Fifth Avenue Girl (1939)

(Image via Fine Art America)

Young, unemployed Mary Grey is just hangin’ out in Central Park when she gets what may be a very lucky break.

Alfred Borden, a man depressed by problems with his home life and his work, heads to the park and is feeling lonely. On top of the problems that are happening in his life, Alfred is also celebrating his birthday, but everyone seems to be neglecting the occasion.

After seeing Mary and realizing that she’s in a pretty low situation financially and could use a good meal, Alfred decides to spend his birthday with her. The two head to a fancy nightclub where they drink, dine and dance.

The next morning, Alfred wakes to find that he invited Mary to spend the night at his house – and that his family is finally paying attention to him as a result. So he comes up with a plan to fool the family into believing that Mary is his mistress in order to keep his family’s interest (and stealthily manipulate them into doing what he wants them to do). It isn’t a bad deal for Mary, either, since she’ll be getting paid as long as she keeps the charade up.

But this deception can only continue for so long before it is somehow revealed.

Gregory La Cava directs this 1939 RKO drama/comedy, Fifth Avenue Girl. The film was written by Allan Scott and stars Ginger Rogers (as the girl), Walter Connolly (as the rich but sad man), Tim Holt (as the man’s irresponsible son), Verree Teasdale (as the man’s wife), Kathryn Adams (as the man’s daughter) and James Ellison (as the Communist chauffer, Mike, who is the object of the daughter’s affection).

One of the most interesting things about this film is that there doesn’t seem to be a single character who is content with life. Mike is mad at the capitalists. Borden hates his home life and work life. Borden’s wife is unfaithful and unhappy. Borden’s daughter pines away for a man who doesn’t like her. Borden’s son hates the fact that life consists of more than just playing polo. Mary doesn’t like having to keep up the charade in order to make a living.

(Image via Girl Friday Films)

The film itself still has a comedic edge, though. The tension between the characters builds into sometimes hilarious scenarios. The subplot of Borden’s daughter falling in love with the chauffer is pretty funny, because she tosses out quite a few quips that show her ignorance, with the script poking fun at the upper class and their views.

Ginger is playing her usual tough, independent type here, but with a twist. Rather than working very hard and maintaining relative financial stability, she lives week to week. The character also has a secret vulnerability that Ginger makes just barely detectable through her performance. The viewer sees enough of that vulnerability to understand and like Mary, but doesn’t see so much of it that Mary seems sensitive. Ginger’s performance is great as usual.

Fifth Avenue Girl didn’t turn out quite as funny or engrossing as I expected, but it is a decent watch, worth at least one viewing for Ginger alone. The script is pretty solid, but the film just lacks a spark. It does get a bit better in the second half and continue improving as it moves toward the conclusion, but I was left underwhelmed. The score: 2.5/5

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