another (and the best) level it is a sweet virtue versus sin story with lovable characters and a satisfying happy ending.  Another great Precode film, but perhaps I am biased.
Happy ending

Jimmy to Madge: “There is so much grief and so much happiness in everyone’s life. You never know what’s around the corner. And most of your troubles come from trying to find out.”

Blink and you will miss it....


  1. This sounds like a wonderful pre-Code film. I absolutely love Art Deco. Also, Warren William makes the perfect seducer, a role which I'm sure he played many times. I will be looking for this film on TCM.

  2. Thanks for your comment. For some reason Warren William and Marian Marsh have great chemistry.