Eadie Chapman (Jean Harlow) lives in Missouri, where her mother runs a beer-fueled dance hall. Eadie wants more out of her life, so she becomes determined to marry a wealth man. She heads to New York City with her best friend Kitty (Patsy Kelly) to find a suitor, and they quickly find work as chorus girls.
Eadie gets her first chance at a millionaire when she and the other chorus girls are asked to put on a show at a party held by Frank Cousins (Lewis Stone), but the truth is, Cousins secretly in financial peril. Still, there are plenty of eligible rich men at the party, and an unexpected turn of events has Eadie turning her attention to T. R. Paige (Lionel Barrymore) and his son, T. R., Jr. (Franchot Tone).
The Girl from Missouri was directed by Jack Conway (and an uncredited Sam Wood, according to the TCM database). The film was written by Anita Loos and John Emerson. I watched it from TCM in March, when they ran a birthday tribute to the lovely Jean Harlow.
The Girl from Missouri seems like a simple tale of a gold-digging woman when you read the synopsis. She goes after one millionaire, but something goes wrong, so she goes after another.
Luckily for the viewer, Harlow creates in Eadie something more than your average one-dimensional gold-digger. On paper, she’s money-hungry, but she’s also a woman of values. She wants to marry a rich man, but she’s not willing to compromise herself to reach that goal. She’s quite virtuous and, as she says, she wants the man she eventually marries “to be proud of” her.
Eadie clearly had good reason to leave Missouri as proven by the film’s opening scenes. While she may get into some pretty complicated situations during her quest to find a husband, and it is misguided for her to judge men based on their wealth, she’s easy for the viewer to like. This is in part thanks to Harlow’s charming and glamorous screen presence, which makes her magnetic to watch in all of her films. She adds such a sweetness and a sense of honesty to the character.
Another bright spot of the film is Patsy Kelly as Eadie’s good friend Kitty, a funny lady with a habit of falling for “the help,” as Eadie would classify them (butlers, doormen, lifeguards). She adds so many wonderful scenes of humor to the film, with her “hubba hubba” googly eyes at most men she meets. Her scenes with the lifeguard are particularly hilarious. (In one, they emerge from behind an overturned boat with tousled hair. So pre-code, though this was actually Harlow’s first approved-by-the-code film!)
As for the story, The Girl from Missouri offers some light comedy and some light drama — no intense measure of either of these elements, though the blend makes for an interesting-enough watch. The elder T. R. takes a turn for the hate-worthy by the end of the film, and the final 15 minutes or so really draw the viewer in, especially those of us who have become very invested in Eadie’s happiness through Harlow’s characterization of her.
The Girl from Missouri is not the most engaging film from Harlow’s filmography, but is still worth a watch. It features a strong performance from the actress, a great supporting appearance by Patsy Kelly, and a decent story. The score: 3/5