A little interlude before continuing to post the aforementioned Warren William photo collection. I recently received this beautiful black & white 3-1/2″ wide X 2-1/2″ high trading card featuring Warren William and co-star Marian Marsh in “Under 18” (1931). The seller had described it as one from a series of 8 photo-cards produced by Warner Bros-Vitaphone Productions under the heading “Collectors Series No. 2” in 1932.
After I scanned the card for posting here I decided to give “Under 18” another look and to my slight disappointment the sexy scene depicted above is a publicity pose which doesn’t actually occur in the movie.
“Under 18” is just the third feature released featuring Warren William after he left Broadway for Hollywood in 1931. He’s only fourth billed, but the role of penthouse playboy Raymond Harding is tailored to him. He stops just short of being a total dog appearing first with goldigging Claire Dodd at about the 28 minute mark. It’s here he sets his eyes on Marsh’s Margie, a poor seamstress girl who’s forced into modeling when the other girls are out to lunch. He ignores young Margie at first, but after her boss has her open up her mink and flash her undergarments Harding is soon hovering over her.
Marsh, actually right around age 18 herself at the time this was filmed, already has her groundbreaking role in “Svengali” behind her at this time. Quite beautiful, Marsh with slight dimples, a high forehead and full lips actually reminded me of a younger Drew Barrymore, a comparison I found all the more interesting when reading the bio of Marsh on the IMDb afterwards–the writer notes she was cast opposite John Barrymore in “Svengali” because of her supposed resemblance to his wife, Dolores Costello (Drew’s grandmother). Perhaps I’m over thinking this, but the casting feels more ironic since we know what Great Profile Warren William is generally compared to himself.
“Under 18” has a pretty simple plot. Marsh, as seamstress Margie, is in love with delivery boy Jimmie (Regis Toomey), but envious of the high life she sees the store models living around her. Just to push her over the top, Margie’s sister, Sophie (Anita Page), and deadbeat husband, Alf (Norman Foster), are thrust into the apartment Margie occupies with her mother (Emma Dunn) after Alf gambled away their rent money. When Margie’s Mom receives some orchids from William’s Harding, Alf grabs them with the grand idea of selling them on the street and rolling the takings into a pool hustle. Sophie chases him out of view and Alf strikes her. It’s them Margie decides that she’s “seen all I want of marriage.” She tells her mother and sister, “Anytime I hand myself to a man for life it’s cash on delivery.” Jimmie overhears this and is crushed. At this point Sophie wants a divorce and Margie is going to do all she can to help her.
Character actor Clarence Wilson plays no-good lawyer Dietrich, who tells the girls it’s going to cost $200 for a divorce. Margie’s determined to get it, beginning by asking all of the models at work if they have it to loan her. An older woman on the job tells her that their men buy them stuff, but would never trust them with cash–“They’re allowed about as much freedom as Airedale’s on a leash.” At the woman’s urging Margie next asks her boss, Mr. Francois (Paul Porcasi), but he turns her down immediately before taking a call Margie overhears from his own gold digger.
Margie goes back to Jimmie, telling him up front that she still means what she’d said and that she’s only there as a friend…a friend looking to borrow $200. Now Jimmie’s previously dropped word of having $800 saved to buy a shop on Long Island that he planned moving Margie and her Mom into once they were married, but he’s more than willing to help his girl out–until she tells him what the money is for. Despite the abuse, there’s no way Jimmie’s going to fund a divorce, not with kids around. Margie leaves angry with plans to go see Harding.
It’s not until Margie’s arrival at Harding’s penthouse at approximately the 54 minute mark that we see Warren William again. There’s a pool party going on and he’s lounging poolside in a two piece suit, which includes a pretty obnoxious striped top. He’s wolfing it up with another girl, whom he’s already told that he’s set it up to have Babs (Dodd) sent away modeling, so he’ll have plenty of time for her in the near future. When his servant comes over and discreetly tells Harding of Margie’s arrival, Harding replies, “Serve it here.”
Harding is completely dismissive of Margie, who’s overwhelmed and looking a bit disgusted by the goings-on. All Harding really cares about is getting Margie into a bathing suit for whatever comes next. He has his servant show her to the den where he pulls out a swimsuit and kimono for her, and sets up the champagne for Harding’s arrival. Harding walks in wearing his own kimono and starts laying out his charm for her. When Margie finally gathers the courage to ask for the $200, swearing to pay it all back, Harding suggestively asks, “How?” Margie answers her now standard $5 a week to which Harding asks, “Wouldn’t you take it as a gift?” As naive as Margie is, she knows this is no gift being offered to her, but she needs this money to save her sister, so she answers, “Yes. If necessary.”
Harding is slowly being broken down from his come-on. Up til this time he’s been plying Margie with liquor, which makes her tongue more loose and unfortunately for Harding, more honest. When Margie declares “Marriage is bunk, at least for poor people,” Harding tells her he doesn’t think she’d like the high life. Margie says “I’ll learn to like it,” and the girl’s honestly finally completes Harding’s transformation from wolf to father figure. “I find you very refreshing,” he tells her as he moves to the piano.
“Gee, you play swell,” Margie says.
“On the contrary,” says Harding. “I play–very badly.”
The money’s as good as hers when Jimmie bursts in and confronts them with accusations. Harding blocks Jimmie from raising a threatening hand to Margie, but Jimmie strikes him in the mid-section, a blow to which Harding mumbles in reply, “You hit me a little low,” before collapsing.
Jimmie takes off before any trouble happens, but Margie is pretty quickly quizzed by the authorities before making her escape. We don’t see Harding again, though he does survive and sends his butler to Margie’s with the $200 for Margie and kind words for Jimmie. In the end Margie’s $200 comes through from multiple sources, but it turned out not to matter as word comes down of Alf having won the Amsterdam Pool Tournament plus a side bet on himself for a total of $1,500. Alf also apparently won Sophie back with his earning skills.
There’s nothing very special about “Under 18,” except Marian Marsh. The happy ending presented to us is only meant to be happy because Sophie decides to stick with her husband (despite his abuse), and because Margie winds up with a lot of money, but it’s A) loaned money and B) not needed for the divorce any longer, so I didn’t really see the point of being happy about it. The main lesson learned by Margie is not that money doesn’t buy happiness, as it kind of does in “Under 18,” but that love conquers all, even in the poor house.
Warren William does a fine job in limited time here in what’s a precursor to the top billed cads he’ll soon be playing. Harding, correctly described by Jimmie as girl nutty, does redeem himself as something more before his collapse–which turned out to actually be caused by some bad shrimp he’d had. William’s best moment was probably during his first appearance, in the dress shop, after girlfriend Babs leaves the room and Margie takes a call from Jimmie. As Margie goes on about her modeling for Harding, the camera pulls back to reveal William hovering right behind her, grinning in profile and taking her by surprise once she hangs up.
Also, a fun bit of dialogue here when Margie baffles Harding by requesting a Coke which she then explains, “I guess you’d call it a Coca-Cola.” Surely the slang term was likely just coming about, but nearly 80 years later the scene plays as though Harding is completely out of touch, which actually adds a little to his character.
The best thing “Under 18” has going for it when viewed in 2009 is it’s cast. Marsh as I said is excellent, then there’s Regis Toomey, Anita Page, William, of course, plus Claire Dodd in a small role, J. Farrell McDonald in the opening scene as the girl’s father, and Norman Foster in what may be the most memorable part as Page’s incredibly deadbeat husband. There’s really not enough here to recommend it though, except as one for the Marian Marsh fan.