Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Hot Saturday (1932)

Hot Saturday is a pre-code Paramount melodrama which gave Cary Grant one of his first (if not his first) starring rôles.

The movie is set in a typical American small town. Marysville is a town in which everyone is respectable. You’d better be respectable if you know what’s good for you. If you stray even a little from the path of middle class morality you’ll be destroyed by scandal and gossip.

Ruth Brock (Nancy Carroll) works at the town’s bank. She’s pretty and she’d like to have fun, if she dared to. She already has a reputation for flirting and in Marysville that’s worse than having a reputation as an axe murderess.

Two of the young men at the bank are pursuing Ruth. One has no chance. The other, Connie (Edward Woods), fancies himself as having a good chance. He assumes that he’s irresistible to women. He’s the closest thing Marysville has to a town Lothario.

Then a major threat to Connie’s chances arrives on the scene. Romer Sheffield (Cary Grant) has everything that Connie lacks. He has class. He has genuine charm. He isn’t sleazy. He’s extremely rich. Not surprisingly Ruth is flattered when Romer takes a shine to her.

On Saturdays all the young people of the town head to Willow Springs. Willow Springs offers music and dancing. It’s the closest thing they have to a den of iniquity. Young men and women have even been known to be so carried away by the lure of sin as to kiss each other.

Romer invites the young crowd to his place on the lake on a fine Saturday afternoon. Romer and Ruth flirt. Then the crowd head for Willow Springs. Connie takes Ruth boating and gets a bit too too enthusiastic in his pursuit of her. She runs off and heads for Romer’s house.

No real actual harm has been done. Ruth’s virtue is intact. But in fact a great deal of harm has been done. Ruth was seen at Romer’s house and she was seen arriving home very late. There’s plenty of ammunition there for the town’s gossips. And there are at least three people who are jealous enough of Ruth to be willing to make her life a misery.

There may be a way out for Ruth - marriage to Bill Fadden (Randolph Scott), the young man her parents always hoped she would marry. He’s totally respectable, from a totally resectable family, and he’s well set-up financially. Which matters to Ruth’s parents - they’ve been sponging off her for years. Her salary from the bank supports them.

The question is whether Bill will marry her now that the town gossips have decided she’s the town whore.

There’s plenty of pre-code naughtiness here. Before he took a shine to Ruth Romer had a girlfriend and it’s made quite clear that she was his mistress. And of course there are the obligatory pre-code scenes of girls in their underwear. And poor Ruth gets soaking wet and Bill has to undress her (with his hands not his eyes) and put her to bed even though they’re not even married. So she’s in his bed stark naked.

Nancy Carroll was, briefly, a huge star and an Oscar-nominated one. The momentum of her career was spent by the mid-30s. She’s charming and excellent in Hot Saturday.

Cary Grant’s screen persona was already almost (but not quite) fully formed when he made this movie. Romer Sheffield is regarded by the town gossips as a monster of depravity but the audience knows he’s really a pretty nice guy and that his charm isn’t fake. Randolph Scott is rather good too.

With a pre-code movie you just never know what to expect from the ending. Sometimes you get a moral ending but sometimes the movie stays pre-code right to the end. The latter is the case with Hot Saturday. Early on the movie takes aim at narrow-minded moralising and it keeps on landing its punches and it doesn’t let up at the end.

Hot Saturday is a delightful pre-code romantic melodrama and while it outraged puritans at the time it’s very much a feelgood movie. Like so many pre-code movies it seems much more modern than Hollywood movies of the 40s and 50s. Highly recommended.

Hot Saturday is one of the six movies in the Universal Backlot Pre-Code Collection DVD boxed set, a set that every pre-code fan should own.

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