Monday, September 3, 2012

I Can Get it For You Wholesale - 1951

“I Can Get It For You Wholesale” (1951) provides stellar performances, crackling dialogue, and a smattering of New York City shooting locations to set us right down in the vibrant pace of post-war business. What it does not give us, or at least some of us, is a satisfactory ending. That, of course, will depend entirely upon your point of view, but for my money, the leads play their roles so well that I believe them. Most of their time together is spent at variance. To tack on a reconciliation and promise of future happiness together seems nice—for other people. For them, it is the only unnatural aspect to this terrific movie.

We celebrate Labor Day today, just as we did last year, in New York’s 7th Avenue “Garment District” as it was when most of the clothing we wore in the US was actually made here.

The leads are Susan Hayward and Dan Dailey. Mr. Dailey, who we noted when we last discussed him here in “It’s Always Fair Weather” (1955), was a performer, often a song-and-dance man in musicals, who achieved greater depth in his acting than fellow, more famous, song-and-dance-men. As a dramatic actor, he is a natural, as he is here in the role of a charming, fast-talking salesman for a dress manufacturer.

Note plaid drapes.   It disappoints me not to find a matching plaid couch in the scene.

He has favors in every pocket, a ready smile, and a joke appropriate to any kind of well-heeled buyer, from the genteel and savvy Vicki Cummings who plays Hermione, to the smarmy Harry von Zell, who likes to finger the female models in the dresses.

Dailey is more than hail-fellow-well-met, however. We see he has his serious and sensitive side, particularly when it comes to Susan Hayward.

We first meet Miss Hayward as one of those models, or mannequins, that Harry von Zell likes to paw when he examines the merchandise. Susan Hayward is splendid in this movie, playing a woman with ambition, intelligence, shrewdness, and often with very little heart. She is quite commanding in her role, and assumes the mantle of a strong woman without ever appearing as if she is posturing, as we sometimes see in films of this era. It’s a perfect fit.

Hayward has been studying design on the side, and wants to open up her own dress manufacturing company with Sam Jaffe, who plays a production manager in the firm. He is really more a glorified tailor, walking about with a long pair of shears protruding from the side pocket of his apron like a sabre, and a measuring tape always draped around his neck. He is there to work, and probably works harder than anyone.

What they need to open up their own business is a crackerjack salesman, and that’s where Dan Dailey comes in. He’s been chasing Hayward on every return from his road trips, and she takes advantage of this to make her sales pitch.

He joins the team, and they begin a curious relationship. He is taken aback by her blunt avarice and unladylike drive to get ahead, and yet he is also attracted by it, or by something about her. I’m not sure what. In an interesting scene that seems to symbolize their partnership, she taunts him for being afraid to take a chance on starting a new business. She tucks a bill into his breast pocket to pay for their cab, part challenge and part insult. When, in his own attempt at a power play, he kisses her, he pulls back and reaches for his handkerchief from that pocket to wipe her lipstick off his mouth—but pulls out the bill instead. He looks at it, smirks, and wipes her lipstick off his mouth with her money.

Their business is the backdrop to their relationship. He wants a personal relationship, to the point of asking her to marry him more than once; she wants only a business partnership. In business, she has experienced firsthand the disadvantage to women when men assume a business relationship should be personal.

“I’ve fought my way out of cabs, bars and hotel rooms, but I’ve learned this business. It took a strong stomach, but I learned it.”

Even Dan Dailey, who joins forces with her in a huge leap of faith to conquer the garment industry, imparts this double standard when she takes Harry von Zell out for drinks. Dailey barges in on them, this man who has just scored a date for von Zell like a pimp, belts von Zell for cozying up to his lady partner.

Hayward retorts, “Don’t you take your buyers out, wine them and dine them, and amuse them?”

“That’s different.”


“Because I’m a man and you’re supposed to be a lady.”

Mr. Dailey isn’t the only one appalled by her nerve. Miss Hayward’s mother, played by Mary Philips, with whom she appears to have a cool relationship, offers, “You’re a throwback to an Irish bandit in the hills of Kilarney.”

This just because Hayward will get the money to put up for her share of the business by duping out her sister of her inheritance from their father’s insurance policy. All in a day’s work.

Hayward is really a pleasure to watch because her acting is so intense and yet so natural. She is at times an unlikable character, but we understand who and why she is what she is, and though her personality is strong, the only time she appears histrionic is when she’s obviously faking it to hatch a plot. Her only tender relationship appears to be with Sam Jaffe.

Jaffe, a likeable, gentle character, is unfortunately given short shrift in the film because he is subordinate to his two younger, more dynamic partners. However, since he is middle-aged, with all his life working in the cutting room for other bosses, it must have required extreme courage to leave a comfortable position and start over, with two young hotheads as partners, and risk everything. I’d like to know more about him, and see his own worries expressed, but he is allowed only to be a mild-mannered fairy godfather to Dailey and Hayward.

That handsome matinee idol, Charles Lane plays the boss of the company, and he and his two partners, like Jaffe, immigrants to this country who worked their way up in the “rag trade”, warn the trio not to quit, not to be so foolish as to think they can start their own company. For every successful business, they are told, a dozen fail.

Lane tells Jaffe, “You want to take your wife to Jones Beach? Take my Buick!”

His partner offer, “Take my Cadillac!”

His other partner chimes in, “Take my wife!”

In the end, they generously give them a month’s severance and their best wishes. There is as much camaraderie in the garment district as competition.

We hear nothing of unions in the movie, though like “Middle of the Night” (1959) which we covered last Labor Day, we do see a lot of the cutting rooms and workers in different departments, the diverse army that makes up a company. The receptionist, who is the boss’s daughter just out of business college. The office boy, played by adenoidal Marvin Kaplan, whose comical deadpan whine brings gossip and complaints.

There are the models and the sewers, and the executives who do not barricade themselves in inner corner offices, but are always on the floor, vests unbuttoned, pencil behind the ear, and barking a hundred reminders. We know Charles Lane is a hands-on boss because he has an ulcer. Just as we saw in “Middle of the Night”, this movie is really about the workplace as another kind of home, where we have purpose, achievement, a sense of belonging, a taste of competition. There is energy and a sense of urgency. Nobody is just waiting around for it to be Friday.

But counteracting that, and not always in a good way, this movie is a kind of fable—not about labor, but about boy meets girl. And then girl meets George Sanders.

In one of the more lush and elegant scenes away from the cluttered workroom of bolts of cloth and patterns, and steam hanging over all from the mangles pressing the dress pieces, is the annual buyers ball. A ballroom where a lot of formally dressed extras got work that day, and the huge windows along the wall show the city skyline in the twilight. George Sanders is on the dais, and delivers a speech saluting the heritage of the garment district on 7th Avenue. Somewhere in the room, Bess Flowers enjoys the evening. Big surprise.

I wonder if she finished her fruit cup before Mr. Sanders began his speech.

The on again/off again relationship between Mr. Dailey and Miss Hayward hits an iceberg in the form of one the screen’s most elegant cads. Except George Sanders is not really a cad here. He’s more direct and honest than Hayward is, and just as sure of what he wants. He lures Susan Hayward with the promise of letting her design gowns for his firm—she wants to break away from the $10.95 dress line—and it is made clear to us that he enjoys many relationships with strong, business-minded women in exchange for helping them in business. Not marrying them.

Which is fine for Susan Hayward, because she regards marriage as a trap and seems well suited to George Sander’s arrangement.

Which is why the ending (careening into spoiler here, close your eyes), seems to fall so flat with Dailey and Hayward making up one more time for what we are assured with be permanent. They will likely marry because they are both in love with each other and Susan has discovered that a promising career cannot match the fulfillment of True Love.

Fine, for another characters, but not these. Hayward is so riveting in her performance we have no reason not to believe her when we see her greatest happiness coming from her business success and not from cuddling with Dan Dailey. She is willing to destroy their business just to get out of her contract so she can work with Sanders.

For his part, Dailey is genuine in his agony about being in love, against his better judgment, with Hayward, who is so hard and determined to shut him out romantically. When he finally becomes so disgusted with her that he’d rather scuttle their business than take whatever crumbs she may throw their way from her new partnership with Sanders—we have no reason to believe he’ll ever want her back as a business partner or anything else.

He swallows, upset, choked up with anger when she returns to the work room where he and Jaffe are tabulating how deeply in debt they’re going to be. We don’t know if he’s going to yell, cry, or kill her with his bare hands.

We expect anything but for her to look contrite at this stage.

The two leads have done such a good job convincing us of their opposing feelings and motives, that it seems a jolt at the end to find the traditional love-conquers-all ending tacked on in the last few minutes.  Forsaking ambition for the love of a good man is not something she ever indicates to us she wants.

Other incidentals: Some great outdoor location shots in the city and Central Park.

Some topical references to Dailey’s expense account being as large as the budget for the Marshall Plan.

Instead of selling “like hotcakes” a dress is said to be selling “like uranium”.

Hayward’s savvy appraisal of a gown, “The only place a woman can wear a gown like that is in a perfume ad.”

Another observation by a model, “The men like it, but the women know you can’t sit down in it.”

George Sanders remarks on a particularly provocative gown, “I thought it had a certain flare.”

Hayward replies, “But it wouldn’t on a hanger. The model brought her flare with her.”

We are accustomed to seeing much smoking in classic films, but it cracked me up to see a model smoking while being pinned into a dress by Susan Hayward.

Have a look here at Farran Nehme’s swell post on "I Can Get it For You Wholesale" from a few months ago over at Self-Styled Siren.

And Happy Labor Day.


Caftan Woman said...

Can we go anywhere without tripping over Bess Flowers?

Happy Labour Day.

I've yet to cross paths with "I Can Get It for You Wholesale". Ending and all, it wounds like something I could get into.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I'm sure you'd like it, CW. As for Bess Flowers, she must have had either more moxie or a bigger personal wardrobe than anybody else in Hollywood to snag so many gigs. I think we should make her the poster child for Labor Day. Or Labour Day.

Yvette said...

Charles Lane, Matinee Idol - HAHA!!!

But you know I love the man, always have, always will.

I've never seen this movie, Jacqueline, though I've heard of its title in more ways than one. Wasn't there a Broadway show with this title. Maybe based on the movie....? Or vice versa.

I actually worked for several years in the garment district of NY. You practically tripped over all the garment racks being shoved across the sidewalks. It was a bustling area then.Unfortunately, I ran into a guy who who liked to put his hands on the women who worked for him - as in this movie. UGH.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Yvette, I love to hear stories of the Garment District. I'd love to hear yours.

I love Charles Lane, too. I especially love that as he approached his 100th birthday he was still looking for work. I wish a guy like Lane would have thought to write his memoirs. We have many movie star biographies and autobiographies, but very little about what the careers of the character actors were like.

"I Can Get it for You Wholesale" was also a Broadway musical in the early 1960s, which gave Barbra Streisand her start as the office receptionist, "Miss Marmelstein".

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