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Film / Government Girl

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Government Girl is a 1943 Romantic Comedy film directed by Dudley Nichols, starring Olivia de Havilland.

Washington, D.C. The city teems with a vastly expanded federal bureaucracy as the United States fights World War II. Ed Browne (Sonny Tufts) is a Detroit auto engineer who has been brought to Washington to oversee bomber production. He is paired up with secretary Elizabeth "Smokey" Allard (de Havilland), one of the many young women brought to the capital for secretarial and administrative work related to the war effort.

Ed is a hard-charging, "build first and ask questions later" type. He has to be guided through the Washington schmoozing and bureaucratic infighting by Smokey, already a veteran of D.C. politics. Predictably, Ed and Smokey begin to develop feelings for each other, but Smokey already has a beau in the person of Dana McGuire (Jess Barker), a ruthlessly ambitious lawyer for a Senate committee. The personal meets the political when Dana, a man on the make, unfairly targets Ed on suspicion of graft.

Olivia de Havilland's last film while under contract to Warner Bros. (actually made for RKO after she was loaned out). She made the film under protest, and soon filed suit against Warners, a suit that led to a major court decision limiting the lengths of actor contracts.

Agnes Moorehead has a small role as a snobby socialite. Compare The More the Merrier, another 1943 film also about overcrowding and exploding bureaucracy in wartime Washington.


  • Alliterative Title: Job Title of Protagonist Title.
  • As You Know: Smokey's other admirer, Branch Owens, clarifies for the audience that he's a reporter by telling her "I'm head of a Washington news bureau."
  • Divorce in Reno: The man pressed into service as a witness for May and Joe's wedding is a lawyer from Reno, NV. After the vows he gives Joe his card.
  • Drives Like Crazy: A long comic setpiece has Smokey asking Ed to drive a motorcycle back to the Social Security building. Ed, who evidently knows how to ride a motorcycle but isn't that experience, takes them on a wild careening ride through the city, with Smokey hanging on for dear life as they cut through public parks and zoom through red lights.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: Eventually Ed's conduct, and specifically his appropriation of the steel to build his fighters, is brought before the Senate committee on Dana's initiative. Smokey shows up and gives a Rousing Speech in which she basically says that Ed did what he had to do to built the bombers that are going to destroy Germany and Japan.
  • Intoxication Ensues: A subplot that comes out of nowhere has Smokey and May pressed into service to help expose Count Bodinsky, an Axis spy and admirer of May's. The FBI has arranged to switch out Bodinsky's champagne with sparkling cider, so the girls can pretend to get drunk while they get him to make incriminating statements. What Smokey and May don't know is that Count Bodinsky doesn't like American champagne and switched it out for his own European vintage. The two women drink real champagne and get roaring drunk.
  • Ironic Echo: Smokey is offended when Ed tries to get her to wear a wedding ring, thinking that it will fend off unwanted proposals. Later, however, when May proves a little too receptive to the attentions of men despite being married, Smokey gives her the same advice, using the same dialogue.
  • Meet Cute: Smokey and Ed meet when she goes scrambling under the couch Ed is sitting on, hunting for May's wedding ring which was dropped during the ceremony. Then she confronts Ed when it turns out that Joe and May's honeymoon suite was given to him.
  • No Name Given: Ed's superior at the War Production Board is only ever called "chief".
  • Romantic False Lead: Obviously Smokey is not going to get together with Dana the weasel.
  • Rousing Speech: The film climaxes with a Rousing Speech in the committee hearing where Smokey says that darn it, Ed took that steel to build the bombers that America needs to flatten the Axis and win the war.
  • Title Drop: May and Smokey are addressed as "government girl" multiple times. "Government girl" was a Real Life term in the era for the young women flooding into Washington, DC for admin work in the expanded bureaucracy.
  • Wartime Wedding: Ed and Smokey's Meet Cute occurs when Smokey is maid of honor at a hurried wedding in a hotel lobby for her roommate May and May's boyfriend Joe, an Army sergeant.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Does "ED BROWNE NAMED FOR WASHINGTON JOB" really deserve above-the-fold coverage? He didn't get named Secretary of War, after all.
  • You're Cute When You're Angry: When Smokey gets mad because Dana is paying too much attention to Sen McVickers's daughter, Dana says "Those sparks in your eyes are beautiful."