Catch the Original Jazz Age 'It Girls' on the Big Screen

Clara Bow in “It.” Courtesy Film Forum.

If you’ve ever wanted to contemplate Marlene Dietrich’s magnetic appeal at its proper scale, now’s your chance.

Starting tonight and running until March 24, New York’s Film Forum will be running—in association with the Library of Congress—a festival of movies under the banner of “It Girls: Flappers, Jazz Babies, & Vamps.” Several are silent and they’re all pre-Code, featuring legendary dames like Dietrich, Clara Bow, and Joan Crawford in her pre-Mildred Pierce days.


With titles like Madam Satan, Gold Diggers of 1933, Synthetic Sin, Mantrap, and Call Her Savage, you could pick on name alone and probably have a pretty great night out. The promotional stills are also very promising. Look at young Crawford with Clark Gable in 1931's Possessed:

Courtesy Film Forum.

Among the films featured: It, starring early sex symbol Clara Bow, which you’ve absolutely got to see. Bow plays Betty Lou, a shopgirl who falls for her department store boss. She launches a campaign for his heart, only he thinks she’s an unwed mother and makes an untoward offer. She decides to break his heart and teach him a lesson, except it’s a 1920s rom com so it all comes right in the end. But not without a little raciness first!

Take this exchange with the women who want to haul Betty Lou’s sick friend’s baby to the nearest home. Betty Lou poses as the mother because she’s at least got a job, and then comes this exchange:


Also fun: The woman responsible for the idea of “it,” writer Elinor Glyn, even makes a quick cameo to explain the concept. In case the definition didn’t quite take after the long scene at the beginning where somebody reads Glyn’s Cosmopolitan article on the topic. Though honestly, the best way to understand the idea is simply to watch Clara Bow, who’s downright captivating.

As part of the series March 16 and 17 Film Forum is also showing private home movies that belonged to Joan Crawford, introduced by her grandson. The first night covers the ‘30s and ‘40s; the second night focuses on the ‘50s and includes “footage of the 34th Academy Awards, Joan in Baghdad to open Iraq’s first Pepsi-Cola bottling plant, and Joan giving a prize to a young golfer named Arnold Palmer,” according to Film Forum’s announcement.

Dorothy Mackaill in “Safe in Hell” (1931). Courtesy Film Forum.

Check out the complete line-up here; even if you can’t make it to Manhattan, the movies are worth tracking down on your own steam. Watch them and contemplate the weird tectonic shifts in American sexual mores over the twentieth century, including the loop-de-loop from the freewheeling ‘20s to the conformist ‘50s to whatever the fuck’s happening in 2016.


Contact the author at

Photos courtesy Film Forum. Gif via YouTube.

Share This Story