It Pays To Advertise (1931) **
Clocking in at just over an hour, this is one of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink trifles that manages to cram just about every pop-cultural obsession of the pre-Code era into its wafer-thin plot. In just the first few minutes, in fact, following one of the most delightful main title themes you'll ever hear, we have a chase in fast cars, a spoiled rich layabout, a showgirl, gossip-hungry newsmen, a crash in a private plane, the wastrel's businessman father bewailing his offspring's hedonism and looking gloomily at the stockmarket figures, the even more hedonistic best friend, his life given over entirely to pranks and high-living (could be Charlie Ruggles, could be Roland Young, actually it's Skeets Gallagher), and the resourceful secretary the son will fall for (either Claudette or Carole; in this case Carole: not laughing, golden, long-haired Lombard of late-thirties screwball vintage, but the other one, the pre-Code one, with the translucently white skin and short, slicked-back white-blonde hair.)
As the title suggests, the film is about big business and advertising, and points out the interesting paradox that so much of what is wrong with modern culture has its roots in the twenties, a time rightly idolised as the most glamorous and charming period of modern history. Yes, the cancer that is modern advertising was invented in those sensation-hungry, business-obsessed years, but the intent behind it was so child-like and its manifestations so energetic and good-hearted it would be inane to hold a grudge.
Some of the most delightful scenes, in fact, are those in which Skeets tries to convey the importance of advertising to the hero (played, I forgot to say, by actor and director Norman Foster), who considers it a mere passing fad:
- That's been overdone! Nobody reads ads anymore. I don't.
- Oh you don't, don't ya? I guess you don't know what I mean when I say four out of five have it? It satisfies? Good to the last drop?
Directed at a fine pitch of frenzy by Frank Tuttle, one of my favourite unsung movie masters, It Pays To Advertise is now chiefly remembered for a delightful if all-too brief appearance by Louise Brooks as showgirl Thelma Temple, star of the show Girlies Don't Tell. "Oh boys, get a look at them gams!", as one reporter puts it.