Cast & Crew
Betty Lou and her friends at Waltham Department Store, after discussing Elinor Glyn's story, "It" , decide that their boss, Cyrus Waltham, has IT. That evening Betty encounters Waltham and his friend, Monty; Monty asks her to dinner, and she chooses the Ritz. He tries to direct her to a secluded table, but she insists on fascinating Cyrus and accomplishes her purpose. When the authorities threaten to take away Molly's baby, Betty claims the child as hers and proves that she can support it. Misunderstanding, Monty tells Waltham of Betty's deceitfulness, and as a result Cyrus snubs her. Betty appears unexpectedly at Cyrus' yachting party and laughs in his face when he proposes to her. The yacht collides with another boat, and Adela, Cyrus' society fiancée, is thrown overboard. Betty swims to rescue her; Cyrus follows and they make up their differences.
Julia Swayne Gordon
Jesse L. Lasky
Louis D. Lighton
George Marion Jr.
H. Kinley Martin
B. P. Schulberg
E. Lloyd Sheldon
Josef Von Sternberg
The titular It is more than amply provided by Elinor Glyn, the British born writer of best-selling female erotic fiction, whose career took off after she described a close encounter on a tiger skin in her 1907 novel, Three Weeks. She was an expert at packaging a genteel brand of scandal-tinged sex. She was also a born self-marketer. By 1920, she was working as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, which has always reveled in being told how vulgar it is, especially in a British accent. She thus became as well a social arbiter, dispensing judgments like confetti at dinner parties given by her friends, William Hearst and Marion Davies. She appeared in several film cameos, was billed as Madame Elinor Glyn, and even directed a couple of films before the decade was out. In short, she was pure Hollywood.
Glyn's stock rose when she boosted the careers of Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino in Beyond the Rocks (1922). She's all over It, as author, producer and -- making a regal entrance down a nightclub staircase as Bow ogles her longed-for boss -- defining presence. Paramount paid Glyn $50,000 to endorse It, and she visibly enjoys her work. Explaining that charisma is what turns mere sex appeal into It, she grandly adds that "self-confidence and indifference as to whether you are pleasing or not" are part of the mix, too. Not that audiences hadn't been told up front by title cards: "IT is that quality possessed by some which draws all others by its magnetic force. The possessor of IT must be absolutely un-self-conscious. With IT, you own all men if you are a woman - and all women if you are a man. IT can be a quality of mind as well as a physical attraction." Not that Bow's heroine, merrily on the make, is at all indifferent.
In the film, the product placement even extends to a scene in which the department store kingpin's airhead playboy pal (William Austin) explains It by reading from an article by Glyn from Hearst's Cosmopolitan magazine! Against the odds, Glyn makes her dowager empress cameo work by insinuating, with a mischievous look in her condescending eye, that she knows what an old fraud she's being and is enjoying every moment of it. Which means we do, too. So much for Hollywood royalty.
Certainly you never feel while watching It that Bow takes the film, its title, or herself, too seriously. Nor does she just stand around exuding It. She's too busy charming us, starting when she enlists the aid of her down-at-heel girlfriend in recutting a demure shop-girl's frock into a plunging-necklined number befitting her dinner date at the Ritz with Austin's wet noodle pal. Later, when she uses him as entrée to her love object's yachting party, she raises everyone's spirits by playing a ukulele before eventually diving overboard to rescue her romantic rival, we realize the film is launching more than a new kind of heroine. It's helping hatch as well the screwball comedies of the next decade, with their irrepressible women upending slightly stuffy and usually well-heeled men. Bow's high spirits are the film's motor here. She's fun.
It is also the last film - his 26th -- in which Gary Cooper appeared unbilled. He's seen in two scenes as a newspaper reporter responding to a commotion at Betty's flat, arising from her fierce refusal to hand a baby over to a welfare worker. Hanging in the doorway, personifying furtive aggressiveness, he mistakenly assumes the baby is Betty's (it's her unemployed girlfriend's), reports it as such and launches the string of misunderstandings that must be untangled before the swim rescue. Bow, who tended toward the candid and unpretentious, never made a secret of her sexual appetites - which didn't help later on when the censors came censoring. She and Cooper were linked romantically. Two films later, Cooper starred opposite Bow in the now forgotten Children of Divorce (1927). He never looked back. Nor did she, but only for a few more years.
Bow's Betty offers only the smallest of threats to a paternalistic power structure threatened by the advent of a new kind of woman they couldn't as readily control and on which their own daughters were modeling themselves. In It, there is never a question of Betty Lou's moral purity after her boss, believing her to be an unwed mother, offers her the chance to be his mistress. Hurt and angry, she replies, "Are you trying to offer me one of those left-handed arrangements?" and storms out. At the end, you feel she's too good for the narrow, puritanical, judgmental society into which she wants to marry. Of course, by the time Bow starred in yet another film more innocent than it sounds, Dorothy Arzner's The Wild Party (1929), she was pinned to the wall, in the line of censors' fire, including Hollywood's pre-emptive self-censorship administered by its hired gun, former Harding administration stalwart Will Hays. She had become the poster girl for Jazz Age decadence, however playful. No less than Louise Brooks, she personified female sex rampant. It's a tossup whether that or her heavy Brooklyn accent did more to torpedo her career as films moved into the sound era and the Production Code.
Producers: Clarence Badger, Elinor Glyn
Director: Clarence G. Badger; Josef von Sternberg (uncredited)
Screenplay: Elinor Glyn (novel, adaptation); Hope Loring, Louis D. Lighton (writer); George Marion, Jr. (titles); Frederica Sagor (uncredited)
Cinematography: H. Kinley Martin
Film Editing: E. Lloyd Sheldon
Cast: Clara Bow (Betty Lou Spence), Antonio Moreno (Cyrus Waltham Jr.), William Austin (Monty Montgomery), Priscilla Bonner (Molly), Jacqueline Gadsden (Adela Van Norman), Julia Swayne Gordon (Mrs. Van Norman), Madame Elinor Glyn (Herself), Gary Cooper (Newspaper Reporter, uncredited), Lloyd Corrigan (Yacht Cabin Boy, uncredited), Eleanor Lawson (First Welfare Worker, uncredited), Rose Tapley (Second Welfare Worker, uncredited).
by Jay Carr
Variety review, February 9, 1927
Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild, by David Stenn, Penguin
Coop: The Life and Legend of Gary Cooper, by Stuart Kaminsky, St. Martin's Press
The Films of Gary Cooper, by Homer Dickens, Citadel Press
The Oxford History of World Cinema: Censorship and Self-Regulation, by Richard Maltby
Clara Bow in It (1927) on DVD
Bow, who became the biggest sex symbol of the Roaring Twenties, plays Betty Lou, a lowly shopgirl at a big city department store. When Betty Lou lays eyes on Cyrus (Antonio Moreno), the son of the store owner, she immediately embarks on a plan to win his love. Betty Lou will stop at nothing to land Cyrus. She even tries to use Cyrus's friend, Monty (William Austin), to get close to him. But Monty soon develops a crush on Betty Lou. Things get even more complex when Betty Lou, in order keep her friend Molly (Priscilla Bonner) from having her baby taken away by a group of Christian reformers, pretends to be the child's mother. When Monty hears that Betty Lou is supposedly a mom, she really has her work cut out for her.
Okay. But, what, you may be asking, is "It?" This is where the movie gets post-modern about 50 years ahead of schedule. Elinor Glyn was a relatively popular romance novelist in the 1920s who wrote a story about an alluring personality trait she called "It." Generally speaking, "It" is a natural quality that some women exude. When all is said and done, you might as well define this indefinable something as "an indefinable something."
Glyn's groundbreaking "theory" landed her a fat check from It's producers, and she also got to play herself in the film, which further helped designate Bow as "The It Girl." In an early scene, Monty is even shown reading Glyn's original story about "It," which further blurs the line between fantasy and reality. And you thought Charlie Kaufman invented this kind of screenwriting.
Bow, of course, more than lived up to her billing. Even today, she's an extremely charismatic performer, a vivacious, funny young woman who wasn't a classic beauty but was a first-rate movie star- the Julia Roberts of her time, if you will. Anyone who's interested in sheer star quality should definitely check this picture out. As much as any performer from the silent period, Bow's appeal remains extraordinarily in step with modern times.
The film hasn't been restored to any heroic degree. This is just a quality print of a very old movie, so there are scratches and blemishes at certain points. But, overall, it looks pretty great, and there are a several stunning close-ups of Bow that haven't been effected in the least by the ravages of time. She simply lights up the screen at these moments. Extras include a pretty dry audio commentary by film professor Jeanine Basinger that makes you feel like you should be taking notes, a nice stills gallery, and a rare article by It's director, Clarence Badger, which can only be accessed on a computer by using Acrobat Reader. This is a disc worth adding to a real film buff's collection.
For more information about It, visit Milestone Films. To order It, go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Tatara
Clara Bow in It (1927) on DVD
Sweet Santa Claus, give me *him*!- Betty Lou Spence
Personally, I think she has plenty - in reserve!- Cyrus Waltham Jr.
I feel so low old chap that I could get on stilts and walk under a daschund.- Monty
I'm sorry, but a girl has to do that. You know how things are.- Betty Lou
So you're one of those Minute Men - the second you know a girl you think you can kiss her.- Betty Lou
Him? He couldn't even give birth to a suspicion.- Betty Lou
Clarence Badger became ill during filming, and Josef von Sternberg directed some scenes during his absence. Although not the debut film of actress Clara Bow, the film's success led her to be one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the late silent era.