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Three Wise Girls is a 1932 film from The Pre-Code Era. It was directed by William Beaudine and starred Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke, and Marie Prevost.

Cassie Barnes (Harlow) is frustrated about her hand-to-mouth existence as a soda fountain girl in Chillicothe, Ohio. She grows more frustrated when hearing about Gladys Kane (Clarke), another Chillicothe girl who went to New York and found success. Cassie goes to New York as well—and winds up working behind yet another soda fountain counter, scrounging out a poverty-level existence with sassy working girl Dot (Prevost). Sick of life as a soda jerk, she looks up her friend Gladys and finds that Gladys has a well-paying job as a department store fashion model. Gladys gets her boss to give Cassie the same job. Cassie soon discovers that while the modeling job pays well, Gladys's real source of income is as the mistress/kept woman to arrogant rich dude Arthur Phelps. Meanwhile, Cassie herself falls in love with Jerry Dexter, another rich dude, who is much less arrogant than Arthur but turns out to be just as married.

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This was the first time Jean Harlow received top billing in a film. It was one of the last starring roles for Marie Prevost, a star from the silent days whose career went into terminal decline. Prevost died in January 1938 of starvation brought on by acute alcoholism, with only $300 to her name. Her lines in the movie about having to go hungry because she didn't have money for food became Harsher in Hindsight.

Not to be confused with Three Smart Girls, a completely unrelated 1936 film starring Deanna Durbin and Ray Milland.


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Tropes:

  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Harlow's platinum blonde was of course obvious even in black and white, and film posters reveal that tragic Gladys was a redhead and no-nonsense Dot was a brunette.
  • Driven to Suicide: Gladys kills herself after Arthur dumps her and goes back to his wife.
  • Driving a Desk: Regular old driving a desk when Jerry and Cassie are tooling around, then Boating A Desk when Cassie accepts a ride in Jerry's yacht.
  • Fanservice: Tons of it throughout this pre-Code film. Jean Harlow is stripping down to a slip not five minutes in. There are multiple scenes afterward in which Cassie, Gladys, and other half-naked models are seen in the changing room.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The first shot of the movie is Cassie's feet clomping down a dirt road after some Auto Erotica went awry.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The radar wasn't as strong during the pre-Code era, but it did exist, leading to amusing double entendres like the opening lines, when a motorist sees Cassie walking down the road.
    Motorist: Want a ride, sister?
    Cassie: No thanks, I'm just walking home from one.
  • Gilligan Cut: Jerry says that he isn't hitting on Cassie but says he might if they go on his yacht, saying "The sea air makes me ferocious." Cassie laughs and says "If that's the case then I won't ever go out on your yacht." As the words are leaving her lips the scene cross-fades to a shot of Jerry and Cassie on his yacht.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: A hung-over Jerry desperately asks for Bromo-Seltzer.
  • Having a Gay Old Time: Cassie's sudden decision to go back to Ohio is characterized thusly: "Yeah, she upchucked a good job."
  • Karma Houdini: Arthur treats Gladys cruelly, eventually dumping her, leading to her suicide. Nothing bad happens to him.
  • Meet Cute: A hung-over Jerry stumbles into the pharmacy where Cassie works and asks for Bromo-Seltzer. He then defends her when her sleazy pharmacist boss is firing her.
  • The Mistress: Two of them, as Cassie and Gladys are lovers of married men Jerry and Arthur. Cassie is somewhat more ambiguous as Jerry's marriage has been in-name-only for a while, but Gladys is a straight-up kept woman.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Cassie is modeling one for the uncomfortable scene in which Jerry's wife goes to Cassie's fashion shop.
  • Sexy Walk: The floor boss at the clothing store asks to see Cassie's walk. She delivers a hip-swiveling walk that is pretty sexy but isn't very suitable for fashion modeling.
    "This is not a burlesque show."
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Besides all the fanservice, this is one of the most significant signs of this film being from the pre-Code era. Jerry and Cassie are sympathetic adulterers; his wife is the antagonist for refusing to grant a divorce and it's a Happy Ending when she finally does and Jerry and Cassie get together. Gladys is sympathetic as well, the wronged partner in her Love Triangle. This kind of sympathetic view of adultery would become almost unheard of a few years later when The Hays Code went into effect.
  • Toplessness from the Back: More fanservice, as Arthur the scumbag enters Gladys's apartment and catches Cassie changing out of a dress.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Gladys gets the bad news of Arthur reconciling with his wife via a front-page newspaper headline, "Arthur Phelps And Wife Reconciled." Later, Jerry delivers the good news of his divorce by showing Cassie a front-page headline reporting exactly that.
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