Preceded by surviving fragments of Paramount’s 1927 comedy Now We’re in the Air, restored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
How lucky are we to get to see the newly restored 1927 comedy Get Your Man? Starring the utterly delicious Clara Bow paired with the handsome Charles “Buddy” Rogers (billed without his “Buddy”) and directed by Dorothy Arzner in her debut year, it’s one of those allegedly minor movies that often reveal an era better than the more so-called important releases do. Get Your Man is very much in and of its time and thus free to be what it is: an unknown Clara Bow vehicle that’s a whole lot of fun. Watching it is a trip back into 1927 for a great night at the movies, nothing more, but happily, nothing less.
Get Your Man showcases Clara Bow. She’s well-directed and supported by a charming costar, but Get Your Man is dominated by Bow’s natural and unselfconscious pizzazz. She plays a wealthy American girl on holiday in Paris, zipping around town, shopping and seeing the sights. She bumps into Rogers, who inexplicably plays a French heir to a dukedom despite his very all-American clean-cut looks and his “gee whiz” aura. When they’re accidentally locked into a museum for an overnight stay, Bow and Rogers fall in love. The complication? He’s noble, and thus forced to tell her the next morning that he’s already engaged to a girl his father betrothed him to when he was a tot. Does Bow slink away all heartbroken after hearing this? Well, why would she? She’s Clara Bow and her problem is only a bunch of men: the guy she just fell in love with, his daddy, and the doomed fiancée’s father. If there’s anything Clara Bow knows how to handle, it’s three rich guys.
Clara Bow’s career is the epitome of the Hollywood silent-film era Cinderella story, warts and all. An unwanted child born into poverty and inherited madness, Bow’s young life was as tragic as anything ever connected to Marilyn Monroe. Bow found her ticket to a better life when she won a “Fame and Fortune” movie magazine contest in 1921. First prize was a train ticket to Hollywood. She got onboard and never looked back. Casually gorgeous, red-headed, full of pep and optimism, she appeared in her first film in 1922 when she was barely sixteen years old. After that, she was rarely unemployed, appearing in eight features in 1924, the year she was chosen to be one of the famous WAMPAS Baby Stars, an accolade from movie advertisers who singled out young women they felt had a chance to become real movie stars. (WAMPAS was the acronym of the Western Associated Motion Picture Advertisers.)
During 1925 and 1926, Bow made an astonishing twenty-two movies. The public fell in love with her, and the film business was happy to exploit that love. She should have become one of Hollywood’s highest paid female stars, but she never earned that kind of money. She had no head for business, no education to speak of, and no parent or adult to guide her or look out for her. She did the work, and took up an offscreen hotcha pattern of behavior that embraced fun, fun, fun. Clara Bow liked men and they liked her. Her unrestrained sexuality translated on-screen into an exuberant joyousness, a free spiritedness, that made her popular with women as well as men. She was Betty Boop in the flesh, shaking and shimmying around the frame with her short hair, big eyes, voluptuous body, and boop-a-doop personality. Two of her 1926 movies lifted her to top stardom: Mantrap, directed by Victor Fleming, and Dancing Mothers, by Herbert Brenon. By the end of 1926, Clara Bow was getting thousands of fan letters, and she found movie immortality by being cast as the embodiment of writer Elinor Glyn’s clever and daring idea to define sex appeal as “it.” (Someone said “it” was a great concept but that Glyn had left off the “sh.”) Bow became “the It girl,” starring in 1927’s simply named It, arguably her most definitive movie. The huge success of It prompted the release of three quick “Clara Bow” pictures to follow, one of which was Get Your Man.
Bow’s self-confident costar Charles Rogers has a great deal of sex appeal of his own (at least in his day). He doesn’t seem particularly worried about his acting skills, no doubt having learned early in life that looking good, wearing clothes well, and smiling warmly was going to make his day turn out all right. Because Bow and Rogers both have a very American 1920s vibe and a natural ease, they pair up well. Their other 1927 film, the famous Wings, winner of the very first Academy Award for Best Picture, used their compatibility to the max. (Today, Rogers is not well known, but he was a successful bandleader who married superstar Mary Pickford, twelve years his senior.)
Get Your Man is also of interest because of its director, Dorothy Arzner, who has been much analyzed and written about as a feminist icon. She doesn’t always get the credit she deserves for simply being very, very good at the basic job of directing a movie. The only woman behind the camera in the studio system of the 1930s and early 1940s, Arzner worked her way up through the ranks, learning all aspects of filmmaking. She was a highly skilled editor, and Get Your Man benefits from her pacing and understanding of when to cut to Bow and/or Rogers to show off their good looks and keep the audience involved in their characters. (Arzner also knows how to show off expensive sets and costumes and elaborate set pieces such as the carefully created waxworks museum designed by Marion Morgan.) Get Your Man is one of three Arzner movies from her first year as a director: the first was Fashions for Women, starring Eleanor Ralston, and the other was Ten Modern Commandments, also with Ralston. Arzner’s career is marked by her ability to help define and create movie stars, her consideration of the woman’s role in modern society, and her championship of the outspoken and liberated heroine. (She went on to direct Clara Bow’s first sound movie, The Wild Party, in 1929.) Get Your Man is lighthearted, but it ultimately reveals an Arzner signature—a celebration of triumphant female sexuality, which in this case is repurposed as female determination of the “I will get my way” variety.
Lovingly restored by Bow’s biographer David Stenn and the staff of the Library of Congress (about twenty minutes of footage was lost to deterioration but has been filled in with strategically placed stills and intertitles), Get Your Man was reviewed in Photoplay magazine as one of the best pictures of the month. The reviewer pointed out that “Men have called Clara Bow irresistible and women admit it.” Watching the movie today, even with the missing scenes, we can all admit it. Get Your Man not only has Bow, but also Rogers and Arzner—a triple bonanza.
Presented at SFSFF 2017 with live music by Stephen Horne