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"I don't have to get tough, I am tough."
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Girl Missing was Glenda Farrell's first time at the top of the bill. After receiving good notices for her supporting roles in the likes of Little Caesar, I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and The Mystery of the Wax Museum, a movie she absolutely ran away with, Jack Warner decided to finally reward his burgeoning star with her own vehicle, teaming her up with Mary Brian -- "the sweetest girl in pictures." Brian had started in the silents, debuting as Wendy in Peter Pan (1924), made a successful transition to the talkies, and had recently completed Lewis Milestone's The Front Page (1931), where she played the jilted fiance of Pat O'Brien's Hildy Johnson. Now partnered with Farrell, one should note that Girl Missing was one of the first films to feature two female leads in this kind of murder-comedy-romance-buddy picture.
Meanwhile, behind the camera, after serving as an assistant to the likes King Vidor and Josef von Sternberg, director Robert Florey's first big break came when he co-directed and helped rein in the Marx Brothers for their first feature film, The Cocoanuts (1929). Big things seem to be in store for the fledgling director and, after a string of bizarrely avant-garde but well received shorts, Florey was Carl Laemmle Jr.'s original choice for Universal's Frankenstein, then slated to star Bela Lugosi. However, Florey and Lugosi were soon bumped off the project for James Whale and Boris Karloff. Both were given Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) as a consolation prize. Alas, Frankenstein (1931) appears to be Florey's one and only big chance and he blew it. After which he bounced around from studio to studio, mostly working in the B-Picture units. And speaking frankly, there isn't much to commend for his efforts in Girl Missing, but, luckily, his cast, led by Farrell, overcompensates for this pedestrian effort.
The film was scripted by Carl Erickson and Don Mullaly, who also wrote Wax Museum, and they definitely scribbled to Farrell's strengths -- meaning her motor-mouth, acid-tongue and the application of both to cut anyone around her off at the knees. And this snappy, wise-cracking tale full of pertzel'd twists and unexpected turns was another spin on Avery Hopwood's play, The Gold Diggers (1919), where enterprising ladies hook and reel in themselves a sugar-daddy, making them pay out the nose for the *ahem* milk they expect to get for free; only here, there was no show to put on just money to be made and, in this case, a mystery to be solved.
In the supporting cast, Guy Kibbee has a glorified cameo as the posh who sniffs out their scheme, turns the tables, and abandons our heroines; an act that officially puts the plot proper in motion. Edward Ellis is pretty great as the police inspector who bears the brunt of Farrell's loquaciousness. (And sharp eyes will recognize him as the thin man from The Thin Man.) Helen Ware and Ferdinand Gottschalk are hysterical as a couple of grifting fudds posing as the high society parents of the missing bride, played with much vice and venom by Peggy Shannon. And Lyle Talbot (another frequent co-star of Farrell's) plays a slimy cad whose fault all this is, really. There's also a great secret toy surprise to be found in the form of a then unknown actor playing a bamboozled grease-monkey, who loans out his “flivver” to our gal-pal-amateur sleuths so they can catch up to the hero of our piece (Lyon) before his own sabotaged car does him in:
All told the film is pretty good time and it's fairly easy to see why it got made. The Brothers Warner had a huge hit with The Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929) and had been spinning cash-ins ever since. Gold Diggers of 1933 would hit theaters a couple of months after Girl Missing premiered, and Warners would continue making sequels and spin-offs mined from both veins of the same premise until these offshoots kinda collided with Gold Diggers of 1937. In Girl Missing, Farrell and Brian definitely have great chemistry together as they run circles around the cops, solve a murder, unravel the conspiracy, save the hero, and, most important of all, make some money. (And they both look positively gorgeous dudded up in all those Orry-Kelly fashions.) And if nothing else, we should be grateful because it showed this kind of film had box-office potential, setting a solid template for a series of films where Farrell was paired up with Joan Blondell, who provided the sturm und drang for Havana Widows, Miss Pacific Fleet and Kansas City Princess to mucho box-office success.
"Glenda is at all times very natural. She isn't one bit camera conscious ... Her movements are always quick and her speech spontaneous. When she goes into a scene she never follows the script to the sacrifice of her naturalness."
One of the things I am most thankful for from 2012 is getting a crash course on the life and times and film career of Glenda Farrell. And the more I dig, the more I love. And so, to share that love, we're kicking off The Glenda Farrell Project for 2013 and beyond, as I will do everything in my power to share my Glenda love in the usual, obsessive compulsive fashion in all matters and means and ways. Stay tuned! Lots more to come.
Girl Missing (1933) The Vitaphone Corporation :: Warner Bros. / P: Jack Warner / D: Robert Florey / W: Carl Erickson, Don Mullaly / C: Arthur L. Todd / E: Ralph Dawson / M: Bernhard Kaun / S: Glenda Farrell, Mary Brian, Ben Lyon, Lyle Talbot, Peggy Shannon, Edward Ellis, Guy Kibbee