Thursday 20 August 2009

The Richest Girl in the World (1934)

Director: William A Seiter
Stars: Miriam Hopkins, Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Henry Stephenson

Dorothy Hunter is an intriguing character. As the title suggests, she's the richest girl in the world, in her early twenties and the sole inheritor of the Hunter estate after her relatives went down with the Titanic when she was two years old. However she's kept herself to herself ever since, or rather her caretaker John Connors has, and even the papers don't have a picture of her taken any newer than that. Of the businessmen running her empire, only one has ever met her and that was in her nursery twenty years earlier, which is why she can get away with sending an imposter to their board meeting at the beginning of our film.

She's played by Miriam Hopkins, five years before The Old Maid and infinitely more desirable, with or without all that money, even though not many could compare in 1934 to her co-star Fay Wray, who was thoroughly and refreshingly real. She's as well adjusted to her wealth as modern equivalents like Paris Hilton aren't, but that doesn't mean it doesn't affect her life; her fiance has to break off their engagement because he can't deal with the pressure of marrying the richest girl in the world. And Dorothy Hunter is a romantic at heart, as much as she wouldn't want to admit it to anyone.

The imposter is Wray, of course, playing her secretary Sylvia Lockwood, who is about to be married too, to an Englishman. After the successful run to the annual general meeting, the pair of them end up running with it. At a party she gives, she hides away in the billiard room as Sylvia while Sylvia lives it up as Dorothy, and she meets and falls for Tony Travers. She keeps up the pretence, and Sylvia plays along, because she wants to know if he would pick her even if he could have the richest girl in the world.

The story is a little rushed, but then it's only 76 minutes long and given the level of fluff involved is hardly unpredictable, the Moses story being a truly obvious and convenient parallel. What keeps it alive is the quality of the cast. Miriam Hopkins is a decent romantic lead, who gets a little more depth than usual to play with, though not too much, mind you. She plays well off Joel McCrea, who has the unenviable task of having to be thrown in every direction all at once while being confuddled by her games throughout. He never gets an even keel to ride on but he does as well as can be expected.

Unfortunately the rest of the cast don't get enough to do. Reginald Denny doesn't get much opportunity at all as Sylvia's Englishman, Phil Lockwood. Henry Stephenson makes much more of his chances to shine as Connors, with plenty of subtle laughs and giggles. Most of all though, I wish there had been more Fay Wray. She wasn't the greatest actress in the world and she'd be the first to admit that, but she had a natural charm that shone through in every part she played. She doesn't disappoint here in the slightest, and if I'd been stuck in the situation Tony Travers finds himself in here, just the other way round, I'd have won out. Fay Wray without money or Miriam Hopkins with? Fay Wray any day.

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