The Greeks Had a Word for Them, also known as Three Broadway Girls, is a light bit of fluff to while away a wintry day. This 1932 comedy is a Pre-Code film which means that scattered about the story are naughty scenes like star Joan Blondell running around in her slip or falling and revealing her undergarments or the girls swanning about in loosely tied dressing gowns. Light weight stuff nowadays but definitely no-nos back in 1932. I love that the film got away with lots of sexually suggestive stuff while still having to change its title. The original play, The Greeks Had a Word for It by Pulitzer Prize winning American author, poet, and playwright Zoë Akins, concerned “a group of modern-day courtesans” and was on the Hays Office banned list. So the studio changed the last word in the title from “It” to “Them” – I am really not sure how that changed the “naughtiness” but it got them around the ban.
The Greeks Had a Word for Them stars Joan Blondell as kindhearted Schatzi Citroux, Madge Evans as sweet and sensitive Polaire Quinn, and Ina Claire as scheming and determined Jean Lawrence. The studio originally wanted actress Jean Harlow for the lead but she was under contract and her studio would not loan her out so Joan Blondell got the part. Joan Blondell often played “sexy wise-cracking blondes”, just like her role in The Greeks Had a Word for Them, and had a thriving career in films and on TV for nearly fifty years. She was even briefly in the running to be Lucille Ball‘s new sidekick in The Lucy Show after co-star Vivian Vance left. But, after two episodes, Lucy felt there was no chemistry and criticized Joan in front of the studio staff and audience and Joan walked off. Madge Evans had a prolific career beginning as an infant model and child actress. As an adult, Madge often played ingenue parts, similar to her role in The Greeks Had a Word for Them. In 1939 she married playwright Sidney Kingsley, author of Dead End (click to see my post on the film series that grew from Dead End) and left Hollywood. Our third heroine, Ina Claire, had only a brief film career. She mostly concentrated on Broadway where she was considered a reigning star of sophisticated comedies.
The Greeks Had A Word for Them is a black and white light-hearted romp that runs a little over an hour and 18 minutes. The girls are gold-diggers out to catch a rich boyfriend or husband to keep them in luxury. Schatzi and Polaire develop more honest feelings for their men but Jean remains ever the scheming baggage out to catch the richest mark no matter what. It was a bit jarring to my modern sensibilities to watch the antics of our trio, they concoct all kinds of schemes to get a man to support them, but I kept thinking: Why don’t they put that cleverness to work, get a job, and support themselves? But then, honestly, there weren’t that many ways a woman in 1930 could make lots of money without making use of a man. Also the men in this film are a bit dim. Polaire’s rich boyfriend Dave is constantly falling for Jean’s schemes and breaking up with Polaire then whining about wanting Polaire back. Even Dave’s father is a dim wit. After trying to make sure Polaire’s feelings for Dave are true, he then turns right around and falls for Jean and her transparent schemes. The girls get into many funny situations mostly trying to out do each other and Schatzi and Polaire trying to turn the tables on Jean. Jean, though, takes the one-upmanship straight to back stabbing. She’s so honest and sexy about her dishonesty that everyone seems to forgive her and she keeps right on fishing for her next bit of man money. Jean does make one honest decision: when faced with finally gaining everything she has ever schemed for, she decides she just really likes the fun of the chase (although she does remember to abscond with the family jewels) and she immediately dives right back into fishing for her next man. The girls’ dresses and gowns were touted as being designed by “Chanel of Paris” but 1930s style is not my cup of tea and they just looked “blah” to me but fans of the style may enjoy the designs.
The Greeks Had a Word for Them was the inspiration for three later films: Three Blind Mice (1938), Moon Over Miami (1941), and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). I have seen How to Marry a Millionaire several times (unfortunately NOT in the Public Domain) and actually like it much better. But then, the 1953 movie benefits from the smooth sophistication of Lauren Bacall and the light-hearted ditz of Marilyn Monroe. The audio of The Greeks Had a Word for Them is excellently clear. Jazz lovers will enjoy the background music. The video is typical of an older film: dark in places, with the white colors almost glowing, blurry, with some scratches. The film is in the Public Domain and the Internet Archive has The Greeks Had a Word for Them FREE for downloading or online viewing under its alternative title of Three Broadway Girls. Version #1 has more viewers but Version #2 is also good. IA also has a special version for the Blind in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. If you like Joan Blondell in this film please check my post on her film Topper Returns.