Young Bride (William A. Seiter, 1932)

Helen Twelvetrees and Eric Linden

Helen Twelvetrees and Eric Linden



I’m back in the Pre-Code groove after seeing quite a few of them in recent weeks – including this rather slight but enjoyable melodrama. I was attracted to Young Bride because it stars Helen Twelvetrees and Eric Linden, who are both now sadly forgotten, but  were talented actors of the era. It also has a good director, William A. Seiter, who directed the Astaire and Rogers musical Roberta, as well as Laurel and Hardy’s Sons of the Desert. What’s more, it was one of the first films executive produced by David O. Selznick.

Helen Twelvetrees gets top billing here for what is essentially a woman’s emotion picture, centred on a lonely young girl who falls in love with Mr Wrong. The original working title of this film was ‘Love Starved’, and that’s a good description of Twelvetrees’ character, Allie Smith, who has recently lost her beloved mother and now leads an isolated existence in the flat they shared. What’s more, Allie has a job as… wait for it… a librarian.

Helen Twelvetrees as dedicated librarian Allie

Helen Twelvetrees as dedicated librarian Allie

Being a librarian often seems to be regarded as close to being a nun in 1930s and 40s films. (Think of James Stewart’s horror at that fate for Donna Reed in the alternate reality of It’s a Wonderful Life.) Refreshingly, however, this film doesn’t just settle for the usual clichéd portrayal of a librarian wearing thick glasses and hissing at everyone in sight to be quiet. Adapted from a stage play, Hugh Stanislaus Stange’s Veneer, the film makes its characterisations more subtle than that. Allie actually seems to enjoy her job, and there are several scenes of her reading stories to children at the library. Her apparently strict boss, Margaret Gordon (Blanche Friderici) seems to fit the librarian stereotype perfectly, but it soon transpires that she is actually much softer-hearted than she appears.

Working alongside Allie at the library counter is the airheaded Daisy (Polly Walters), who clearly has no interest in books, but only in the males checking them out. She persuades a reluctant Allie to go along on a double date with her and her boyfriend, and Allie meets handsome Charlie Riggs (Linden). Charlie’s boastful claims that he is involved in all kinds of wonderful business deals are transparent from the start, with Daisy and her boyfriend, Pete (Cliff Edwards) giggling over him behind his back – but they don’t bother to warn off Allie. In her vulnerable state, she is prepared to listen to his lies, and is soon involved. Unfortunately, he is also romancing another girl, taxi dancer Maisie (Arline Judge) as soon as her back is turned. Daisy and Pete don’t bother to tell Allie about that either, and before long Charlie has whisked her down the aisle. Maisie’s scenes contain quite a lot of pre-Code content, as it is very apparent that she isn’t only for hire as a dancer, but also willing to sell sexual services.

Talking in the library... this couple could soon be in trouble.

Talking in the library… this couple could soon be in trouble.

I’ve previously seen Linden in The Crowd Roars, where he plays James Cagney’s younger brother, and Big City Blues, where he is a youngster from the country at a loss in the metropolis. In both of those films, Linden has some good scenes but seems slightly uncomfortable in the role of a wide-eyed innocent. Here, by contrast, he really comes into his own as a fast-moving, fast-talking city boy, a character far more in the Cagney mould, always on the make and checking on what impression he is making. (Like Cagney, Linden was from a poor New York background and probably had to grow up fast.) Charlie’s loudmouthed antics are painful to watch at times because of the effect on Allie, but he is charming in a brash way, and dominates most of the scenes he appears in. By contrast, Allie is a quiet, reserved character who doesn’t always say what she is thinking. Twelvetrees does a lot with her eyes, showing that Allie soon sees through her new husband and realises just what a mistake she has made.  She brings the same understated tenderness to this role as she does to her part opposite John Barrymore in State’s Attorney. 

Once the couple are married and living in Allie’s small flat, it becomes apparent that Charlie is vulnerable too, as his wife makes it clear she knows all about his lies, and his so-called “friends” couldn’t give a damn about his problems. Well, except for the pool hall owner, Mike (Roscoe Ates saddled with a supposedly comic stutter.) There are some touching scenes where the gulf between the couple opens wide, including one where Allie tries to share her love of books by reading from Nicholas Nickleby, but Charlie won’t listen and puts on a dance record instead.

For anyone who enjoys pre-Code melodramas, I’d say this is well worth a look. It’s not available on DVD but I believe it sometimes turns up on the US TCM.

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9 thoughts on “Young Bride (William A. Seiter, 1932)

  1. Helen Twelvetrees was an actress closely associated with the pre-Code era, although unfortunately her career went downhill during the rest of the ’30s. She’s also become something of a feminist icon (which is also linked to the more liberated pre-Code women). I saw her in a film called “Millie” from @1931 and in it she’s a woman who insists on always paying her way and living her life as she sees fit; she’s quite the forward-thinking character (the film is public domain and you can probably see it on Youtube). There’s something more rounded about women in pre-Code movies (as you note, the librarian character is given more depth than is usually seen in later films), which I think is one of the reasons why pre-Code has gotten a following today.

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    • Thanks so much for commenting, G.O.M. I hadn’t realised about Twelvetrees being a feminist icon, but definitely agree about women often being more rounded in pre-Codes, as with her genuine interest in her career here. I actually saw this one on Youtube and will hope to see ‘Millie’ there too. You make it sound well worth seeing.

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    • “Millie” is definitely worth checking out. Also appearing in the film are Lilyan Tashman and Joan Blondell, 2 other actresses closely associated with pre-Code and also with female bonding.

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    • Thanks again, G.O.M. I am a fan of pre-Codes and have seen quite a few of Joan Blondell’s, but unfortunately it’s hard to see all that many in the UK, unless they turn up on Youtube.

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  2. “Being a librarian often seems to be regarded as close to being a nun in 1930s and 40s films. (Think of James Stewart’s horror at that fate for Donna Reed in the alternate reality of It’s a Wonderful Life.)”

    I absolutely love this reference point Judy!!! You always bring some fabulous references to support some of your findings in the film being reviewed. And I know Ms. Twelvetrees’ work very well. However, I am sorry to report I have never seen YOUNG BRIDE, but have watched many by William Seiter in his prolific career. He directed Laurel & Hardy in their most famous film (SONS OF THE DESERT as you note) and Wheeler & Woolsey in their most revered works including DIPLOMANIACS, PEACH-O-RENO and GIRL CRAZY. He also directed the Marx Brothers in ROOM SERVICE, and helmed the notable Western ALLEGHANEY UPRISING with John Wayne and Claire Trevor. Linden is a solid actor too. Too bad it is not on DVD, but I’ll certainly keep my eye out for it. This is a splendid, altogether marvelous review of a most enticing rarity, Judy! Great stuff!

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    • Sam, must admit I haven’t seen most of those William Seiter films, but it sounds like a highly impressive career. Thanks so much for the comment and the support!

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