Wednesday, November 18, 2015

From the DVR: I Can Get it For You Wholesale (1951)

Harriet Boyd (Susan Hayward) is a dress model…but she has far too much ambition to remain content toiling as a clotheshorse for a company located in the heart of New York’s busy garment district.  She’s persuaded production manager Sam Cooper (Sam Jaffe) to start a dressmaking business with her; Harriet has studied dress design at night school, and several of her creations are judged good enough to be accepted by her current boss, Bettini (Steven Geray), to sell amongst the company’s inventory.

Harriet is getting a good man in Cooper, considered the top “inside man” in the business…but Sam insists that she also take crack salesman Teddy Sherman (Dan Dailey) into their prospective venture, despite Harriet’s reservations (she finds both his brash demeanor and persistent romantic overtures off-putting).  But Teddy is impressed enough with Harriet’s designs to declare “deal me in” and Sherboyco Dresses is soon in business after Harriet dupes her sister Marge (Randy Stuart) into letting her have their late father’s insurance money (their mother [Mary Phillips] is dead-set against the idea).

Sherboyco Dresses is described as a “Ten-Ninety-Five” shop, which refers to the price of their product.  It’s not all smooth sailing for the company: Teddy hasn’t abandoned the idea of marrying Harriet (at one point in the film, he causes a scene at a restaurant where Harriet is entertaining a prospective client); she tells him she won’t be owned by anyone and when Teddy threatens to dissolve their partnership Harriet tells him the partnership contract he’s signed is escape-proof.  This proves to be a double-edged sword where Harriet is concerned; she finds herself in the same position once falls in love with J.F. Noble (George Sanders), owner of an upscale department store chain, who would not only like her to create designs for his stores but is anxious to make her “Mrs. Noble” as well.

The main character in Jerome Weidman’s 1937 novel I Can Get it For You Wholesale is an unscrupulous businessman named Harry Bogen…but in the hands of Vera Caspary (who was asked by 20th Century-Fox to adapt Weidman’s book into a vehicle for their star Susan Hayward), Harry undergoes a change in gender to Harriet.  Harriet isn’t quite the louse that her male counterpart is, but she remains fiercely independent and motivated: she wants to be rich, and she’s determined to obtain that goal while enriching her partners and family in the process.  Female characters who were unapologetic go-getters were a rarity in movies at that time, so Harriet Boyd is a breath of fresh air among the usual sappy housewife portrayals (and is superbly played by Hayward).

Harriet’s ruthless ingenuity is displayed in a sequence where she begs her mother to let her have the insurance money; Mama Boyd is determined that younger daughter Marge will be the recipient, despite Harriet’s not being shy about telling her ma doing so would be most foolish—she doesn’t have a very high opinion of Marge’s fiancé, a lawyer named Ray (Ross Elliott), who will probably “spend the rest of his life almost winning cases in the Court of Small Claims.”  With Mom off to bed and Marge and Ray back from an evening out, Harriet goes into schmooze mode and regales her sis and future bro-in-law of the wonderful opportunity she’s received to start her own business with Sam and Teddy.  When the couple goes out to the kitchen to get coffee, Harriet gets on the horn and asks the operator to ring her number…and by the time Marge and Ray get back, they hear the tail-end of a “conversation” in which Harriet’s business prospects are doomed unless she can raise that money.  Qué lástima!

Later in the film, Harriet gets an assist in her plan to nullify the “unbreakable” partnership from her new beau Noble: after Teddy departs for a sales trip, she starts with siphoned-off funds from Sherboyco a second company specializing in upscale gowns (which will be sold to Noble’s stores) while the current company ceases production on product from the “$10.95” line.  If Sherboyco can’t fill the orders, they will have to declare bankruptcy; Harriet generously offers her partners a “lifeline” in the form of a proposal to recoup those losses by continuing to sell the Company 2 gowns to Noble’s department stores.

Having never seen I Can Get it For You Wholesale (1951), I DVR’d the movie during the Star of the Month feting of Susan Hayward on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ and sat down with it Monday night, accompanied by my mother’s snoring.  (It may still be making the rounds on the Fox Movie Channel—I couldn’t swear to it, because those bastards at Dish make us pay extra for it—but I know it has been released to MOD DVD as part of Fox Home Video’s Cinema Archives.)  But I was also drawn to the film because it was the last onscreen writing credit for Hollywood Ten member Abraham Polonsky (who demonstrated that there’s a fine line between capitalism and organized crime in my favorite John Garfield film, 1948’s Force of Evil) before he appeared before HUAC in 1951.  Polonsky was forced to write under different names and use fronts until 1968, when he received credit for his screenplay of Madigan.  The director of Wholesale, Michael Gordon, was also blacklisted for a time; his career came roaring back in 1959 with the Academy Award-nominated Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedy Pillow Talk.

I probably would have enjoyed the movie more were it not for the presence of the poor man’s George Murphy, Dan Dailey (he just gets on my last nerve—sorry, Dailey fans); it wasn’t easy applying Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s infamous Blind Squirrel Theory of Film™ to find a movie with Dailey that I like…but he is in The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), a truly twisted Larry Cohen film that finds Dailey playing Clyde Tolson to Broderick Crawford’s J. Edgar Hoover.  At the end of Wholesale, when Dailey’s Sherman wins the heart of Hayward’s Harriet, my mother (who had awakened by this time) remarks out loud: “Why is Susan Hayward leaving George Sanders to go back to Dan Dailey?”  The amazing thing is—I was thinking the exact same thing.  (So maybe I wasn’t redopted after all, as I have admittedly speculated on the blog from time to time.)

Thankfully, Wholesale is able to overcome its Dan Dailey handicap with other splendiferous casting: both Sam Jaffe and George Sanders excel in their roles (admittedly, both actors are so damn good it doesn’t take much—but George is at his caddish best), and I enjoyed the “love affair” between Marvin Kaplan (who plays the new company’s office boy) and Barbara Whiting (a receptionist—she’s Jaffe’s daughter).  Amusingly, the Lane Brothers (okay, they’re not really related), Richard and Charles, are cast as Hayward’s bosses (as well as Geray), and there’s also nice contributions from veteran old-time radio announcer/stooge Harry von Zell (as a lecherous buyer), Randy Stuart, and Vicki Cummings.  Keep an eye out for Amzie Strickland as a restaurant patron, and ubiquitous “dress extra” Bess Flowers!

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