The working title for Girl Missing was The Blue Moon Murder Case, but the corpse in this story is minor compared to the missing girl, so the less snappy name is at least a more accurate title in this case.
Girl Missing feels like a Glenda Farrell-Joan Blondell movie, but it’s Mary Brian at Farrell’s side instead of the beloved Joan. This is going to cost the movie some viewers from the outset, but trust me, Mary Brian is fine here, and I say that as someone who loves Blondell and doesn’t usually care much for Miss Brian. Warner Bros. didn’t begin teaming Farrell with Blondell until later in 1933, the same year as this March release (though Farrell made a brief appearance in Three on a Match featuring Blondell prior to this). Big Blondell fans will not be placated by this, but she’s not missed once you start watching—I’m beginning to feel like I’m apologizing for this, but, on the contrary, Girl Missing is a fine vehicle for the uninitiated to discover Glenda Farrell. And if you’re already a member of the Glenda Farrell fan club, queue this one up immediately. She has all of the zippy lines in Girl Missing, and it turns out that Mary Brian is as good as anyone in reacting to them.
Girl Missing proclaims itself a mystery from the opening credits when a spotlight shines over the studio’s name and then a hand slides back a panel revealing the title card. It takes awhile to develop, but there is a mystery in there between all of the fun dialogue. All of the surprises are telegraphed though, so it is best if your primary motivation behind watching Girl Missing is for an hour-plus of Glenda Farrell at the top of her game. She’s a gold digging showgirl here with many flashes of later news snoop Torchy Blane in her upbeat performance, most notably Farrell’s supersonic delivery of lines at a pace unmatched this side of Lee Tracy. That dialogue is often saucy, taking full advantage of the looser pre-Code censors, as a few examples tucked into the body of this post illustrate.
The movie actually opens with Brian, as Farrell’s pal and fellow chorine June, looking uncomfortable on a couch as an unseen admirer declares, “I want to make love to you in the very worst way.” This frankness continues as the shot widens to show an exceptionally amorous Guy Kibbee, of all people, doing his best to bed June. And I’m not using the phrase “bed June” loosely: in a few moments he actually tries tugging her into his bedroom after him! “I don’t feel fatherly. I feel hotcha,” Kibbee says, leaving a repulsed June as relieved as his Kenneth Van Dusen is forlorn after Kay (Farrell) enters the room to interrupt the lovemaking.
Kay brings news of “Dumb Daisy,” another New York showgirl they know, who's landed herself a millionaire. Van Dusen remarks that he never had any use for gold diggers, causing the girls to poke him with a couple of insults that fly right past him. One of the great disappointments of Girl Missing is Kibbee’s abandoning Kay and June after just these few minutes.
“For the GD sisters,” Kay says, reading the note Van Dusen left them. “I don’t know if he means gold diggers or another well known word,” she cracks. The Kibbee character stiffs the girls for the Palm Beach hotel room they were trying to stiff him for.
Kay convinces June she has to hook another fish, so they doll up and head outside of the hotel hoping the suckers are biting. They think they’ve caught one handsome bachelor’s eye, but he turns out to be the millionaire from the morning paper, Henry Gibson (Ben Lyon), who passes them by to join Daisy (Peggy Shannon) a few feet away. Daisy's doing her best to look like a socialite, posing poolside with her parents in tow. Knowing about Daisy's coming fortune from that bit in the paper, Kay and June decide to put the touch on her, but are incensed after Daisy pretends not to know them. They recover from the snub, but Daisy's high hat still leaves them $650 short on their hotel bill, so Kay and June pool their funds and head to the casino.
Kay winds up a bit frenzied at the craps table and goes bust after a good run. Lucky for them New York acquaintance Raymond Fox (Lyle Talbot), “the champion heart breaker of Times Square,” is just a seat away at this Palm Beach bar, and they get to talking. Fox is Daisy’s ex, but he doesn’t seem very upset when Kay breaks the news of her impending marriage to the millionaire Gibson. The girls are still steaming over Daisy’s treatment from earlier, but Fox takes exception when they mention exposing her to her millionaire fiancé. Being a swell guy, Fox offers to pay Kay and June’s hotel bill and fund their way back to New York in order to keep his old flame from running into any unnecessary trouble on her way to the altar. This leaves us smelling a rat before any mystery even begins to unfold.
While Kay waits for June at the front desk, June winds up bumping into Henry Gibson, Daisy’s intended, in the elevator. A small argument too quickly turns to flirtation and earmarks romance between Henry and June before the end of the movie. This means that either Dumb Daisy is going to turn out as rotten as Kay and June say she is, or Henry is going to surprise us with an act of villainy that breaks June’s heart.
Kay and June narrowly miss the train out of Palm Beach and stay the night at a cheap motel with plans to leave for New York the next day. That night, newlyweds Henry and Daisy drive off to a hotel with a shady looking character called Hendricks (Harold Huber) speeding along close behind them. When Henry pulls into a gas station Daisy gets out to phone her parents, but her dears and darlings don’t sound as though they’re addressed to Mom and Dad. Checking in at the Blue Moon Inn, Daisy appears horrified when Hendricks approaches and greets her. She explains Hendricks to Henry as just a local gambler who her father knows. Up in the room the newlyweds quarrel after Henry reveals that he didn’t actually come into his fortune until after Daisy had married him earlier that day. Daisy calms down, but pleads headache so her maid (Louise Beavers) puts her to bed while Henry plies her with a drink and an aspirin. Henry takes his own glass of liquor out on the balcony to have a smoke, then decides to check on his wife. There’s no answer when he knocks and only an empty bed to greet him when he opens the door.
It took twenty-six minutes, but—girl missing!
Henry calls the front desk and soon has the manager and hotel dick at his side. They trio descend a ladder propped against the balcony, an image calling to mind the still recent Lindbergh kidnapping, and happen upon Hendricks’s corpse on a bench outside. Detective Chief MacDonald (Edward Ellis) and his right hand, Crawford (G. Pat Collins), are called to the scene, and after all of this set-up Girl Missing has developed into a full-fledged mystery.
Adding to the intrigue are Daisy’s parents, portrayed by Helen Ware and Ferdinand Gottschalk, a pair who seem more concerned with keeping out of trouble than with their daughter’s whereabouts. These old pros are both hilarious in their supporting roles, and help keep the movie going whenever Farrell is off-screen.
The problem with Girl Missing is that once Harold Huber’s character is bumped off there are only two real suspects left, and one of those is probably just wishful thinking on my part. You have Talbot around, possibly as red herring, which leaves Ben Lyon, Daisy’s husband, as the only other possible suspect. Now, there was that confession about his inheritance, so maybe he only married Daisy to get at his own money, and then during his elevator run-in with June he did seem more interested than a man rushing to make his wedding should, but is that enough for us to suspect him? I suspect the original story wants us to think so, but am not sure if that’s the way director Robert Florey was trying to take us. But, probably because I was enjoying the movie so much, I often felt like I was making mountains out of molehills just to create some extra (artificial) suspense for myself.
June wakes up Kay the next morning with news of Daisy’s disappearance. Kay immediately suspects Daisy of running a scam and the pair head off to Henry Gibson’s place to inform the millionaire about his wife’s background with hopes of scooping up a twenty-five thousand dollar reward he’s offering. Crawford, the cop, is with Henry when the girls call for him, so he hides in the bedroom while Kay spills all she has on Daisy. Henry doesn’t believe a word she says, and Crawford emerges to take the girls into custody believing that they’re either involved in the case or just using Daisy’s disappearance (and, oh yeah, Hendricks’s murder) for their own shakedown.
The Chief isn’t kindly disposed to Kay and June after they explain how they rode Van Dusen’s interest and kindness from New York to their Palm Beach vacation. Kay cops an attitude, and when June tells her not to be so tough she replies, “I don’t have to get tough, I am tough.” They don’t pretend to be innocents, but they do insist they have nothing to do with Daisy’s disappearance: “We didn’t say we weren’t mixed up in any racket. We said we weren’t mixed up with this racket,” June tells the Chief. He needs to hear more before letting Kay and June go, and has the pair held in the matron’s ward (“I always knew you were jail bait,” Kay cracks to June) until Raymond Fox can be brought in for questioning. Fox is calm and collected, though a little sore at Kay and June for causing him so much trouble after he tried helping them out of a jam. The Chief lets everybody go, and from this point forward Kay and June pursue the case on their own.
Everything about Girl Missing turns out a little too heavy-handed to make it more than a Glenda Farrell showcase. Whenever the movie threatens to be unpredictable it reveals just a little more than it should: Fox's charity; Daisy’s phone call; her parents’ self-preservation; some curious tinkering by a chauffeur; and, at the reveal, the Chief’s wink to his deputy. The story felt like it could have provided a few surprises, but it cuts itself off early every time. I almost wanted Harold Huber to spring out of a closet and declare it all an innocent mistake. Despite that, the final unraveling of the mystery teases enough to satisfy, until that wink makes us exhale.
Girl Missing is an average mystery, more predictable than it needed to be, yet elevated by Glenda Farrell’s spirited leading performance. She's more than enough to make this 69 minutes well spent, and supporting talent like Kibbee, Ware, and Gottschalk help carry any lulls. This was the first starring role Farrell played on screen, and was the third of ten feature film appearances she made during 1933. Her run that year also included her Missouri Martin in Lady for a Day and was capped by Havana Widows, that first of several costarring efforts opposite Joan Blondell during the next few years.
Girl Missing is available as a manufactured-on-demand DVD-R from Warner Archive, who pair it with Illicit starring Barbara Stanwyck. My screen captures aren't taken from the disc, but from my own recording off of TCM. Pick up the double-feature DVD-R at Amazon.com or direct from Warner Archive.
For other voices on Girl Missing check out reviews at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, The Hollywood Revue, and Micro-Brewed Reviews. Everybody agrees this one was a lot of fun! Everybody, that is, except Andre Sennwald at the New York Times in 1933.