| It


Clarence G. Badger

USA, 1927


Review by Josh Bell

Posted on 08 May 2013

Source 35mm print

Categories TCM Classic Film Festival 2013

The one thing that most people remember from the 1927 Clara Bow vehicle It is its coining of the phrase “the ‘it’ girl,” which has been co-opted and modified by 80-plus years of popular usage so that its designation has been almost completely corrupted. The movie never directly refers to Bow or her character, Betty Lou Spence, as “the ‘it’ girl,” but it is thoroughly obsessed with the meaning of “it,” who has it, who wants it and how to get it.

One thing that’s never in dispute is that Betty Lou has “it,” a quality defined by British writer Elinor Glyn, upon whose short story of the same name the movie is (very loosely) based. Glyn actually shows up in the middle of the movie to explain the concept, which she describes as the manner of someone with effortless and automatic self-confidence that attracts the opposite sex. That doesn’t quite fit for Betty Lou, though, because from the moment the shopgirl sets her eyes on her workplace’s new boss, Cyrus Waltham, she puts a huge amount of effort into seducing him, exhibiting an almost single-minded zeal for her intended target. She’s about as self-conscious in her efforts as she could possibly be.

She’s also possibly the only person in the movie not concerned with “it,” so maybe that lack of interest in labels is what qualifies her for “it” status. The person most consumed by the pursuit of “it” is of course the one person least likely to have it, Waltham’s right-hand man Monty. The vain, clueless Monty goes after Betty Lou with the same focus she applies to landing Waltham, but without her effortless charm, he just comes off as a fool. Even so, the movie stops short of completely humiliating him, even hinting at the possibility of a romance for him with Waltham’s discarded girlfriend Adela Van Norman by the end.

Adela represents the sort of bland beauty that coasts by on wealth and prestige but nevertheless lacks “it.” She’s the socially acceptable match for Waltham, since they both come from wealthy families and engage in respectable pursuits, but she’s no match for the headstrong Betty Lou, who isn’t afraid to take Waltham on a date to Coney Island, to slap him when he gets too fresh with her and even to plot revenge against him when he judges her for what he perceives as moral impropriety (she takes responsibility for a friend’s out-of-wedlock baby so that her friend doesn’t have the baby taken away).

In the end, It goes the route of pretty much all mainstream romantic comedies since the dawn of cinema, placing its two leads together, presumably happily ever after. Along the way, however, it presents a heroine whose independence, assertiveness and integrity dwarf many modern-day rom-com heroines. Whatever “it” really was, she clearly had plenty.

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