Cast & Crew
When her father dies in an avalanche, young Kitty Lane is orphaned and goes to work as a waitress in her Aunt Dot's and Uncle Fred's cafe, The Campus Inn. One day, while waiting tables, Kitty meets college student Dave Livingston, and they begin dating. When Dave's mother Helen, an aging society matron, sees that her son is dating Kitty, she tells him that she is displeased at his choice in women and recommends that he stop seeing her. Later, Helen tries to break up Dave and Kitty by feigning a heart ailment and asking Dave to accompany her to a specialist in Europe. Dave consents to the trip but ruins his mother's scheme when he asks Kitty to marry him and join them. Helen tries to prevent the marriage by having her friend, Judge Forbes, bribe Kitty to leave town, but when that attempt fails, they bring a trumped-up morals charge against her. While Kitty is sent to the State Home for the Regeneration of Females for ninety days, Dave goes to Europe with his mother. Six years pass, during which time Kitty, aided by wealthy admirers, gains notoriety as a showgirl and actress. When she and Dave finally meet again, their love is reawakened, and Dave is determined to marry her. Helen again tries to talk Kitty out of the marriage, telling her how it would affect Dave's successful career as a doctor, and brandishes her pistol in order to make her point. Kitty gently takes the gun away from Helen, and when Dave arrives, pretends to him that she does not want to marry him. Helen, now impressed with Kitty's show of real character, has a change of heart and gives her blessing to the marriage.
Maude Turner Gordon
Columbia Studios loved making these class romances, primarily because Capra was so good at them, but the studio also attributed much of their success to the talented screenwriting team behind them. Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin were experts at fashioning stories pitting lower class lasses against upper crust swells, object romance, or at least intimate fraternization. This was a theme embraced by director Capra, and the talented trio were in their element. Swerling was a Russian refugee who had grown up in New York and fell into newspaper work which led to a playwriting career, including work with the early Marx Brothers and several Broadway successes. Columbia snatched him up in the early 1930s to write movies, Capra's Ladies of Leisure being one of his early successes. (Swerling would later have a huge success writing Guys and Dolls with Abe Burrows). His frequent screenwriting partner Robert Riskin had been a playwright in New York and was similarly recruited by Columbia to turn out movie scripts. The studio teamed him with Swerling and away they went. For Shopworn, they worked with the basic story from Sarah Y. Mason, a writer who had come to Hollywood in the silent era. First intending to become an actress but soon discovering that she didn't have the talent for it, Mason is credited for inventing the movie job of continuity person, a job she filled on Douglas Fairbanks' movie Arizona (1918) when it was on location. Now happy behind the scenes, she soon established herself as a writer along with her husband writer/director Victor Heerman and they shared a long, happy life and career.
While Swerling and Riskin wrapped up the writing of Shopworn, Barbara Stanwyck worked hard on a project of her own: saving her tumultuous marriage to star vaudeville comic Frank Fay. He was a larger-than-life personality who played hard, drank harder and had an ego that needed constant massaging. Barbara followed him to New York City for an engagement at the Palace; the unusual show mixed Fay's comedy with Stanwyck's Hollywood glamour. She acted in short skits adapted from her movie scripts dolled up in an imported Hollywood star wardrobe; all of it was designed to help drive ticket sales for her husband's engagement. But reviews weren't kind and she was clearly out of her element. Her marriage to Fay would eventually end in 1935, but at least she had the production of Shopworn in Hollywood to look forward to in the meantime as the new year approached.
Columbia assigned director Nick Grinde to Shopworn. Grinde started his career in the late 1920s, working in shorts and features, and at various studios. Early successes were 1930's The Bishop Murder Case and Good News, both at MGM. Capra's cinematographer Joseph Walker was also on the picture, and the studio was no doubt hoping for a substantial success, even with a different director in charge of the proceedings. The strong point of the production was Barbara Stanwyck herself, with her working-class appeal and strength helping her stand up to the hoity-toity society prejudices that conspired to keep her down. In Shopworn, Barbara plays a waitress in a college town who is attracted to a shy and studious medical student (Regis Toomey). Toomey was a hard-working leading man of the second string variety, never quite achieving matinee idol status through his long career but steadily working in all movie genres, and later in television.
The chief dramatic conflict in Shopworn is between Stanwyck's orphaned waitress Kitty Lane and Clara Blandick's Mrs. Livingston, the high society mother of Toomey's character. Blandick, best known for her role as Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and usually cast as unpretentious, down-to-earth characters, was a late-blooming actress who didn't make her debut until the age of 33, though she worked steadily on both stage and in the movies from that point on. She is a formidable opponent in a different kind of role for her and her complete class contempt for Stanwyck is palpable and convincing. Veteran actress Zasu Pitts, a working actress since 1917 who soon became a silent comedy sensation (along with infrequent dramatic successes like Greed, 1924) was cast as Kitty's Aunt Dot, a reassuring presence who offers support to her beleaguered niece.
Blandick's society snob, fearing that her son will sully himself with a relationship with the waitress, trumps up a morals charge against the innocent Kitty, buys off a judge, and Kitty is sent away to serve her sentence. She eventually gets out and achieves her goal of becoming a successful entertainer, and of course runs into Toomey again, sending Blandick back into conniptions. (Interestingly, at this point Stanwyck is considerably less innocent than she used to be, thanks to her time in jail where she learned a thing or two about getting ahead in the world.) Toomey (now a famous surgeon) and Stanwyck again feel the love, though his mother is still clutching desperately and obsessively to her grown son, a psychological detail accented in the movie's dialogue. Swerling and Riskin's screenplay, which culminates in the frantic unveiling of a pistol by Blandick, might have transcended the pitfalls of an obvious denouement under a more nuanced director, but the story was played earnestly by the cast and in the end of course Kitty gets her man. (There are reports of censor cuts to the movie which may have eliminated the more earthy details of Kitty's rise to show biz fame.)
Shopworn was released in April of 1943. Contemporary reviews were tepid. As The New York Times said, it "...is beyond the powers of such capable players as Barbara Stanwyck, Regis Toomey, Clara Blandick and Zasu Pitts to make their actions in this film convincing or even mildly interesting." Still, watching the young and still-forming screen persona of Barbara Stanwyck take shape is fascinating. Though we may not be able to directly identify with such blatant class distinction as shown in Shopworn, when was the last time we heard about a Wall Street millionaire marrying a waitress, come to think of it? Maybe the characters have changed, but the dynamic goes on.
Producer: Harry Cohn
Director: Nick Grinde
Screenplay: Jo Swerling, Robert Riskin, Sarah Y. Mason (original story too)
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff, Irving Bibo, Milan Roder (all uncredited)
Film Editing: Gene Havlick
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Kitty Lane), Regis Toomey (David Livingston), Zasu Pitts (Aunt Dot), Lucien Littlefield (Fred), Clara Blandick (Mrs. Helen Livingston), Robert Alden (Toby), Oscar Apfel (Judge Forbes), Maude Turner Gordon (Mrs. Thorne), Albert Conti (Andre Renoir).
BW-65m. Closed captioning.
by Lisa Mateas
According to information contained in the file for this film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Shopworn was originally intended as an adaptation of Charles Norris' novel Zelda Marsh. In May 1931, however, the PCA responded negatively to Columbia's desire to adapt Zelda Marsh into a screenplay, noting that it was "filled with dangerous material," including "immoral relations" and abortion. As a December 1931 PCA memorandum suggests that the novel and a 4 December draft of the screenplay were "very dissimilar in every respect," the extent of the film's basis on the book is unclear. The PCA called the 4 December draft of the script a "very grave problem." According to a synopsis of the original script of Shopworn, it called for the leading female character to enter a life of prostitution following her release from the reformatory, and for her to take "the object of her early love away from his very good and charming wife." The PCA rejected this and further criticized the script's characterization of people of "decent and conventional society" as "unsympathetic, narrow, selfish and insincere...[while] prostitution and its reward are made very attractive." The PCA also noted that this was Columbia's first attempt to "include in one picture incidents of fornication, prostitution and a 'kept' woman." To remedy the problem of the script's characterization of the female lead, the PCA suggested that she be made to struggle against the injustice of other unscrupulous characters in the story, which would "justify the sympathy and final admiration of the audience and of the people who represent the cleaner and conventional side of life in the story."
Following completion of production on Shopworn, the PCA, on January 16, 1932, informed Columbia that the film "violated the Code, both in spirit and in letter," citing examples in the film of the PCA's initial complaints about the story. In a memo sent to MPPDA President Will H. Hays, Colonel Jason S. Joy, Director of the Studio Relations of the AMPP, called the production "an example of the stubborn refusal of this particular company to take advice." In late February 1932, Columbia agreed to make a number of changes in the film and to resubmit it to the PCA for a second review. The revised version of Shopworn, which eliminated, among other things, the hint of prostitution on the part of the lead, made the picture "satisfactory under the Code." The Variety review noted that the film had "episodes that do not blend into the story smoothly, sequences that hang in the air lacking background and significance as though passages depending upon them had been deleted."
In 1938, when Columbia submitted a request to the PCA for re-issue certification, the PCA rejected the request on grounds that it was the story of "the life of a loose and immoral woman, without the necessary compensating moral values," and that it contained a number of lines of "unacceptable" dialogue. According to a September 1938 memo, under the supervision of Columbia producer Joseph Sistrom, the studio made additional eliminations in the film to bring it into agreement with PCA demands.
Modern sources list Joseph Sauers, Joan Standing, Martha Mattox and Dorothea Wolbert in the cast. Modern sources also note that Lila Lee was originally slated for the part played by Barbara Stanwyck. According to a biography of Stanwyck, Stanwyck disliked the script and called it "one of those terrible pictures they sandwiched in when you started."