18 February 2004 | lawprof
A Bit Disjointed, Kind of Dated, Mildly Interesting
Prolific director John Francis Dillon's 1931 "Millie" is a curiosity piece, a pastiche of poor editing and some sprightly acting vignettes.
Millie, Helen Twelvetrees, starts off as a swept-off-her-feet kid eloping with handsome and ambitious Jack Maitland, James Hall. Her shaking virgin-wedding night-do we have to go to bed?- scene is very funny, one of the best of its kind on old film.
Ensconced in Westchester County outside NYC, Jack makes big bucks and Millie, now three years on and with a little girl, is neglected, bored and angry at her absent husband. A reunion with two girlfriends at a cabaret brings an encounter with an errant Jack and his foul-mouthed paramour who gets a sock in the jaw from Millie.
Divorced and working in New York City, Millie leads a socially active life with fast-track friends and wild parties. Reflecting the hesitancy of many directors and script writers at the time it's never really clear if Millie goes beyond gay partying to hop into the sack with rabidly panting, pursuing men, some already married.
Millie has one true male admirer, a reporter named Tommy, played by Robert Ames. A drunken twit tells Millie he's fooling around with another woman and she believes her, ending the best relationship she's had. Tommy's a sad case.
The story turns melodramatic when an older man-about-Manhattan, long obsessed with Millie, shows an unhealthy interest in her now gorgeous teenage daughter, Connie. The denouement is predictable but there's a nice trial scene to wrap things up.
"Millie" skirts on the border of dealing openly with adultery and promiscuousness. What is unusual is that the film has a clear sapphic subtext depicting Millie's two girlfriends as sexually involved - the first scene they're in shows them in bed in nightclothes. THAT was very unusual for the times. I wonder how many 1930s moviegoers picked up on that.
Most of the cast isn't well known other than to aficionados of pre-war films. Joan Blondell, whose career was in the ascendancy, is young Angie, a flighty friend of Millie and probable lover of her other girlfriend.
Better direction and editing would have improved a basically interesting story. It's a museum piece worth seeing if you care about how Hollywood portrayed extramarital flings, lechery, boozing and partying in the grand old Pre-Code Days.