|Professional Sweetheart (1933)
Run time: 73 min
Genres: Comedy | Romance
Director: William A. Seiter
Writers: Maurine Dallas Watkins
Stars: Ginger Rogers, Norman Foster, Zasu Pitts
Radio singer Glory Eden is publicized as the ideal of American womanhood, in order to sell the sponsor’s product Ippsie-Wippsie Washcloths. In reality, Glory would like to at least sample booze, jazz, gambling, and men. When the strain of representing “purity” brings her to rebellion, the sponsor and his nutty henchmen pick her a public-relations “sweetheart” from fan mail. But they soon find that young love is not to be trifled with. Includes spicy pre-Code episodes and satirical jabs at a variety of targets. Written by Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Release Date: 9 June 1933 (USA)
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This is a very early film in the career of Ginger Rogers. It is somewhat saucy and always goofy. It portays people in radio show business and the press that covers it as both overly ambitious and naive. There are several character actors such as Zazu Pitts that are totally hilarious. The plot is basicly girl wants fun and freedom rather than fame, and boy wants girl. After several very funny misadventures they both get what they want and each other. Sexuality is very frank in this movie even though the characters are very innocent. For the naughty in us there is even a spanking scene. Ginger Roger’s voice is dubbed in a couple of songs because the producers did not think she was good enough. A very funny film worth repeated viewings. It can be seen occaisionly on the Turner Movie Channel. In the final scene there is a reference to television long before it would become available as if it was just around the corner.
Ginger Rodgers shines in a role that might have been written for Jean Harlow. She cracks wise, hurls insults, and dances around in her underwear. Zazu Pitts is priceless as the gushing and gullible small town reporter. Franklin Pangborn is more blatantly gay here than we normally get to see him. This movie touches on many aspects of celebrity that remain true to this day. The manipulation of a public image and the team of professionals that that requires. The all important "product", the selling of which is the reason for everything. This movie is also amazingly tolerant and socially progressive for it's time. The attractive black housekeeper's character is more of a friend to Ginger, who's footloose lifestyle she envies. Pangborn's character as one of her handlers is made obviously gay without degradation or judgement. Don't expect "Dinner at Eight", but "Professional Sweetheart" is sparkling and breezy pre-code fun!
"Professional Sweetheart" was Ginger Rogers' first film for RKO studios after she left Warner Bros., and with Allen Jenkins and Frank McHugh in the supporting cast it almost seems like a Warners film in exile. It's a marvelous movie, smart and funny, with a script by "Chicago" author Maurine Watkins that, though it isn't a crime story, takes up another of Watkins' favorite themes: media manipulation and the gap between what we're told about celebrities and what they're really like. In "The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book," Arlene Croce wrote, "Almost any Ginger Rogers role is successful to the degree that it reflects the dualism in her personality (tough-vulnerable, ingenuous-calculating) or plays on her curious aptitude for mimickry or fantasy or imposture." Croce was writing about the major roles of her post-Astaire career "Bachelor Mother," "Tom, Dick and Harry," "The Major and the Minor" but it applies here just as well; by casting Rogers as a wise-cracking hard-bitten orphan girl forced to pose as the "Purity Girl," and having two radio sponsors and a husband (from an arranged marriage!) all with their own ideas of what they want from her, "Professional Sweetheart" gives Rogers an early showcase for the characteristics that would have made her an enormous star even if she'd never set foot on a dance floor with Fred Astaire. I can't understand why some of the other commentators on this film have criticized Watkins' script, since it seems to me to be well constructed and vividly satirical on celebrity and its discontents in a way that rings true even today.
Another thing I liked about "Professional Sweetheart" is that it's one of the Gayest movies Hollywood ever made so much so that I can't understand why TCM isn't showing it in their current "Screened Out" festival of Gay and Lesbian films when some other titles with much more peripheral Gay content did make their list. The supporting actors seem to be competing as to who can be the queeniest, with Franklin Pangborn (not surprisingly) winning: his looks of horror and disgust when any of the other characters suggests that he date a woman are priceless. Also pretty astonishing, even for the relatively liberal "pre-Code" era in Hollywood history, is Sterling Holloway's obviously cruising Allen Jenkins at the reporters' reception imagine a Gay scene involving Jenkins in which he's the butch one!
The sponsors of a rowdy radio singer find a somber PROFESSIONAL SWEETHEART to keep her satisfied and out of trouble.
Ginger Rogers dominates this Pre-Code comedy with her saucy performance as the spoiled warbler. This was her first starring role and she makes the most of it, pouting and prancing across the screen (often in her lingerie) talking bold & brassy, but actually just longing for the right male to come along and knock her into submission. Disturbing implications aside, she is an eyeful and a great deal of fun to watch.
Norman Foster deftly underplays his role as a stolid Tennessee backwoodsman whose whole life is commandeered by Ms. Rogers and the avaricious makers of the Ippsie Wippsie wash cloth. His eventual break for freedom, with Rogers in tow, will elicit deep approval from at least one gender in the viewing audience.
A wonderful cast of character actors help support the stars: Gregory Ratoff as Ginger’s scheming sponsor; Frank McHugh as his eager beaver press agent; ZaSu Pitts as a silly sob sister; Franklin Pangborn as a nervous decorator; Edgar Kennedy as owner of a rival wash rag company; Allen Jenkins as his factotum; and Sterling Holloway as a slow-talking reporter.
Movie mavens will recognize an unbilled Akim Tamiroff as a hotel room service waiter.