Street of Women (1932) **
A typical if not exceptional example of what passed for a formula movie in the days before the Code, this is a predictably off-kilter romantic melodrama cum morality play, concerning the romantic tribulations of a married property developer, whose mistress is a slinky frock designer, who is also loved by her lover's best friend, who is also the employer of her brother, who is in love with the daughter of her lover. Which would be fine, if only the wife would give him a divorce. Needless to say it all comes out right in the end, thanks to that habitual harbinger of a pre-Code happy ending: the near-fatal car crash.
Pre-Code connoisseurs should find plenty to make them feel welcome here, not least a racy-seeming title that doesn't mean what it seems to, and has to be pointedly explained in specially-inserted dialogue. Then, too, there is much of that quintessential oddball casting, so evocative of those years when the golden age stars were starting to make movies but hadn't yet settled into their familiar personae. So here's a ripe example from Roland Young's straight actor period (or straightish, at least), obliging him to play hangdog as Kay Francis's failed suitor, forever turning up at her flat and failing to get her to come out with him for the evening. The only time he makes her laugh is when he draws her a picture of a pessimistic rabbit.
Then, in the romantic leads, we have Alan Dinehart (as the tycoon), who moved on quickly to semi-comic proletarian support before dying in 1944, and Allen Vincent (as the brother) who hung around in bits before throwing in the towel in 1939. You might know him as the doltish hero in Mystery of the Wax Museum but not much else I'll wager.
As usual in a pre-Coder, though, it's the female casting that will make you want to stick around. As the mistress: Kay Francis, chic as ever in an early Warners role, when she still had that sullen, sultry Paramount air about her and plenty of gel in her hair (you won't find it easy to keep your eyes off her hairdo, in fact). And as the daughter: Gloria Stuart, in her movie debut. There's always something a bit suggestive about Stuart's characters, even when they are as simpering as here: as in Secret of the Blue Room she gives her father a big smacking kiss on the lips in one scene. (At least her dad's not Lionel Atwill this time, though, which in that picture hit the perversity meter so hard the bell broke.) At times it seems like Kay and her brother can barely keep their hands off each other too, and their estrangement when he discovers her affair with Dinehart plays much more like a lover's tiff than brotherly resentment. The world of pre-Code!
And other familiar sights and sounds are tossed into the mix, including one of those ladies fashion house salons where models come out wearing the gowns people are thinking of buying. For the chaps: some excellent real footage of thirties skyscraper construction.