26 December 2015

Get Your Man

Clara Bow was the original “It Girl,” radiating sex appeal and epitomizing the flapper of the 1920s. What many people forget though is that she was also a fine actress. A recent screening at MoMA of a restored print of her film, Get Your Man (1927), reminded the audience of this fact.

Get Your Man opens with the betrothal between the children of two aristocratic French families (emphasis on “children”). Jump ahead 17 years and the two, now grown, are set to wed. Before they do the groom, Duke Robert Albin (Charles “Buddy” Rogers), must take a trip to Paris to pick up some family pearls to give to his bride. There he keeps bumping into the same girl—at a taxi, outside a building, in a parfumerie, and finally at a wax museum. The girl in question is Nancy Worthington (Clara Bow), a rich American on holiday. “It must be fate,” she tells him. The two tour around the museum and are accidentally locked in, resulting in their spending the night together and falling in love.

The next morning the two part after Robert confesses that he’s engaged to be married. Yet Nancy isn’t ready to give him up. She drives down to his chateau where she stages an “accident.” Taken into the house, she quickly charms everyone including Robert’s fiancée Simone de Valens (Josephine Dunn), who confides in her that she’s really in love with another man. Meanwhile Simone’s smitten father, the Marquis de Valens (Harvey Clark), proposes to Nancy who accepts on condition that he break off his daughter’s engagement to Robert, which he agrees to. Nancy’s plans almost backfire when she gets a letter from Robert stating that he’s leaving for Africa to shoot lions. Luckily some quick thinking on Nancy’s part, which involves the discovery of Robert in her room in a compromising position, soon sets everything right, and Nancy is able to get her man.

As Nancy, Clara Bow is not only attractive but smart and funny (Bow was very good at comedy). In most of her films she played working class girls but here she is wealthy and glamorous. While the film may have been just one more of Bow’s films that year for the studio (internally it was referred to as “Winter Bow”), under the direction of Dorothy Arzner, one of the first women directors in Hollywood, Bow shines. Giving her a chance to play someone different, Arzner brings out all of Bow’s best qualities in the film. Arzner was to say of Bow, “Whichever way she did it [the scene] was so right, so alive. It was like a dancing flame on the screen.”

A strong performance by Charles "Buddy" Rogers shouldn't go unacknowledged. Always charming, he may be even more beautiful than Bow in the film. There’s also some good comic timing by Harvey Clark as the besotted Marquis. And hats off to the costume designer. Bow's gowns are to die for.

The screening of the film at MoMA last month was part of their To Save and Project: The 13th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation. Bow’s biographer David Stenn was on hand to introduce the film. It was Running Wild, his book about the actress, that helped to reintroduce Bow to film fans by debunking some persistent myths (thanks a lot Hollywood Babylon) and re-examining her as an actress.  

Unfortunately, some of the footage shows signs of nitrate burns and two of the six reels are missing so the version screened contained title cards and stills to cover the missing scenes. Restored by the Library of Congress, MoMA, and the Academy of Arts & Sciences, they did a fine job but it’s unfortunate that the missing scenes include the night at the wax museum (the footage ends before they're locked in). A still of the two stars asleep together gives a hint at what was probably a lovely scene.

Bow notoriously dreaded the coming of sound, believing the microphone to be her enemy. Watching her in a silent film, you realize that she was right in so far as she didn’t need to speak—her face could express volumes. All you have to do is watch her eyes to know exactly what's happening and in this film, you know from the beginning that she will get her man.

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