Three Wise Girls (1932) William Beaudine

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Women hooking up with married men. This pre-code (1932) reads like the do’s and don’ts of, as well as the perils of being involved, with a married man. And while Jean Harlow is gorgeous, it’s Mae Clarke, as her long-time girlfriend, and kept woman, who has the meatiest role. Poor Clarke, whenever she teamed up with Harlow she always got the raw end of the lollipop. Here she advises Harlow not to get involved with a rich married man who swears he’s going to divorce his wife. She warns Harlow, “You always end up behind the eight ball.” That’s exactly what happens to Clarke by the end of this short 68 minute programmer. In their earlier film the ladies were in together, The Public Enemy, it was poor Mae who got the grapefruit in the face from James Cagney while Harlow just got Cagney.

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In truth, the film sends a mixed message on the morals of dating married men. Harlow, after a series of misunderstood situations, finds happiness with her married man, while Mae should have listened to her own advice and ended her relationship.

Cassie Barnes (Jean Harlow) is a morally upright small town girl working as a soda jerk at a local drug store. On her $15 a week salary she supports her mother whom she lives with. She is both envious and curious about her longtime friend Gladys (Mae Clarke), who moved to New York and is sending home to her mother enough money that Mom could buy herself an expensive car. Cassie is bored. Bored with her job, bored  with small town life and bored with the lack of money. She quickly packs up and moves to the big city. In New York, she soon finds herself working, where else, as a local drug store as a soda jerk. It seems some things just don’t change. However, unlike small town U.S.A., Cassie finds the store’s manager in New York is not the same kind of decent boss she had back home. This guy has roaming hands that keep finding their way around her waist.

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Fed up, she quits and demands her two days of pay she’s owed which the manager refuses to give. That is, until she is saved by Jerry Dexter (Walter Byron), a rich drunk who stopped by the drug store to get a Bromo Seltzer to help cure his latest hangover. He demands the lecherous boss give Cassie the money due under the threat of a beating.

Cassie meets up with her friend Gladys who is working as a model at an upscale showroom. This gives the film some opportunity to “expose” its pre-codeness with Clarke and others girls walking around in skimpy undergarments. Gladys helps get the inexperienced Cassie a job. As a model, she’s making sixty bucks a week, a lot less than Clarke was sending home to her mother. As we find out, Gladys is living in a pretty exclusive, and expensive, apartment. How does she do it? Well, there is this rich married boyfriend who swears he is going marry her, if only his wife would give him a divorce, which of course he claims she won’t. Clarke knows the score, but she’s in love with the guy and she enjoys the high life too much.

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When Cassie starts dating Jerry, it look like a similar situation, but our Cassie is virginal, and while enjoying his company, she is not giving anything away. They do fall in love and Jerry wants to marry Cassie, but then the big bomb comes out. You see, Jerry is married. This little fact he happened to not tell Cassie. Jerry though really wants a divorce, unlike Gladys’ boyfriend, but his wife will not give him one. When Cassie finds out about the marriage, this of course ruins things. Mix-ups between the couple draw them apart. Gladys’ lover meanwhile has reconciled with his wife and they have sailed off to Europe. Depressed, Gladys takes her own trip, a leap out the window of her fancy high rise apartment. Meanwhile, by the time Jerry manages to free himself from his marriage, Cassie has moved back to small town America. Jerry follows Cassie back to small town U.S.A. and they happily reunite.

Three Wise Girls is a morality tale…Hollywood style. Dare to live on the wild side of the street and you will pay for your sins. If you are a good girl, like Cassie, you will get your man in shining armor and live happily ever after.

This was Harlow’s second film for Columbia, the first being Platinum Blonde, and her first part where she portrayed a clean-cut girl. She was still a work in progress and here, like in other early performance’s, she’s unconvincing, verging on, to say the least, awkward. Mae Clarke, who steals the film, has been quoted as saying Harlow’s performances in both The Public Enemy and in this film are an embarrassment. MGM, where Harlow would soon be working, had raw material to work with and still needed to be fine-tuned. Three Wise Girls was originally called Blonde Baby but was changed to avoid a possible mix up with Platinum Blonde.

If you are wondering who the third girl in the title is, it’s Marie Provost who plays Dot. She shares an apartment with Cassie. Her role is minor and is basically there for some comic relief along with chauffeur Andy Devine as her boyfriend. Three Wise Girls is a minor, lightweight film. Though a typical programmer, directed by William Beaudine, there is a moral tale told.

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