The best-known movie of Clara Bow, the silent screen's most popular, appealing, and underrated actress, IT is a typical 1920s poor girl/rich boss romantic scenario. The film's success permanently changed its star's publicity tag from "The Brooklyn Bonfire" and "The Hottest Jazz Baby in
Films" to "The It Girl."
Betty Lou (Clara Bow), a salesgirl in Waltham's, the city's largest department store, is in love with her boss, Cyrus Waltham (Antonio Moreno). Although he has been seeing Adela (Jacqueline Gadson), a society woman who hopes to marry him, Waltham takes Betty Lou to Coney Island on a date. Both
have a wonderful time, but when he kisses her goodnight, she rewards his forwardness with a slap on the face.
When welfare workers attempt to seize the baby of her unmarried, unemployed roommate (Priscilla Bonner), Betty Lou thwarts them by claiming the child as her own, a story that is believed not only by the social workers but by Waltham, too. Torn between his love for Betty Lou and his moral notions
about good and bad women, he asks her to become his mistress. Deeply hurt, she refuses and quits her job. When Waltham's pal, Monty (William Austin), tells Betty Lou the reason for his friend's cavalier attitude, she is angered that Waltham was so ready to think the worst of her, and determines to
avenge herself by inducing him to propose and then laughing in his face.
Accompanied by Monty, Betty Lou crashes a private party on Waltham's yacht, where her scheme soon succeeds: He asks her to marry him and she rudely refuses--but immediately regrets it. Just after Monty tells Waltham the truth about the baby's parenthood, there is a sudden collision. Betty Lou and
Adela are thrown overboard, and Waltham dives in after them. Betty Lou manages to keep her rival afloat until help arrives, then swims away, pursued by Waltham. When he finally catches up to her she is perched on the yacht's hoisted anchor. He pulls himself up into her arms and they kiss.
Clara Bow was the first great prototype of the working-class flapper, the good-time girl (with a heart) who was not only sexy but sexed up--always within acceptable limits, of course (that goodnight slap, the rejection of mistress-hood in lieu of marriage). She was saucy and pretty and she owned a
priceless pair of beautiful, widely spaced eyes, which could look achingly sad when not twinkling mischievously. Although Mary Pickford considered Bow "a very great actress," not everyone agreed. Screenwriter Anita Loos, for one, dismissed her as being "at the same time innocuous and flashy." Loos
was wrong. As a screen actress, Bow was a natural, a romantic comedienne second only to Colleen Moore, and when the darker emotions were required of her, she was more than up to the challenge.
Bow's technique was intuitive, unschooled; spontaneity was the secret of her success. Her cameramen had trouble pinning her down. "She was difficult to follow," reported one of them. "She'd fly all over the place, which was part of her charm. Complete abandonment." This giddy impetuousness can be
observed in a pair of apparently improvisatory moments from IT: still flushed with the excitement of her first date with Waltham, Betty Lou kisses, hugs, and spanks her stuffed dog, then lifts its tail for a split-second exploratory peek underneath; summoned to Waltham's office, she makes herself
at home by scampering up on his desk like a monkey, then stretching out prone. "When I start to direct her," said IT's director Clarence Badger, "I get mad because she's doing all these things. And then I run them, and they're wonderful."
In 1927, 62-year-old Elinor Glyn was a best-selling trashy novelist. When Paramount decided to film her steamy novelette, IT, they junked most of the original plot and launched a massive publicity campaign based on Glyn's reputation and on the concept of "It," a code word for sex appeal. Glyn
worked tirelessly to explain the concept to the press, and her efforts spilled over into the text of the movie, in which "It" is defined several times, once by Glyn herself. (The film's introductory title supplies the official definition: "'IT' is that quality possessed by some which draws all
others by its magnetic force. With 'IT' you win all men if you are a woman--and all women if you are a man. 'IT' can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.")
As showcases for her enormous talent, Bow's vehicles were generally quite serviceable, but IT fit her like a glove. Fast, fun, and brightly lit throughout, IT astutely places its star in the perfect Bow job--lingerie salesgirl. Even the titles are amusing, beginning with Betty Lou's very first
line of dialogue, which she delivers to a fellow shop-girl after getting a gander of the handsome Mr. Waltham for the first time: "Sweet Santa Claus, give me him!"
A huge success with the moviegoing public, IT vaulted Bow into superstardom, where she remained all too briefly. Private scandal, emotional problems, and the strictures of talking-picture production, which cramped her freewheeling style, made her a has-been at 26, her great emotional range still
largely untapped. Hollywood has given us no one quite like her since.
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- Review: The best-known movie of Clara Bow, the silent screen's most popular, appealing, and underrated actress, IT is a typical 1920s poor girl/rich boss romantic scenario. The film's success permanently changed its star's publicity tag from "The Brooklyn Bonfire"… (more)