It’s not spoiling anything to discuss the ending of She Had to Say Yes, because the movie doesn’t resolve much in the end anyway. Loretta Young’s Florence has two men in her life. I won't tell you which one she winds up with, because it doesn't matter, they're basically the same. These fair-weather fellows both love her when they believe she is virtuous, but their idea of love instantly dissolves once they doubt that virtue. Doubt is easy, because a woman who has lost her innocence is no longer one to be worshiped, but just another tramp to take for their own. The romance of She Had to Say Yes is always pretend.
“I suppose it’s just a matter of choosing the lesser evil,” Florence decides in the end. She makes her choice and then thumbs her nose at the morals that carried her through the past hour. It's not exactly a satisfying victory, but it attempts to camouflage itself as one by being so abrupt and somewhat shocking.
She Had to Say Yes is filled with sexist shockers, and it doesn't matter the sex. Women are objects, but rarely have men been shown to be so single-mindedly obsessed with handling them.
The ultimate message of the movie is just another case of the old-double standard. The solution is marriage. What makes She Had to Say Yes different is that there really is no Prince Charming to save the day. As Florence's final decision makes clear, neither of her choices is perfect, but rather than see them as two poor choices, these two cretins are intended to be representative of the entire male population. While I understand what the (male) filmmakers were saying to women, I'm still not quite sure what they were saying to or about men. I mostly got the impression that we're supposed to reply with a wink and a knowing chuckle.
Whether a message or an assumption, that's pretty terrible. But unless you're easily miffed by these outmoded ideas (and if you are, classic movies probably aren't your thing anyway), She Had to Say Yes remains a jaw-dropping good time for about an hour or so.
Apparently, you can’t make any money in the cloak and suit business unless you’re willing to pimp out your store models as customer’s girls. With the Depression cutting into business Sol Glass & Co. decide they need to make an extra effort to drum up more business. “We’ve got a bunch of worn-out gold diggers as customer girls,” Glass (Ferdinand Gottschalk) says at an executive’s meeting. Tommy (Regis Toomey) has an idea to freshen up the troops by using the girls in the stenography department to entertain the clients. Another executive wonders if the secretaries would be interested, pointing out that they’re not like the traditional customer’s girls, why they’ve even got mothers. “They’ve got fathers too,” says Glass.
“Listen. If you were a buyer a couple of thousand miles away from home, what would you want,” Glass asks the protesting executive.
Glass is sold on the idea, coming to the conclusion, “With the Depression the way it is, it wouldn’t hurt if we entertained our buyers with Singer’s midgets.”
After Glass introduces the idea to the stenographers, he tries to polish it up a little bit for them, if not for the censors: “This I want thoroughly understood. Theatre tickets, silk hose, or a box of candy is okay. But you will not accept expensive presents or money. Remember, you are receiving a bonus from the firm.” I wonder if that's off the books?
Tommy quickly runs into a problem. His girlfriend, Florence (Loretta Young), is the prettiest girl in the stenographer’s pool. When Luther Haines (Hugh Herbert), a major buyer, sets his eyes on Florence, Tommy’s reluctance to send her out on a date nearly costs him the account. Luckily, Haines is easily sold on Birdie (Suzanne Kilborn), a much more willing companion.
Women will shiver when Tommy escorts Haines to the stenographer’s office. “Which one?” Haines asks, as the camera pans over various women, our star buyer reacting like a starving man presented with his favorite menu. “That’s her,” Tommy says, with the view settling on Birdie’s backside while she bends over a filing cabinet. “Umm,” says Haines. “Not bad, huh?” You half expect Haines to check her teeth and throw a saddle over Birdie’s back, as it seems more like he’s shopping for a thoroughbred than anything else.
“745 bucks commission, all because Birdie wiggles when she walks,” Tommy boasts to Florence a little later.
But Birdie wiggles a little too well and Tommy is soon breaking his dates with Florence to spend his time with the easier conquest. He eventually manipulates Florence into taking Birdie’s place as a customer’s girl one evening, a move that backfires by introducing Florence to Daniel Drew (Lyle Talbot).
Daniel is a charmer, but he’s also drunk and looking to cash in on what any customer’s girl is expected to offer. He grabs Florence and moves to kiss her, but she pulls away.
“Yours is the penalty for being so lovely,” he tells her.
“I suppose yours is the privilege for being so important.”
After Florence convinces Daniel that she really is innocent, he stops and apologizes. “I suppose you feel cheated,” Florence says. “I’m just not a good sport, that’s all.”
Daniel is in love.
The contemporary reviews saw something, but not enough. She Had to Say Yes “goes a long way to prove very little,” said New Movie Magazine, adding, “it certainly results in some brisk entertainment” (101). Photoplay agreed: “You get all dizzy, but you don’t get anywhere.” They added, “The plot, though very slim, is also very involved” (98). Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times was a bit harsher, pausing to congratulate Hugh Herbert and Winnie Lightner for earning a few laughs, while writing, “the unfortunate part of it is that the picture has some bright lines and threatens, here and there, actually to become amusing.” But in the end, Nugent wishes, “Miss Young had only said ‘No!’”
She Had to Say Yes manages to offend men and women alike. All of the men are obsessed with either money or sex, or sometimes both, leaving women to a fare a bit better. They’re just painted as gold diggers, but our stars, Loretta Young and Winnie Lightner, are at least virtuous ones.
A review from the Sydney Morning Herald must have left all of Australia wondering what the hell was going on in America:
This film concerns the career of what is known in the United States as a "customer girl;" that is, a girl who is employed ostensibly as a stenographer or a mannequin, but whose actual task is to entertain influential customers after office hours. The nasty theme is treated in the sanctimonious style assumed by film producers when they are trying to steer unpleasant topics past the censors. At one stage the girl whom the film chiefly concerns persuades a business man to sign an agreement by blackmailing him; yet she is presented as a sweet and virtuous creature who is too pure for the world in which she lives (6).
The bit of blackmail being referenced is carried off by Young’s Florence, who admittedly seems to have strayed out of character for this scene. Perhaps this confusion comes of the film having two directors, Busby Berkeley and George Amy? More on that arrangement down below. Florence's off moment comes just after she has delayed Daniel’s (Talbot) marriage proposal because he has asked her to play customer girl to Luther Haines (Herbert). Florence enjoys the task more than we’ve been led to believe she ever would, but despite feeling out of place, the scene that emerges is the most fun of the entire movie.
While Florence accompanies the lecherous Haines to a private room in a restaurant, she has pal Maizee (Lightner) put in a call to Haines’s wife telling her to meet her husband at the restaurant. Once Mrs. Haines (Helen Ware) and the young Haines daughter arrive, Florence takes advantage of her flummoxed prey by pretending to be a secretary finalizing the deal between Haines and Daniel. After acquiring Haines’s signature, Florence leaves the family behind, but her victim follows her down the hallway, grabs her arm, and expresses his displeasure over how he’s been handled.
“What’d you do it for?” he asks.
“A thousand dollars—sucker,” says Florence, a gleam in her eye as she walks away.
Young is so much fun in the scene that it leaves you wishing Florence could have been more mischievous throughout She Had to Say Yes. She never is. About a year later, after moving from Warner Bros. to Fox, she would be when cast once more as a customer's girl, this time of the "hardboiled gold digging" variety, in Born to Be Bad opposite Cary Grant. As Nugent wrote of She Had to Say Yes for the Times, “There are, of course, customers' girls and customers' girls. Miss Young, in this picture, is one of the latter.” By that, he means the virtuous type.
It’s a line not to be crossed. Belief that it has leaves Tommy steaming and trying to figure out if he “could only be sure” about Florence. In other words, how far did she go in entertaining clients? “I started her in this customer girl racket,” he tells a friend, “and I accused her of going the limit.”
To the men of She Had to Say Yes, barriers cease to exist once a girl has gone the limit. When Tommy pays a visit to Florence, drunk at two a.m., he paws at her and finally thrusts a wad of bills in her direction. “My money’s as good as theirs. Now you just close your eyes and pretend I’m a buyer.” Florence breaks free and makes her way into the hallway, but Tommy persists. When she yells for him to stop, he chastises her for knowing, “all the professional tricks.”
Later, after Daniel also loses faith in Florence, he drives her to a empty, dark mansion, where he plans to take what he believes is now rightfully his. “Me, with a reputation a mile long, and I fall as though I never met a little tramp before,” Daniel says. “From now on, you and I are playing for keeps,” he tells her, and Florence seems to yield to him, though this is where the story paints itself into a corner that leads to its final shocks.
The men of She Had to Say Yes are all pigs. Daniel and Tommy respect innocence, especially since they’re no wallflowers, but the moment a woman hints at lacking virtue, they pounce. Middle-aged married man Lester Haines is in business for the fringe benefits more than anything else. Boss Sol Glass is no better than a pimp, and a hypocritical one at that.
The final scene seems to prove Florence's reluctance was more about personal choice than the virtues held so highly by her admirers. Perhaps the only moral high mark that can be afforded She Had to Say Yes is that Florence did, in fact, have to be the one who said yes in the end. The men weren’t so callous as to rape her, even if both seemed headed in that direction. It turns out that the title is not implying that Florence is forced into saying yes, just that she had to give her permission. Florence ultimately decides that this is how the world works and so she rewards the “lesser evil” … and doesn’t even make him wait to fulfill his promise of marrying her in the morning.
But at least there was consent.
She Had to Say Yes was Busby Berkeley’s reward for jobs well done at choreographing the musical scenes in the classics 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 (both also 1933). According to Berkeley biographer Jeffrey Spivak, production chief Darryl F. Zanuck had promised Berkeley a directorial assignment if 42nd Street was a hit. The stipulation was a co-director, who turned out to be Gold Diggers editor George Amy. Spivak wrote that Berkeley called the movie routine, “but a pleasant one to do. I learned not only that I could direct, but that I liked it” (82).
Leading men Toomey and Talbot are straddled with frustrating characters, but Loretta Young is easy to like, even if I found myself liking her best in the only two scenes where she broke character: The wonderful blackmailing of Hugh Herbert, and the shocking final scene. Herbert is great, channeling a bit of the lech he had previously played at MGM in Faithless (1932), while hinting at the goof that Warner Bros. would soon turn him into. Winnie Lightner isn't allowed to live up to her co-billing alongside Young on the title card, but she does manage to get off the funniest and naughtiest lines of the movie.
A favorite bit from Lightner comes after she has gone the customer’s girl route and is escorted to her apartment door by a drunk buyer (Harry Holman), who's looking to gain entry for the evening. When he suddenly remarks that he’s from Missouri, Lightner smashes his hat on his head and kicks him in the rear as she declares, “Oh yeah, well I’m from the Virgin Islands.”
She Had to Say Yes is a love story lacking romance and a comedy that is often more shocking than it is funny. Like most of the Warner Bros. pre-Code product, it still has it’s charms.
For alternate views of She Had to Say Yes, please see posts by Karen at Shadows and Satin and Laura at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings. Neither Karen nor Laura were thrilled by the content, but each enjoyed the movie in their own way. I especially liked Laura's line about the movie relaying, "attitudes toward women so cavalier and alien that it really has to be seen to be believed," though as I mention in a comment on Karen's post, I still believe She Had to Say Yes manages to be more insulting to men, even if its message to women was that good girls get married.
After all, the alternative to settling down is a terrifying existence fending off overzealous men like Tommy and Daniel.
She Had to Say Yes has not yet received a video release, but plays every so often on Turner Classic Movies.
- “Cutter Becomes Megger.” Variety. 6 December 1932.
- “Film Reviews: She had to Say Yes.” Sydney Morning Herald. 16, October 1933.
- “New Pictures You Should See and Why.” New Movie Magazine. April 1933.
- Nugent, Frank S. “She Had to Say Yes (1933): Too Much Suspicion.” New York Times. 29 July 1933.
- “The Shadow Stage.” Photoplay. August 1933.
- Spivak, Jeffrey. Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.