Released 19 February 1927, with its grand première on 14 January, It is Clara Bow’s best-known film (with Wings in second place). The story is based upon an eponymous novella by spicy writer Elinor Glyn, who was hugely popular in the 1920s. Though her books are pretty tame by modern standards, they were really hot stuff in her era.
It is such a fun, cute, charming film, perfectly showcasing why Clara had “It” and what a good actor she was. Like many other films from a bygone era, it’s also a microcosm of society as it was. Clara grew up very poor, which enabled her to play working-class characters very believably. Her class origins were such a big influence on her, as was her traumatic, dysfunctional childhood.
Cyrus Waltham, Jr. (Antonio Moreno, né Antonio Garrido Monteagudo) has just become manager of Waltham’s department store. On his first day in his new office, Cyrus’s awesome office boy Monty (character actor William Austin) is reading Elinor Glyn’s “It” in Cosmopolitan (back when the magazine had a much different nature than it does today).
Monty looks in the mirror and proclaims he’s got “It,” then concludes Cyrus doesn’t have “It.” (I agree!) After this, Monty goes into the store to inspect all the “lady employees,” and declares none of them have “It” either. Everything changes, however, when he sets eyes on feisty shopgirl Betty Lou Spence.
Betty falls in instalove with Cyrus, and dismisses her mocking co-workers. At the end of the day, Monty catches up to her outside and offers her a ride home. Betty agrees, but only if he rides her “car,” the two-story bus pulling up.
The bus drops Betty off on the poor side of town. By her front stoop, Monty asks if she’d like to dine, and Betty says she’ll dine by the Ritz. Monty promises to bring his car by at eight. Though Betty doesn’t have formal evening wear, she and her roommate Molly transform her working dress into a fancy evening gown. They also use some other props to gussy her up even more.
Molly’s doctor has forbidden her from returning to work for at least a month due to some unnamed sickness. (I wonder if it were postpartum depression before the condition had a name.) This is a very difficult situation because the landlady and a friend of hers are trying to take Molly’s baby away.
By the Ritz, Betty demands a table in the middle of the action instead of a private booth. She sees Cyrus dining with his boring long-time girlfriend, Adela van Norman, and her mother. When Monty tells Betty whom Adela is, Betty determines to prove herself as the better woman.
During dinner, who else should show up but Elinor Glyn herself, just as the characters are discussing “It”!
Later, Betty gets Cyrus’s attention in the hall, and he’s quite taken with her. She bets he won’t recognize her next time he sees her.
Sure enough, next day at work, Betty schemes to get called into Cyrus’s office, and he’s blown away when he realizes whom she is. At first, Betty doesn’t want to claim her wager for winning the bet, but when Adela calls, she changes her tune. Betty asks Cyrus to take her on a date to Coney Island.
I love seeing Coney Island as it was in old films. All those rides, booths, and eateries now live only in memory.
The plot thickens when the landlady and her friend try to take Molly’s baby. She opens the window and screams into the street for help, and Betty rushes up. Betty pretends it’s her baby, thus making her an unwed mother. She’s got a job, unlike Molly. During this scene, a newspaper reporter (a very young Gary Cooper) is taking notes for a story. I won’t spoil what happens after this.
This isn’t great cinematic art, but it’s awfully fun, and it’s a great vehicle for being introduced to Clara Bow. William Austin as Monty is also awesome. He has far more personality than Cyrus, and is more sympathetic! The film is also packed with fun intertitles.