#13 – The Impatient Maiden (1932)
Lew Ayres, Mae Clarke, and Una Merkel
Director: James Whale, Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr., Production Company: Universal Pictures
When her expectant neighbor tries to commit suicide, a divorce lawyer’s pretty young secretary calls the ambulance and meets a handsome young doctor, her dingy roommate falling for his orderly assistant. Although the secretary and the doctor are drawn toward each other, he is years away from having enough money to settle down, and she doesn’t believe in marriage.
This film came from a controversial novel called The Impatient Virgin, but the title and much of the risque content were edited at the Studio Relations Committee’s (SRC) request. Although the SRC, the PCA’s successor as enforcer of the Code, lacked the power to force changes, it gave advice and held some mild authority over filmmakers during the Pre-Code Era. Obviously that authority was very limited, since the SRC was officially in place during the notorious Pre-Code Era (1930-1934). This film, although not one of the worst offenders, contains many of the common pre-Code objections. There are dressing scenes in which we see Mae Clarke and Una Merkel in minimal undergarments. Forbidden expressions like “Aw, nuts!” are used. Many suggestive lines are included in the dialogue. There is excessive focus on Mae Clarke’s legs as Dr. Myron Brown (Lew Ayres) tends cuts on her lower appendages. One controversial element is the fact that an expectant mother attempts suicide after her husband leaves her. That leads us to the film’s biggest problem, ridicule of marriage. Ruth Robbins (Mae Clarke) works for a divorce lawyer, so she has a very cynical view toward men, romance, and particularly marriage. This is not just her personal opinion, however. It is supported by the film’s narrative. The aforementioned expectant mother, a hospital patient with a black eye from her husband, and multiple couples at the lawyer’s office support the view that marriage is a miserable situation, particularly for women. Because of her contempt for marriage but her love for Myron, Ruth suggests that they live together out of wedlock. She presents this immoral possibility as though it is a perfectly valid option. I personally don’t believe that cohabitation without marriage was common or accepted in the early 1930s, but the fact that films like this presented it as a viable possibility shows that Hollywood was driving society toward that path. There also is a highly suggestive situation with Ruth’s employer (John Halliday), since he tries to seduce her and offers her a lavish apartment. Although she doesn’t compromise herself, she accepts the apartment for awhile. Also, the final operation sequence is much too prolonged and thus distasteful. Although this is a cute little movie, it could have been much better if it were a Code film.
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