Kitty Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is a poor waitress from what is commonly referred to as the wrong side of the tracks, but she’s a perfectly respectable and honest lady. Kitty finds herself falling for David (Regis Toomey), a college student from a stuffy upper-class family.
Though their backgrounds are far from similar, they love each other and are both genuinely kind people. Their differing social classes shouldn’t be a problem…
but they are. David’s mother, Helen (Clara Blandick), abhors the idea of her beloved son marrying a waitress. “A WAITRESS?,” she sadly exclaims. “Oh, oh, my heart!”
Helen doesn’t stop at simple objection, though. She’s determined to get that pesky waitress out of his son’s life for good. Naturally, rather than simply talking it out with her son, she frames Kitty and has her sent to a women’s prison.
Once released, Kitty still holds a grudge, not realizing that David’s mother set up the whole ordeal. She finds stardom and works in show business, breaking into the social class that so despised her before her time on the prison farm.
Nick Grinde directs Shopworn, a 1932 drama based on Sarah Mason’s story, with dialogue by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin. The film was released in the States in late March of that year, accompanied by the tagline “ARE MOTHERS ALWAYS RIGHT? Don’t form a conclusion until you see ‘Shopworn!'”
Considering the eventual “glamour girl” persona of Stanwyck’s character here, the film opens in a bit of an odd way, with a very dramatic explosion. An avalanche of rocks buries Kitty’s father. This is a fantastic way to set up the character of Kitty, showing a bit of her background and the struggles that she has faced. In a way, it reminded me of another Stanwyck film, 1931’s The Miracle Woman, in which the death of Florence’s father pushes her to change her life completely. The opening of Shopworn doesn’t fit in quite as seamlessly as that of The Miracle Woman, but it’s effective nonetheless.
Shopworn can be a bit frustrating to watch because Kitty gets treated so awfully by both society and “the system.” Her character is just about the only likable one in the film, so to see her get pelted with a bunch of low-low-lows (beginning with the death of a parent) is rough.
I probably sound like a broken record every time I post about Barbara Stanwyck, but here, as usual, she can do no wrong. She’s perfectly convincing both as lower-class Kitty and her suddenly classy counterpart. While Kitty is obviously kind, sweet and generally a good person by all accounts, she’s also the type of girl who doesn’t take crap from anyone, as are many of Stanwyck’s characters.
Stanwyck gets to deliver a few really great zingers of dialogue here as well, and does so in only a way that pre-code Stanwyck can. The dialogue of this film in general is great, both from Kitty Lane and from the rest of the film’s characters. It’s often witty and sometimes a little bit raunchy. On many occasions this adds comedic value to the film, Shopworn is a drama overall, picking up intensity as it progresses.
Stanwyck doesn’t give the film’s only great performance. Also a stand-out is Clara Blandick in the role of David’s mother. Blandick is most well-known for her role as Auntie Em in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, and it’s difficult to think that Auntie Em would ever be worthy of the viewer’s hatred, but she does a great job of stirring up the audience’s anger in Shopworn.
She’s a total snake, plotting to ruin Kitty’s life simply because she belongs to a lower social class. The character would be pretty despicable no matter who filled the role, but Blandick is extremely effective. She makes a great rival for Stanwyck and is perfect in her role.
Unfortunately, aside from Stanwyck, Blandick and Zasu Pitts, the cast is pretty forgettable. This is especially true for Regis Toomey in his role of David. I expected his performance to stand out since his character is a very important part of the story, but was left overwhelmed.
In general, Shopworn is very exciting to watch, though it does take a dip in terms of how engrossing it is on a few occasions. It is a mostly fast-paced, very stylish but also fairly standard melodrama rooted in class conflict. The ending is a bit too sudden and too pleasant, which is one of the film’s small downfalls, counteracted by a few very good performances and zippy dialogue which make it worth watching.
The score: 3.5/5