Joseph Weidman gave his 1937 novel I Can Get It for You Wholesale a great title, and Hollywood ran with it, attaching it to Michael Gordon’s very different film from Abraham Polonsky’s odd script. The changes in gender and ethnicity from Harry Bogen to Harriet Boyd account for some of the softening of Weidman’s book about a sexist, anti-Semitic Jew in New York’s garment district; but the lion’s share of difference, surely, can be attributed to the transplanted time frame. The thirties Depression underscores Harry’s ruthless determination to deny kinship with the rest of his species as a means of survival, while the postwar boom absorbs the harsh edges of Harriet’s scheming rise from model to independent dress designer, making it all look a lot like laudable pluck. And with an extra dose of Susan Hayward’s awesomely curled fiery mane on display, albeit in black and white, one may be hard pressed to believe that the script is justified in finding such fault in Harriet’s dedicated, hardworking pursuit of wealth. I swear: Harriet’s sanctimonious mom seems to have gotten her bitch-switch stuck.
Here is one of those Hollywood films that tries to have everything every possible way. For each glint of socioeconomic criticism there is an equally bright glint of posh complacency. It is impossible to know where the film ultimately stands because it is a strikingly orchestrated, undeniably entertaining piece of balanced positions and dueling compromises. Harry’s sleaze has vanished into Hayward’s interior battle between career ambition and essential decency.
As Harriet, Hayward is alternately slack and radiant, riveting and dull; as Harriet’s production-end partner, Sam Jaffe woundedly compensates for the film’s general purge of Jewishness from setting and action; as the ruler of the reigning fashion house who wants to make Harriet his queen, George Sanders gives the best and certainly the most subtle performance—and Dan Dailey as Harriet’s sales-end partner who wants to marry her? The year before, Daily was plain wonderful in John Ford’s When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950). Here, he is as dreadful as Harriet’s Charles Le(Night)Maire gowns.
Adapting his novel for real, Weidman wrote the book for the 1962 Broadway musical that made a man again of the protagonist, played by Elliott Gould, but is best remembered for you-know-who’s supporting role as Miss Marmelstein.
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