The Greeks Had a Word for It, a play by Zoe Akins, was a hit on Broadway in 1930. Due to the raunchy nature of the play, the title was on the banned list of the newly formed Hays office, and so the last word was changed to “them” to make it appear to be from a different source. Twenty years later, Akins play also served as the basis of How to Marry a Millionaire. Although the title of the play was on the blacklist of the new Hay office, Hays would not have an enforcement arm until 1934, allowing film producers to simple ignore the new guidelines. Since The Greeks Had a Word For Them was released before the production code was enforced, and How to Marry a Millionaire was made when it was all-pervasive, this serves as a nice example of a pre-code film. Betty Grable, one of the leads of the later film, even has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit role as a hat check girl.
“If you don’t marry the guy, you haven’t caught him, he has caught you,” Lauren Bacall as Schatzi says in the 1953 film. The three former show girls in the 1932 film certainly do not hold out for marriage. The story starts with Jean (Ina Claire) on board the Ille de France steamer, pulling into New York harbor as the waiter tries to get her to settle a $40 bar bill. Claire doesn’t have the money, but that doesn’t matter. She spots a wealthy looking passenger, and gets him to pick up the tab. This pattern continues as Claire disembarks and meets old chums Schatzi and Polaire, as the three go out to nightclubs and swank parties every night. Polaire wants off the merry-go-round, and resists the advances of a playboy pianist and remaining loyal to her boyfriend, who she wants to marry. But Claire is addicted to stealing other women’s men and does her conniving best to ruin the marriage before it happens.
There are some real dialogue gems here. (“The room is in the back. It says “gentleman” on the door, but don’t let that bother you, you go in anyway.”) But over all the script is a bit clumsy and some of the acting is rather wooden. Still, the flow of champagne and backstabbing tricks make this a fun film, which also holds its own little place in cinema history.