November by the Numbers: Nine Girls (1944)
This month, the crack CMPS staff tackles a series of movies with numbers in the titles. Each different in era and tone, join us as we crunch the numbers of Nine Girls (1944).
RODNEY BOWCOCK: If you’re drawing a blank at the mention of this week’s film, you aren’t alone. Aside from the poster art, I don’t think any of us knew a whole lot about this when we embarked on it. What we discovered was an intriguing whodunit that features most of the top B-level glamour girls. Sounds good? It did to me as well!
SAMANTHA GLASSER: A friend of mine gave me a great lobby card from this movie. It was enough to sell me on seeing it.
"A night with these babes and there's never a dull moment."
RB: The plot of Nine Girls centers around a group of sorority sisters and their teacher, Ann Harding (she most notably of It Happened on 5th Avenue fame). These nine girls are on a brief vacation to a log cabin, for a sort of initiation when one of their members, a particularly nasty Anita Louise is murdered. As you’d imagine, one of the other eight girls is suspected of the crime, with William Demarest and Willard Robertson on the case to solve the murder.
SG: You obviously haven't seen Ann Harding in the pre-code era. She was a powerful actress with a stoicism that sometimes causes her to fade into the background in her roles as a supporting actress. Not the case here, thankfully. Wilfrid Pettit wrote the play, and rights issues are likely the cause behind this film's rarity.
RB: The majority of the aforementioned Nine Girls were all veterans to film by the time this film was made. Evelyn Keyes handles the bulk of the heavy lifting regarding dialogue in this film, she a veteran of a couple of dozen films by this point, including a notable role in Gone With the Wind.
SG: It is interesting that these women are referred to as "girls." Keyes had already been married and divorced and was dating director Charles Vidor who was sixteen years her senior. They were married soon after (and later divorced).
RB: Nina Foch was likely the most inexperienced when this was made; it’s only her third role, and her second credited part. In an additional bonus, Grady Sutton, popular foil of W.C. Fields turns up early on as a photographer. You can’t miss him.
SG: Jeff Donnell is spunky and adorable as the dancing and (poorly) sharp-shooting Butch. Lynn Merrick does a nice impression of Katharine Hepburn in one scene. The movie overall has a fun sleepover sentiment with girls recklessly accusing each other of being the murderer and sneaking up on each other to scare each other silly. They're immature in the way young schoolgirls are-- Marcia Mae Jones' baby face embodies this the most--though here they're college-aged and therefore glamorous too.
RB: Columbia’s publicity department really capitalized on the fact that all of the stars in the film were involved in war work to one degree or another in 1944. Ahead of its release, the January 2nd 1944 Journal Herald of Dayton, Ohio expounded on all of the good these stars were doing to help the boys with the war effort. “Anita Louise and Leslie Brooks, for instance, have completed courses as nurses’ aides and are serving regularly in the Los Angeles area. Jeff Donnell currently is taking the course and will follow suit”. Of course, work in the department of selling war bonds was happening as well. “Jinx Falkenburg is the most ambitious traveler among the ‘Nine Girls’. Among her tours to entertain men in the armed services were a six weeks’ jaunt to camps in the Virginia and Carolinas area, a two months’ trip to greet service men in Panama, a four weeks’ tour to Texas camps and 10 incidental week-end trips to posts near Los Angeles”. The article continues on to note that Evelyn Keyes had even been named honorary colonel by one encampment in Utah.
SG: They were really pulling together to bring the war to a close. It was an intense moment in time.
I got excited when I saw Leigh Jason directed the film, thinking it was some undiscovered female director. Not so. He was actually married to photographer Ruth Harriet Louise who took some great photos during the early sound era including a few memorable snaps of Joan Crawford. Sadly, she became a common statistic; she died a few days after giving birth to her second son, who didn't survive either.
Showmen's Trade Review called Nine Girls, "good film fare for the supporting spot on any bill, for it's the type of picture that should please many other than the whodunit fans." Motion Picture Herald suggested fashion tie-ins with advertising and contests including one where audiences would be asked to name as many films with numerals in the title as possible for a chance at free admission. What do we get for doing the same this month?
"Don't you want your name in the paper?" "Not in the obituary column, I don't."
RB: Chock full of snappy dialogue capably handled, a good mystery and lots of wartime references, Nine Girls is, to me, the sort of hidden gem that keeps me searching out B movies. The only real blemish is the complete unavailability of a decent copy to watch. I resorted to a particularly poor YouTube transfer that frankly made it difficult to tell who was who. No favors were done for the camerawork by James Van Trees, which was singled out for admiration by Variety in their review. This is a three-star film, that could easily be upgraded if the rights issues surrounding it and the play that it was based upon by Pettit t would ever get sorted out so we could see some semblance of what audiences saw in 1944 (or even at a 1989 screening by the Toronto Film Society), though I admit a healthy sense of pessimism regarding that happening. A shame because for the B mystery fan, Nine Girls really delivers.
SG: My husband caught the end of the movie with me and remarked that the recording was definitely SD (at the very least). I agree with you; the quality of the image made it difficult at time to discern between the women at times, especially given the similarity of the 1940s dress code. And what a shame too, because this is a cast full of gorgeous women at the height of their beauty. The confined location doesn't make it feel claustrophobic the way stage-to-screen translations sometimes do. The killer's identity and motive are somewhat shocking as well and a satisfying conclusion to the mystery. Three stars.