I went into Frank Borzage’s Bad Girl mostly blind, having no real preconceptions other than the knowledge of other viewers’ confusion as to why the film is titled thus. Now, having watched it, I can say that I definitely agree with all the confusion; it really seemed like they titled the film what they did in a weird, desperate attempt to get a bigger audience who would rather go see a more lurid pre-Code film than what this actually has to offer. So, speaking of which… what does this have to offer? Weirdly enough, I can’t really say. What I can say is, I thought the whole concept of realism in cinema had been created with the advent of Italian neorealism, but with Bad Girl, it seems I was quite incorrect with my notions.
Again, despite the title, and especially despite that almost noir-ish poster up there, this is not the picture that either marketing strategy would make you think that this is. What this is is the story of young love, in the form of Eddie Collins and Dorothy Haley, who meet on a boat essentially on a dare and end up falling for each other. Through trials and tribulations, the two try to navigate their increasingly complex life together, through marriage and buying a house, to having a child of their own. Now, re-read that plot summary, and once again look up at that poster and the title of the film, and try to make any sense of the two being together. You can’t; what the eff were the studio heads thinking trying to market this film the way they did? Well, that aside, I implied in the opener that Italian neorealism wasn’t exactly the progenitor of realistic cinema that I’d always believed it to be, and Bad Girl proves it; this is as realistic a film as I think I’ve seen yet out of the early 1930s. Now, to be fair, it’s not neorealistic; the actors are still playing to their characters, and there’s still the veneer of melodrama that dramatic pictures were almost required to have in this day and age of Hollywood, but the plot summary should be your first indication that… well, that there really isn’t much of a plot to this at all. What it is is two people, trying to live life, the ups and the downs, oftentimes due to and because of each other. And that’s it. To say that the film ends on a whimper is to be underselling it; the film faded out of one scene, and the words The End popped up on the screen, and I actually felt my jaw drop at the non-ending. Still, even with all the tepid words I’ve just written about this film (god, I can’t even call it by its actual title, it’s just so incorrect), this one works, and what’s more, it works well; there’s a good deal of properly invested production value here, and as long as you can adjust to the very slightly hammy stylings of the actors that was typical of 1930s Hollywood, there really aren’t too many faults one can say about the film itself.
I wasn’t really sure what to think of this one. It was very well done, even though I didn’t think it had really done enough to warrant Borzage’s winning Best Director, but everybody involved with the production definitely brought some of their best to the film. But, here’s the thing; what was the point of all of it? This is still the early sound age of Hollywood; to have a film like this, that doesn’t portray anything except the trials of a real couple as they go about their real lives, seemed incredibly incongruous. But, and here’s the real kicker: that’s not to say that this film isn’t worth your time, because it is; it’s that well done and well put together. Still, I’m glad I wasn’t one of the producers or writers of this one, trying to sell the film to those who would fund it, because my pitch to them would be so blase and underwhelming that I might’ve been laughed out of the room. But still, again, still; this does work, so I have to give credit where it’s due.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10