Thursday, January 17, 2008

Girl 27 (David Stenn, 2007)

1937 was a big year at the box office for MGM. At the height of the depression, they had made huge profits. So the studio heads invited their national staff of salesmen out to Hollywood for a huge celebration.

Meanwhile, Patricia Douglas showed up for a cattle call audition to be a chorus girl in an MGM musical. 120 young starlets were selected, dressed in sexy cowgirl costumes, and driven out to a studio lot in what was, at the time, the middle of nowhere (between Hollywood and Culver City). When they arrived, they found no movie, but a lot full of horny, liquored-up, midwestern salesmen who had spent the last couple weeks daydreaming about the debauchery they were going to get into when they arrived in the big city. A studio head stood on stage, gave a speech congratulating the salesmen, and made a fairly obvious implication that the girls were there to provide them with pleasuer. You can probably guess where the story is going from there.

Patricia Douglas was brutally raped. At least one other girl was raped as well, but let's be real--there were probably a dozen rapes that night in the holding-a-screaming-girl-down sense, and probably dozens more who just realized they had little choice but to go along with it and hope for minimal bruises. When Douglas went public with her charges, MGM began publicly defaming her character, a strategy that worked even more reliably then than it does now.

Girl 27 is a fascinating documentary, almost despite the work of director David Stenn, who had uncovered Douglas' case while writing a book on (if I remember correctly) Jean Harlow. He wrote an article on the case for Vanity Fair, and spent years trying to get Douglas to talk to him. He seems to think the story of him getting her to talk is as interesting as her own story, and spends way too much time talking to the camera. He also makes the mistake of using Greta Van Sustern as a talking head, despite her having no information or insights to add. The story, of course, is strong enough to overcome these minor problems, but it's somewhat sad to think of the great documentary that a better director could have made from this material.

I have to admit, I feel a bit like an exploiter watching this. It's such a sleazy, noirish story set in Old Hollywood, with glamour and scandal and parellels to Betty Short. It could be a James Ellroy novel. It's all the things I would want in a film noir, but it's also someone's life, and a pretty horrifying one at that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since Patricia Douglas was borrn in 1917 how was she only 17 in 1937?

4/10/2012 7:47 PM  

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