Claire “Mac” McIntyre (Loretta Young) is a smart woman — a State university graduate, with big dreams that go far beyond marrying and raising a family.
That doesn’t mean she can’t find love. She has found it, in fact, with Johnny Saunders (Frank Albertson). But when he’s offered a job as a bandleader in Paris, she urges him to take the gig, while she’ll move to New York and look for work.
An ocean-wide separation doesn’t mean the end of Mac and Johnny’s romance. She just doesn’t want young love to hold either of them back from accomplishing their goals before settling down. Johnny isn’t quite as goal-oriented as his lady-love. He’d be content to follow her to New York, or to bring her along with him to Paris… but she wants him to make something of himself.
He finally agrees (however reluctantly) and heads off to Europe, with Mac beginning work as a stenographer at a New York City ad firm, where she quickly finds a way to move up the corporate ladder.
Business aspirations lead to romantic complications in 1931’s Big Business Girl, directed by William A. Seiter.
The story and dialogue of Big Business Girl have some of that standard pre-code sauce to them. There’s a lot of smooching and smarmy men. In one (fairly tame) example of the sauce from early on in the film, Mac tells Johnny, “You’re only good for two things: making music and making love.”
Sauce isn’t the only ingredient that makes a pre-code. This era is also known for tackling hot and controversial topics of the time, which Big Business Girl does by exploring the idea of women in business and the unique challenges faced by them. Claire is underpaid, and her talent is seen as a great rarity by the higher-ups in the advertising world. Additionally, she deals with the romantic advances of the ad men who surround her.
To make another note regarding the story, I have to wonder if the creator of Mad Men watched this film while dreaming up Peggy’s character arc. Claire has a few major similarities to the character from the popular period television series. Both begin working in entry-level “pink collar” positions at New York ad agencies. Both work their way up to copy writer and beyond, dealing with all of the struggles of being women in a male-dominated industry.
Mac is a fair bit more confident than Peggy, and her story is more shallow since we only know her for a little over an hour rather than over the course of multiple seasons, but it’s still interesting to see such a similar tale told in the early ’30s!
Big Business Girl tells an interesting story, but without a doubt, Loretta Young’s performance as Mac is the highlight of the film. Young is, unsurprisingly, very good. She was a strong actress, and a perfect fit for the role of an intelligent, clever girl like Mac.
This isn’t the greatest pre-code flick I’ve seen. The performances aside from Young’s aren’t too memorable, and the story’s conclusion is fairly predictable. Still, it’s a decent little watch, well worth tuning in for fans of Loretta Young. (Bonus: there’s a little Joan Blondell cameo!) The score: 3.5/5