Happiness Ahead (1934)

Joan Bradford (Josephine Hutchinson) comes from a wealthy family, and she’s expected to have a high-society marriage. Her mother hopes she’ll marry Jelliffe Travis (Gavin Gordon), but she finds him — and the idea of the life she’d have with him — very boring.

(Image via meansheets.com)
(Image via meansheets.com)

With the permission of her more understanding father, Joan sneaks out of the house to go to a New Year’s Eve party, on the night that her engagement to Jelliffe was supposed to be announced. She goes to a Chinese restaurant, where she meets window-washer Bob Lane (Dick Powell) and his friends.

As the saying goes, money can’t buy happiness. So will Joan finally find happiness among her new working-class friends?

Happiness Ahead was directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Following in the footsteps of the wildly popular It Happened One Night, the film tells the story of love that crosses class lines.

There’s a lot to enjoy about this film. The supporting cast includes familiar and lovable faces, like Allen Jenkins, as well as lesser-known (but just as delightful) performers, like Dorothy Dare. The music is fun, too — very pleasant to listen to. There aren’t any big-production musical numbers, but there is one dizzying, unique roller skating performance.

Happiness Ahead marked Josephine Hutchinson’s film debut, appearing alongside leading man Dick Powell. Their story is one of an heiress hoping to break free from the confines of high society, and a window-washing coordinator who dreams of owning his own business. They make a cute couple, though their chemistry doesn’t quite sizzle.

One of the best things about this film is that, though it’s a fluffy romance, it doesn’t shy away from those class issues. When a very self-aware and privileged Joan proclaims “I’m 21, I’m white, and I’ve a right to be free!” just a few minutes into the film, it becomes clear that this is going to be a fluffy romance with a side of cultural critique. Later on, there’s a song about the window washers being on the “outside looking in” which discusses the faults of the wealthy as observed from their windows.

(Image via golden-age-movies.tumblr.com)
(Image via golden-age-movies.tumblr.com)

Joan experiences some culture clash as she tries to fit in with her new friends, which is the funniest side of the film’s critical element. She looks so proud when picking up new slang, asking Bob, “What’s your line?” after learning that this is a way to ask someone about their job. Her excitement over these small differences is amusing, while also showing the depth of her separation from “normal” society due to her family’s wealth.

Happiness Ahead is an enjoyable film for those who enjoy the “heiress gone working-class” formula — very light in mood, but with some interesting critique of society snuck into the script as well. This one is definitely worth a watch. The score: 4/5

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