Gilbert Speaks on “Beauty and the Boss”

1 Aug


I’m always searching for old films for my Granny Insomnia Theatre Collection. I’ve found quite a racy one recently. I’m all for romance and sex, but never expected to be floored with the conversation and innuendos of such an old film. I had forgotten that this film was made before the pre-code was set up by the film industry’s clucking prunes. What did I like about Beauty and the Boss? Grab your steno book and follow me


Beauty and the Boss is a 1932 romantic comedy directed by Roy Del Ruth. In 1934, Warner Brother’s British subsidiary remade the story as The Church Mouse. The film which stars Marian Marsh, Mary Doran, Warren William, David Manners and Frederick Kerr is about a banker who is constantly distracted by a string of pretty secretaries until he hires a plain Jane.

Viennese banker Baron Josef von Ullrich (Warren William) believes that beautiful women have no place in an office. They are way too distracting for the poor Baron. Mind you, this banker is not too concerned about business, or acting proper when it comes to wooing his secretary, Polly Frey (Mary Doran), but when she returns the admiration; Baron von Ullrich becomes defensive. It’s all Polly’s fault for being dressed in such a revealing way and, for smelling so nice.

This is where the conversation between Josef and Polly becomes rather risqué in nature. Mary Doran plays her Polly as a little vixen intent on getting Josef’s attention, but it is Josef’s comments when Polly crosses her legs that made me spit out my tea. You would have thought that Polly pulled a Sharon Stone in the way that Josef reacted. What followed was even stranger. Josef fires Polly after giving her a hefty severance pay, then promises to continue his relationship with her after hours.


Later, we are introduced to Marian Marsh’s character, Susie Sachs, as she watches Ludwig (Charles Butterworth) eating his lunch. Susie is poorer than a church mouse and she desperately needs a job. Susie finds a way into Josef’s office and quickly impresses him with her efficient secretarial skills. The fact that Susie is dressed plainly and wears no makeup, which makes her not at all tempting to Josef, seals the deal and gets her the job.


Josef easily ignores Susie as a woman, thinking her the perfect office robot because she is so efficient at running his business affairs. But we realize that Susie does have feelings for her boss. I find this hard to understand because Warren William plays his character as a self-absorbed, rich bastard who is used to getting what he wants, when he wants it…but the heart wants what the heart wants and Susie realizes that Polly is very much in the picture after she and Josef’s entire staff goes to Paris for a very important merger.


It was interesting to see how Polly gives flirting lessons to Susie when Susie delivers a box of veggies instead of gardenias to Polly after Josef learns that Polly has followed him to Paris. I’d hope, but since this film was made before the women’s liberation movie, that Polly and Susie would have become friends and done the night out in Paris themselves…or maybe with Josef’s brother (David Manners) who was definitely the nicer of the von Ullrich spawn… but no. This film ends with Susie getting dressed in her Paris best and wearing perfume and makeup to openly flirt with Josef…who had the attention span of a flea & quickly switches a path from Polly’s waiting arms into Susie’s. The film ends happily if only Tinsel-town-style with Josef asking Susie to marry him.

Maybe it’s because I know that only a few years down the road, the Great Depression, which had been caused by bankers like Baron von Ullrich, was still going on at the time this film was made, or maybe it was the scene where poor Susie is watching Ludwig eating his lunch through the window to remind me that a lot of people had lost everything they’d ever owned because of the banks. Susie wanted a job to support her and her mother. Susie was a damn good secretary. She could have probably worked her way up to bank president because of her outstanding efficiency…but the film or its makers didn’t play it that way. It was easier to make Susie a success only because she won the attention of a wealthy playboy.


Maybe this romantic comedy made me uncomfortable because it mirrors how women make less than their male counterparts even when they are doing the same job. Or, maybe it’s because this film mirrored the attitude of the man that is living in the White House today. Absurd wealth has a habit of making people feel that they are above humanity, and above the law. Josef’s attitude towards all the women who worked for him was similar to what I am seeing today. But, it’s our fault ladies. Men will only consider us a “Pussy for the grabbing” (excuse my poor taste in words, but I have to get the message home) as long as we play the part of a plaything or an object to be owned then tossed away as soon as another pretty face shows up.


Beauty and the Boss was a cute little film and I enjoyed it despite the silliness. Unfortunately, it did not help me fall asleep, and if anything, kept me awake. Our movies are like time machines in that we can see where we’ve come from and where we are going. After this past election, I know that we will all need to work much harder to make all people, no matter their: sex; race; sexual identity; or financial situation, equal and valued for being a fellow human. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re there yet.


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