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"William Seiter succeeds in convincing the spectators that the situation is not nearly as improbable as it sounds," declared The New York Times of The Richest Girl in the World (1934). Indeed, the movie has one of those harebrained plots that were so common in the era. Here, the "girl" of the title (Miriam Hopkins) is in search of a man who will love her for herself and not for her money. To this end she poses as her secretary and has her secretary (Fay Wray) pose as her -- so that she can "test" any men who come along. Joel McCrea comes along, and comedy ensues.
The story and screenplay is by Norman Krasna, then in his early twenties and only six credits into what would be an illustrious career. He scored his first Oscar® nomination for this picture (for Best Original Story), and while he lost to Arthur Caesar for Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Krasna would be nominated three more times, finally winning for Princess O'Rourke (1943), which he also directed. Among his other writing credits: Fury (1936), Bachelor Mother (1939), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), White Christmas (1954), Indiscreet (1958) and Let's Make Love (1960). In writing this story, Krasna was undoubtedly inspired by the real-life "richest girl in the world" -- socialite and Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, who was about 21 at the time.
In an interview years later, Krasna spoke about his penchant for writing social comedy: "I always get in my social comment -- but limited to what the subject needs. I certainly don't go on the wrong side. I will not write that if you have a lot of money you're a better person.... For instance, The Richest Girl in the World. If I use as a plot that the richest girl in the world poses as her own secretary in order to get some privacy, how clever! The only thing is, eventually she ought to fall in love and get married. I like that idea. So what I do is -- the fella falls in love with the richest girl in the world, only he thinks she's the secretary. There you are -- she's pure in heart. To his credit. That's everybody's daydream. I give you a reward. I make you laugh. But I always show you what the right side is: your emotions go along with the underdog."
RKO paid Krasna $4000 for his story, with Ann Harding in mind to star. But in the end the studio borrowed Miriam Hopkins from Paramount and Fay Wray from 20th Century Pictures and teamed them with RKO's own contract player Joel McCrea. This would be McCrea's last film under the contract. He had grown unhappy with the RKO assignments and loanouts over the previous five years, and after this film he made a picture each at Paramount, Fox and MGM before signing with Samuel Goldwyn Productions. By that time Hopkins had signed there as well, and the duo teamed up for four more movies over the next three years, including These Three (1936).
Director William Seiter is an undeservedly neglected filmmaker whose best pictures, in the 1930s, were models of brisk efficiency and real charm. Usually they were comedies. Fay Wray later wrote of him, "Seiter was born understanding laughter." That's certainly a reason Variety raved about The Richest Girl in the World, calling it "a pip picture for Miriam Hopkins [in] the sort of role actresses dream about. Eighty minutes of unerring entertainment." The public agreed, turning the picture into a Depression-era hit.
The Richest Girl in the World was remade officially as Bride by Mistake (1944), starring Laraine Day and Alan Marshal, and unofficially (and more loosely) as The French Line (1953), starring Jane Russell and Gilbert Roland.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: William A. Seiter
Screenplay: Norman Krasna (screenplay and story); Leona D'Ambry (contributor to adaptation and continuity, uncredited); Glenn Tryon (contributor to comedy construction, uncredited); Jerry Hutchinson (contributor to continuity, uncredited)
Cinematography: Nick Musuraca
Art Direction: Charles Kirk, Van Nest Polglase
Film Editing: George Crone
Cast: Miriam Hopkins (Dorothy Hunter, aka Sylvia Lockwood), Joel McCrea (Anthony 'Tony' Travers), Fay Wray (Sylvia Lockwood, aka Dorothy Hunter), Henry Stephenson (Jonathan 'John' Connors), Reginald Denny (Phillip 'Phil' Lockwood), Beryl Mercer (Marie, Dorothy's Maid), George Meeker (Donald 'Don'), Wade Boteler (Jim 'Jimmy' Franey), Herbert Bunston (Dean Cavandish, Chief Trustee), Burr McIntosh (David Preston).
BW-76m. Closed Captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
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