Netflix just recommend that I watch It, as they thought I might like a “romantic comedy featuring a strong female lead.” I am sure Netflix knows that Clara Bow’s name is somehow meaningful to me through search histories and whatnot but, all the same, it was fun to see It pop up amidst the crush of suggestions of what I might watch on a Wednesday night.
We’ve watched a few of Clara Bow’s films for the project and even though there are moments and characters and story lines that do not gracefully stand the test of time, Clara’s charisma and magnetism shine through.
The 1927 hit It surprised me. The shop girl setting her cap at the boss seemed pretty straight forward, and there is plenty of shtick and hijinks to go around, but I found myself most intrigued by the living situation of Clara’s character Betty Lou. We don’t really learn a backstory for her, but she is an independent woman, living in the city, supporting herself and sharing her small apartment with an ill friend and the friend’s young child. When some charity workers threaten to take away the child because of the mother’s illness and resulting inability to work, Betty Lou claims that the child is hers and that she is an unwed mother with a job who is doing just fine. This of course creates a core misunderstanding and threatens her romantic future. Let the hijinks begin.
I was drawn in, seeing a brief (albeit moviefied) glimpse into the lives of 1920’s young working women. At the time I was reading Flapper by Josua Zeitz and it fleshed out a greater story for me. In the book Zeitz writes about the 1920’s as a time when US census figures had shifted with 51% of Americans living in urban areas. Many of those who flocked from small farming communities to the cities were women. Women were entering the workforce at a greater rate and, even though they might just scrape by, these women were learning to support themselves, to fend for themselves and to make their own decisions about how they wanted to live their lives. I could see Betty Lou in this context and it made me admire not just her spunk and charm but her ability to make it on her own terms and support a friend in need. Zeitz lays out the struggles of such young women facing “rampant wage and employment discrimination.“ Even if a young woman could afford to support herself, she was unlikely to be able to afford any luxuries or amusements without dating or marrying a man. Even this rings true with Betty Lou’s story as she seeks to win the boss’ affections.
So yes, Netfilx, I’ll take It and its strong female lead. Thanks for the recommendation.