11 August 2014 | secondtake
A straight up drama about two girls trying to make it in New York--and a fabulous party scene
Under 18 (1931-22)
A light-hearted comedy drama with a few very serious moments. It's a sincere and touching story about two sisters trying to make it in the poor tenements of New York. They each have a man from the same neighborhood, one a loafer (and pool shark) and the other a sweet and goofy grocery delivery driver. Mom lives with one of the sisters who is the title character, a bit young to know what she wants.
But not too young for the rich ladykilling man who sees the girl modeling an expensive fur. Which leads, roundabout, to the highlight of the movie, and twenty minute frenzy on the roof of a tall building in Manhattan. This pool party is a real height of the Roaring Twenties as they were winding into the early Depression. It's pure wild decadence, and director Archie Mayo really knew how to ramp it up without getting totally obscene. Great stuff.
And a great contrast with the humble lives of the impoverished stars. None of the leading ladies or their men are names most of us recognize (the main star, Marian Marsh, has several great films to her name, namely "Svengali" and "Crime and Punishment"). It's Warren William, the rich fellow, who is the most famous of the bunch, and he's always a hoot to watch, slyly winning over women despite (or because of) his age.
But there is another serious side to all of this, and that is the trap women faced then (far less than now) in having to find a man to help survive economically. The Depression has clearly made jobs scarce, even in New York (which was still humming in some ways). When Marsh's sister realizes her new husband would rather play pool than work, things go bad—and get worse when she has a child. So Marsh sees the folly of marriage even though her own boyfriend is a decent chap with a job. This fairly realistic portrayal of life at the time is the largest part of the movie.
The party, however, is the most fun, and I would say you could, if impatient, skim ahead to that section, a little after halfway, and just see the craziness of the times. It reminded me of "Madame Satan" which uses the same kind of party—in a blimp—that is so wild and compelling it makes you wonder why these kinds of scenes disappeared by the time of the Hays Code.
There is a slightly awkward feel to the script throughout the film, unfortunately, and the acting of some of the lesser characters is fair but not great, bringing the whole thing down to earth. Still, the best of it
well, give it a shot. I thoroughly enjoyed it.