We’re back again for the 1934 movie Upper World starring Warren William, Mary Astor and Ginger Rogers!
Alex Stream (Warren William), a big man in the railroad industry, is in the middle of a big merger, which is keeping him quite busy, while his wife, Hettie (Mary Astor), is obsessed with big society parties. Then, one day, he rescues showgirl Lily Linda (Ginger Rogers) from drowning. Grateful, she cooks a meal for him, which he enjoys. Soon, Alex tries to plan an anniversary dinner with his wife, but she declines because she forgot and had a big society party to go to. On his way home from work, Alex passes by the burlesque theater that Lily is headlining and decides on a whim to take her to the dinner he had arranged. He openly admits to the fact that he is married, but they end up spending a lot of time together. Her former boyfriend/manager Lou Colima (J. Carroll Naish) wants to blackmail Alex, due to the upcoming railroad merger being so big, but she loves Alex and refuses. Unwilling to accept “no” for an answer, he steals some letters Alex had written to her. When Alex came in and tried to take them back, Lou tried to shoot Alex, but hit Lily, who got between the two to save Alex. Alex got his hands on another gun and shot Lou. He tried to hide his involvement and got out of there, but it quickly becomes a big case, with at least one policeman breathing down his neck, due to a grudge (more on that in a bit).
While this movie is enjoyable as a fun romantic comedy before it switches into a thriller as Warren William’s Alex tries to avoid being caught by the police, it definitely has its flaws. From my perspective, I would say that most of them have to do with Alex, as he is a hard character to figure out. On the one hand, we’re supposed to cheer for him as he goes from being too busy for a lot of things to trying to find time for fun and wanting to do so with his family, but, on the other hand, we also see his wealth and influence as a problem, particularly when he uses his influence to get his chauffeur out of a traffic ticket (and gets the policeman demoted in the process). It’s annoying seeing one of his work colleagues in the car with him arguing that his driver shouldn’t be given a ticket purely because of who he is, and it makes him look (and feel) like he is above the law. If not for that, I could more easily understand why he is trying to hide his involvement when Ginger’s Lily and her ex are killed, but the fact that he essentially drags down a good policeman through his influence just makes him look bad. And the ending just feels unearned. Honestly, that is the part of the movie that would have BENEFITTED more from the Code going into effect (although I can’t really say how without spoiling the movie). That being said, enough of the rest of the film worked fine as a pre-Code.
Personally, I think the movie is worth seeing for Ginger Rogers alone. After being successfully paired with Fred Astaire in Flying Down To Rio, she made several solo movies (including this one) while she waited for him to end his run in the Broadway and London productions of The Gay Divorce. In this movie, I consider her the most truly likeable character, as she knows that Warren William’s Alex is married and is unlikely to leave his wife for her, but she still enjoys spending time with him and cares for him, even being willing to take a bullet for him. And while the movie doesn’t qualify as a musical, it’s still fun listening to her and Warren goofing around singing “Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf,” and she also gets to do a burlesque number to the song “Shake Your Powder Puff” (and wearing an outfit that is proof enough that this movie was still a pre-Code). So, again, I like this movie even if only because of her, and I would recommend giving this one a try!
This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, thirteen minutes in length.
My Rating: 7/10