Bad Girl

Film Review by Abby Welling May 29, 2015

That’s better! As I keep  mentioning, the Murnau/Borzage box provides ample and powerful illustration of the (Rudolf) Arnheimian notion that high silent cinema was the best that cinema ever could or would be. The other side of that argument is that the coming of sound film caused a disastrous and even permanent come-down.

Well films like this (and D.W. Griffith’s The Struggle, which it quite resembles) sure aren’t going to help that latter argument at all. I seem to remember being a dumb young person and thinking there was nothing in these pre-Frank Capra-’34 films. Well high silent is the best, and I start to wonder if the allegedly disastrous time that immediately followed doesn’t come in a close second.

Bad Girl backs that idea up. A cinematic scaling back is certainly evident, but there’s no loss of anything important. Given what City Girl and Lucky Star actually accomplish, that’s really saying something. The formal/technical simplicity of early sound leaves the important things in sharper relief. (Mind you there are still a number of superbly executed cinematic things happening here.) And what are those? Character, milieu, moral challenge, mercy. The heavy urban vernacular is interesting, pushed to the point of contrivance, and of real historical or curio value. Same, more with the crazy abusive sheen to the male/female interactions (again, Man’s Castle, Moonrise). What is so touching is how this brashness resolves into such tenderness. And the sin is a central part of that tenderness.

Felicities: attractive couple, tremendously beautiful female lead, glimpses of work issues, indirect and ardent portrayals of passion, the exchange with the brother, the brassy best friend, the matter-of-factness with which they treat the tryst and its aftermath, the ease with which the male protagonist dumps his life’s goal, Adam and Eve’s lot, the everyone-has-their-reasons ways that men and women don’t communicate, the appeal to the doctor (!)—the entire movie. The entire mini, early sound period! Just beautiful.