The Purchase Price (1932)

The oddity of this film has perhaps been overstated, both at the time and more recently, which is not to say that there’s not something at least slightly head-scratching at work here. It clocks in at a bit under 70 minutes, meaning it’s about as long as lots of other films from the early 30s, but I can’t think of many that offer such a feeling of disjunct or frankly weird pacing as this one… Barbara Stanwyck plays a nightclub singer dumped by the boyfriend who was going to make her respectable, and in the course of fleeing the small-time crook who has designs on her she winds up becoming the mail-order bride of a lonely farmer somewhere in Far North Bumfuck. It’s not exactly the easiest relationship, and the film doesn’t always tell it as clearly as it could; it really fumbles things at its baffling ending, which feels like it was meant to be a big dramatic turning point with about 15-20 minutes of the film to go but instead someone decided to make it the climax even though it clearly isn’t meant to be and leaves quite a lot hanging without resolution. If Other Men’s Women ended with mild ambiguity, this ends with “what the fuck?”… I suppose Stanwyck is what keeps the film going, especially given how poor George Brent is as the farmer. The latter is not an inherently uninteresting character; there’s a visceral contempt expressed at one point for the hicks surrounding him, and it might’ve been interesting to explore this apparent sense of alienation and isolation further. Unfortunately Brent’s portrayal goes beyond suggesting Jim’s awkwardness to merely being awkward itself and not that good; Stanwyck keeps things watchable enough that I didn’t really notice until the end that the “bad”-girl-finding-redemption story she lives isn’t really the most original thing I’ve ever seen. On the whole, well, it’s not exactly City Girl, is it… eh.

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