Small Town Girl
Cast & Crew
William A. Wellman
Kay Brannan is so bored with Carvel that when a traffic diversion forces hundreds of partying football fans to drive through town on their way to the Yale-Harvard football game, she can barely tolerate her family and prospective suitor Elmer. One of the fans, Robert Dakin, a socially prominent surgeon from Boston, asks her for directions to a popular roadhouse, and takes her there to join in the fun. Later Bob becomes so drunk that he insists that they have a justice of the peace marry them. Kay is not quite so drunk, but she agrees, thinking about her boring existence in Carvel. The next morning, after a minor car crash, Bob suggests that they go to his parents' home in Boston to straighten things out, as the newspapers already have the story on their wedding. Bob's parents like Kay but are shocked that Bob, who is engaged to socialite Priscilla, would be so foolhardy. His father tells Bob that he has to get out of the potential scandal himself or have his career ruined, so Bob suggests to Kay that they pretend to be happily married for six months and then quietly get a divorce. Although hurt, she agrees, and after a staged "honeymoon" aboard the Dakin family yacht, they return to Boston. Gradually each begins to fall in love with the other, but they still keep each other at arm's length. When Priscilla returns from a European holiday, she and Bob begin seeing each other secretly. One night, when Bob is seeing Priscilla, Kay gets a telephone call from Bob's clinic urgently summoning him to perform emergency brain surgery on Jimmy, a young patient. She then goes to Priscilla's apartment to get Bob after Priscilla refuses to let her talk to Bob over the phone. Bob starts the operation, but is not sure that he is sober enough to save Jimmy, so he lets his colleague Dr. Underwood complete the delicate surgery. At home, Bob feels like a failure. Kay hesitatingly starts to tell him about her feelings, but Priscilla calls and she leaves. She tells Bob's parents that she is returning home, and a short time later the Carvel newspaper mentions that Bob is rumored to be leaving for Reno for a divorce. Kay takes a walk and meets Elmer, who proposes, but just then Bob drives up. After telling Kay that he has lost his way to Reno and never wants to find it, they drive off together.
William A. Wellman
Claire Du Brey
Robert Z. Leonard
John Lee Mahin
Oliver T. Marsh
Edwin B. Willis
Small Town Girl (1936)
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
Small Town Girl (1936)
The telephone is a marvelous invention but you should never use one while standing in a bathtub.- Dr. Robert 'Bob' Dakin
Ben Williams' book was serialized in Saturday Evening Post with illustrations by James Montgomery Flagg. One of Flagg's illustrations was used as background for the film's opening credits. According to news items, Jean Harlow was originally supposed to play the part of Kay Brannan, and Robert Montgomery was to play Bob Dakin. After Harlow dropped out of the project, Maureen O'Sullivan was considered for the lead. In October 1935, Janet Gaynor was sought for a loan from Fox for the role, but asked not to be loaned to M-G-M for the picture because she felt it was intended for Harlow and would not be suitable as a vehicle for her, even with rewrites. She also did not want second billing to Montgomery. Franchot Tone was mentioned as Montgomery's possible replacement on November 7, 1935, as Montgomery was being considered for the lead in Romeo and Juliet; however, on 9 November Montgomery and Gaynor were announced as the stars, with Jack Conway as director. Taylor and Gaynor were finally announced on 29 November with Conway still set to direct, however William Wellman was announced as the final director on 4 Dec. Several news items noted that this was the first time that Gaynor had been loaned out from Fox in her eight years with the studio.
News items in Hollywood Reporter from July and August 1935 mentioned both Mildred Cram and Manny Seff as script writers, but neither reviews or Screen Achievements Bulletin credit them and it has not been determined to what extent their work was used in the final film. Hollywood Reporter news items noted that in February 1936 a severe case of flu necessitated Wellman's departure from the production for about two weeks. At that time, his directorial duties were taken over by Robert Z. Leonard. A 5 March news item noted that during Wellman's absence, producer Hunt Stromberg had asked writers Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich to "concoct a new ending" for the John Lee Mahin and Edith Fitzgerald screenplay. All four writers receive screenplay credit on the film. New York Telegram noted that this was Taylor's second picture in a row in which he played a wealthy brain surgeon. The first film was Universal's Magnificent Obsession made in 1935. M-G-M made another film called Small Town Girl in 1952, which some modern sources call a remake of the 1936 film. It bears only a slight resemblance to the 1936 film, however, and was based on a screen story by Dorothy Cooper rather than Williams' novel. The 1936 film was subsequently released for television as One Horse Town and some prints still bear that title.