Time can change how you look at a film. In 1933, She Had To Say Yes was probably thought of as a quick, throwaway romantic comedy about a love triangle. In 2017, it feels like a dark portrayal of workplace sexual harassment, making it far more relevant than it should be.
When Sol Glass (Ferdinand Gottschalk) realizes that his clothing manufacturing business is failing because of the Great Depression, he doesn’t blame his losses on his own business decisions. Instead, Glass and his executives think it’s because his out-of-town clients don’t like spending time with the “gold diggers” they are set up with to be “entertained” while in New York. Salesman Tommy Nelson (Reigs Toomey) suggests they use their stenographers as “customer girls” instead, because they are more likely to be wholesome girls.
There’s only one girl Nelson doesn’t want used as a “customer girl” – his fiancee Florence Denny (Loretta Young). One day, Tommy reluctantly lets Flo go out with client Danny Drew (Lyle Talbot). The night starts off well, but she’s shocked to learn that Danny wants to have sex with her. Danny apologizes, and they agree to start a long-distance relationship. Tommy is cheating on Flo with the one stenographer who jumped at the chance to be a “customer girl,” Birdie (Suzanne Kilborn).
This all feels like a lost Mad Men episode set in 1933 instead of the 1960s. But then again, it could also feel like a movie made in 2017 as more allegations of workplace sexual assault come to light. Flo is cornered by terrible men who only want to take advantage of her.
But the film also shows why women in these positions “had to say yes.” She couldn’t say no because if she did, she might be violently attacked or left without a way to support herself. It gives the title an evil undertone its makers probably couldn’t have conceived. Nothing Danny or Tommy have done in the previous hour of the film can leave us with any expectation that Flo can have a happy life with either man.
She Had To Say Yes features another delicate early performance from Young. She doesn’t play a hapless, virtuous character who doesn’t understand what’s going on. This is one of nine movies Young made in 1933 while at Warner Bros. The performances by the male leads are a little cardboard, especially Toomey’s. Winnie Lightner has a comic relief role as Flo’s roommate to lighten up the film, stealing every scene she has.
Notably, the film was the directing debut of Busby Berkeley, who gets co-directing credit with future Oscar-winning editor George Amy. There are no musical numbers in the film (although there is a short dance sequence at a club that screams “choreography by Busby Berkeley”), so there are few chances for Berklely to show the skills he would eventually develop. This is a movie that could have been directed by anyone at the Warner lot at the time. The script by Rian James and Don Mullay is based on the story Customer’s Girl by John Francis Larkin.
Warner Archive finally released this film on DVD this month. The film looks rough – there are countless signs of damage throughout – but the sound is remarkably good for an 84-year-old film. There are no extras or trailers included.
She Had To Say Yes isn’t a perfect film, but like many precodes, it is a fascinating window into the early 1930s. However, this film is shockingly relevant and timeless for all the wrong reasons. It must be seen today to understand that we haven’t come far enough.
Thanks to Warner Archive for providing this DVD to review. You can buy a copy at WBShop.com/WarnerArchive.