Certain actors photograph 'smart.' They know what's coming, they've seen it before, they're well ahead of the plodding screenwriter who's providing them with the bon mots that they are about to toss off. I recall reading an interview with Jonathan Demme where he said that the main reason he wanted Anthony Hopkins to play Hannibal Lecter was because you knew, by watching Hopkins, that he was smart. And that would humanize Lecter and make him interesting to audiences.
So it was with Myrna "Mrs. Nick Charles" Loy. She had a natural, innate intelligence and humor--which, as the thirties and forties progressed, made her a perfect sort of swank, New Yorker magazine reading, Martini drinking, Cedric Gibbons set-inhabiting, MGM under contract to-ing kind of dame. And this makes it especially interesting that, in an earlier incarnation, she was, in fact, a hotsy-totsy girl of the bootleg years.
For years, (she started in silents--discovered by Rudolph Valentino, I've just learned), she played either "good time girls" (sluts) or Orientals. She posed for a statue at Venice High School while she was a student there and one of her early gigs was dancing in the chorus at the Grauman's Chinese Theater in the early twenties. (They had a chorus line of dancers? For real? Furthermore, I thought growing up in LA in the 1970's was weird. What must it have been like in 1917? Was there anything here at all?) In general, Myrna Loy paid a lot of dues before finding the screen persona that we associate with her--the ironic, refined and smart Myrna, the country-club Myrna, the wife who's still sexy Myrna. She was, in fact, a mad singing vamp of a girl--though as you will see below, the singing was clearly dubbed.
Anyway, below is quite a find. It's two numbers from a 1930 movie called "The Truth About Youth" which appears to have been a chestnut even when it was made--the play it was based on first played on Broadway in 1900. (Even then, Hollywood liked the idea of remakes--"Irving! They loved it back then! They'll love it now! What do we got to lose?") The movie starred Loretta Young (as the good girl of course) and Myrna Loy as the gold-digging nightclub-singing prostitu--er--good time girl.
The number is also of interest for fans of nightclub culture, in that it portrays a swank New York nightclub in a way that movies of the time generally didn't (and so this makes me think that they based it on a real one). If you read the theater and nightclub listings of New Yorker magazines from the twenties and thirties (as I do) you'll note that a number of clubs are listed under the sub-heading "Broadway Atmosphere". This has always puzzled and intrigued me--what did they do in these clubs differently than just ordinary nightclubs? Since absolutely nobody who went to these clubs is still walking the earth (although a few might be sitting in becalmed, passive states at various nursing homes) this mysterious distinction will likely remain unsolved. But the clip below gives us a possible window on the kind of nightclub setting and performance style that might have personified "Broadway Atmosphere."