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.
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.
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.