Small Town Girl (1936)
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"Marry in haste, repent at leisure," the old cliche goes. But when it comes to movie romance, the cliche is more likely to be "marry in haste, fall in love at leisure." That Small Town Girl (1936) manages to avoid being cliched is thanks to the charm of the stars, skillful direction, and a witty script.
Kay Brannan (Janet Gaynor), the restless small-town girl of the title, is bored with her humdrum life. When rich young doctor Bob Dakin (Robert Taylor) flirts with her while asking directions, an evening of drunken revelry culminates in a quickie marriage. To avoid scandal, the couple decides to stay married for six months, and the inevitable happens.
Based on a novel by Ben Ames Williams, Small Town Girl went through many changes before it reached the screen. The script is credited to John Lee Mahin, Edith Fitzgerald, and the husband-and-wife team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. While it's hard to tell who was responsible for what, the romantic repartee bears the imprint of Hackett and Goodrich, who had written The Thin Man (1934), and would later write two more Thin Man films, as well as It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Father of the Bride (1950). Also typical of a Hackett and Goodrich screenplay is eccentric characters, and Small Town Girl is loaded with them, from Kay's hick family and friends (James Stewart is a standout as Kay's hometown suitor) with their predictable small talk, to Bob's sophisticated circle and his pompous girlfriend, played by Binnie Barnes.
MGM had announced Small Town Girl as a vehicle for Jean Harlow, but that, too, changed. Janet Gaynor had been 20th Century Fox's most important star in the late silent and early talkie period. But by 1936, her status at Fox had been eclipsed by a tiny dynamo named Shirley Temple. So both Gaynor and Fox executives were happy about loaning her to MGM for a first-class production like Small Town Girl...particularly since she would be cast opposite MGM's hottest young leading man, Robert Taylor.
Also a relative latecomer to the project was director William Wellman, who was equally at home in comedies as he was in action films. However, his comedy style was more rough-and-tumble than Gaynor's, and the two clashed repeatedly during the filming of Small Town Girl. Wellman was so unhappy, in fact, that he asked to be removed from the picture. MGM denied his request. Later that year, Wellman was working for David O. Selznick in a project dear to Wellman's heart - A Star Is Born (1937). Selznick thought Gaynor would be ideal for the lead, and Wellman, in spite of his earlier problems with Gaynor, agreed wholeheartedly with Selznick's choice. This collaboration would be much happier for the star and director. Gaynor would make only a few more films before retiring from the screen, and the acclaim she received for A Star Is Born would allow her to end her career on a high note.
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: John Lee Mahin, Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Edith Fitzgerald, based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams
Editor: Blanche Sewell
Cinematography: Charles Rosher, Oliver T. Marsh
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Set Designer: Edwin B. Willis
Music: Herbert Stothart, Edward Ward
Cast: Janet Gaynor (Kay Brannan), Robert Taylor (Bob Dakin), Binnie Barnes (Priscilla), James Stewart (Elmer), Lewis Stone (Dr. Dakin), Elizabeth Patterson (Ma Brannan).
BW-106m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri