Filmsite Movie Review
Alice Adams (1935)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The next day in the back yard, she confides to her father that she cried (a "silly fit") on account of her "nerves," but he feels responsibility for her unhappiness: "You oughta have as much as any of these girls you go with, and I've got to do something about it." With tremendous resolve, Alice decides to "be something besides just a kind of nobody...There's one thing I'd like to do. I know I could do it too...Well, I want to go on the stage. I know I could act." Mr. Adams pooh-poohs her harmless idea even though her Aunt Florey and her mother also aspired to be actresses, possibly proving that there's some "talent in the family." Nevertheless, Alice is sure that her father will return to his familiar job at Lambs.

Virgil's paternalistic employer Mr. Lamb (Charles Grapewin) pays a visit to the Adams, claiming that Virgil should resist rushing back to work in ten days: "Don't hurry it, young fella. Just take your time. Of course we need you, but we don't need you so bad that we let you come down before you're good and able...Your place is waiting for you, any time you want to come back...Goodness knows you've been with the firm long enough to have some privileges and I'm going to see that you get them." However, Mrs. Adams grumbles about her husband's low wages and lowly position - she has steadfastly been "daydreaming" that he leave his job with Mr. Lamb and become a glue-factory entrepreneur with a "secret formula":

That's why I want Virgil to leave that place...He could do what I've wanted him to do for the last twenty years...He doesn't want me to speak of it to you, Alice, but you may as well know. Your father has invented a secret formula for making the best glue in the world...glue, for sticking things together. Your father and another man invented it years ago when your father first went to work for Mr. Lamb. Now the other man's dead so the formula belongs to your father, at least it belongs to him as much as it does to anybody else...He can start up a factory and make the glue and sell that.

Downtown, outside McKail's Men's Shop, Alice looks up at a sign reading: FRINCKE'S BUSINESS COLLEGE - Stenography, Bookkeeping, Typing, Secretarial Work, OFFICE HELP SUPPLIED. As she works up her nerve and begins climbing the stairs to the local college, each labeled with ascending advertisements and catchwords, such as: Salesman, Stenographer, Bookkeeping, Filing, Secretarial Work, Typing, Salesmanship, Accounting, Students Placed, Arthur Russell notices her as his shoes are being shined and hails her - rescuing her from entering the business school to seek a secretarial job. Dithering once more and feeling shamed, she explains that she is "embarking on the most irksome duty" - to hire a new secretary for her father. He asks her to postpone her errand and join him for a stroll. He has been charmed by her efforts to impress him, although she chatters away, in-between embarrassed trills of laughter, about her brother's anti-social behavior at the dance:

Alice: You've been thinking I'm the sister of a professional gambler, I'm afraid...Walter is original. You know, he's a very odd boy. I was afraid you'd misunderstand him. He tells the most wonderful darkie stories and he'll just do anything to get them to talk to him. We think he'll probably write about them some day. He's rather literary.
Arthur: Are you?
Alice: (modestly) I? Oh, I'm just me.

Later, Alice downgrades herself in comparison to the "perfect" Mildred Palmer: "It certainly is unfortunate that I am so different from Mildred...Because she's perfect. She's perfectly perfect. Oh yes, we all fairly adore her. You know, she's like some big noble, cold statue way up above the rest of us. She hardly ever does anything mean or treacherous. You know, of all the girls I know, I think she plays the fewest really mean tricks." During her inventive play-acting and incessant talking as they walk down the sidewalk, Alice fabricates an "extravagant," affluent social background including dance lessons and stage aspirations, while protecting herself from gossip about her unpopularity (and lack of invitations) by telling him of her boredom with men:

Alice: Of course, all girls do mean things sometimes. My own career's just one long brazen smirch of them.
Arthur: Really? What, for example?
Alice: Oh, the very worst sort. For instance, most people bore me, particularly the men in this town and I show it. It's made me a terribly unpopular character. For instance, at the average party, I'd alot rather find some clever old woman and talk to her than I would dance with nine-tenths of these non-entities.
Arthur: But you danced as if you really liked it. Why you dance better than any other girl I -
Alice: (She stops and politely half-bows) Oh, thank you, Mr. Russell. Well, I ought to dance well. When I think of all my dancing teachers, just endless dancing instructors. Still, I suppose that's what fathers have daughters for, isn't it, to throw away money on them. Oh, but you should have seen me when I have stage fever. You know, every girl has a time in her life when she's positive she's divinely talented for the stage. I used to play Juliet all alone in my room: 'Oh swear not by the moon - the inconstant moon that monthly changes in her circled orb, lest that thy...' (she giggles, having forgotten the remainder of the line)
Arthur: You do it beautifully. Why didn't you finish the line?...'...lest that thy love prove likewise variable.'
Alice: Yes. Juliet was saying it to a man, you know. She seems to have been worrying about his constancy pretty early in their affair.
Arthur: Yes, I know.
Alice: Oh, well don't look so serious. It isn't about you, you know.

In front of her shabby, middle-class house near the center of town, the postman hands her a letter to save himself a few steps and betrays her residence. She fears telling Arthur the truth that her family is not wealthy, dismissing her humble abode on account of her father's stubbornness: "Here's the foolish little house where I live. It is a queer little place but, you know, my father's so attached to it that the family's just about given up hope of getting him to build a real house farther out. You know, he doesn't mind our being extravagant about anything else but he won't let us change one single thing about his precious little old house." Russell wants to visit some more inside, but she is hesitant and ashamed of her house and coyly rejects his advances.

The next day, her "vulgar" brother teases her about her expressive, "attentive" gestures toward Arthur, and realistically assesses her chances with the "engaged" gentleman: "You were too busy waving your hands. I never saw anybody as busy as you get, Alice, when you're towing a barge...It was little Alice who was being attentive. What were you doing walking so close to your old pal Mildred's boyfriend?...That frozen-faced Palmer bunch will have you ruled off the track when they see your colors." That night after arranging flowers to beautify her environment, she fruitlessly waits up for two hours hoping to have Arthur call on her. The flowers have wilted by the next scene.

As she sits on the porch swing in front of her house another evening, she pines for her dream idol and romantic courtship with him. Exhausted with waiting, she tiredly yawns and enters her door just as Arthur appears behind her in a white suit - she steers him outside: "Let's stay out here, shall we? The moonlight's so lovely." He has been anxious to see her, but has been detained by social commitments - engagements she hasn't been able to attend because of her father's illness. Her strategy that she cannot entertain except outside on her front porch is masterfully brilliant and believable:

Arthur: I've spent two evenings wanting to come, but a couple of dinners interfered, large and long dinners.
Alice: Well, you have been in a social whirl, Mr. Russell. I envy you. Father's illness has simply tied me to the house and everyone has to come here, that is, if they want to see me. You know, the worst of it is that, that poor thing has to have peace and quiet and I must entertain on the porch as I'm doing tonight. So of course, now there's just the two of us.

She asks to talk about him, with her fingers resting on and playing with her chin, and ends up admitting, very truthfully, that she can't dare to be herself with him:

Alice: Let's talk about you. What kind of man are you?
Arthur: I have often wondered what kind of girl are you?
Alice: Don't you remember? I told you. I'm just me.
Arthur: But who is that?
Alice: I've often wondered.... (She reposes casually on the porch swing) The other day when you walked home with me, I got to wondering what I wanted you to think of me in case I should ever happen to see you again.
Arthur: And what did you decide?
Alice: I decided I shall probably never dare to be just myself with you, not if I care to have you want to see me again. And yet, here I am, just being myself after all.

Arthur is intrigued by her and enthusiastically requests when he may see her again - "anytime" is Alice's reply. So he invites her to attend Henrietta Lamb's dance with him - held by the daughter of her father's employer. She again uses her father's illness as an excuse to not attend, because she wasn't invited: "It's father, you see. Mildred's dance is almost the only evening I've gone out, on account of his illness, you know." Having overheard the conversation on the porch between her daughter and Arthur, a nagging Mrs. Adams proceeds upstairs where she chastises Virgil for being the source of their money woes and thwarted desires of their young daughter while "she's still got a chance for happiness":

Mrs. Adams: Your child's been snubbed and picked on by every girl in this town. And it's all on account of you, Virgil Adams.
Virgil Adams: Oh yes, these girls don't like me so they pick on Alice.
Mrs. Adams: They wouldn't dare do such things to Mildred Palmer because she's got money and family to back her. And you listen to me, Virgil Adams, the way the world is now, money is family. And Alice could have as much family as any of 'em, if you hadn't fallen behind in the race.
Virgil Adams: How did I?
Mrs. Adams: Yes, you did! Twenty-five years ago, all the people we knew weren't any better off than we were. And look at 'em now....Look at those country clubs. The other girls' families belong to them. We don't. Look at the other girls' houses. Then look at our house...The men in those families went right on up the ladder while you're still a clerk down in that old hole.

Virgil feels indebted to the rich patriarch of the town, Mr. Lamb, whom he claims 'owns' the glue formula, but not in a legal sense, because the formula was developed on company time: "He paid us all the time we were working on it." After being berated and nagged into submission, Virgil establishes, with some misgivings, the ADAMS GLUE WORKS in a rented warehouse on the edge of town without a face-to-face consultation with Mr. Lamb: "The formula ain't patentable. There isn't anything he can make a question of law. But I wish I knew what he thought about the whole business."

In the meantime, Alice's relationship with Arthur flourishes. In an outdoor restaurant with a checkered tablecloth, they have dinner together while sharing a pensive, loving mood and repeatedly listening to Alice's favorite song played by a three-piece orchestra:

Arthur: What are you thinking of?
Alice: I think I was just being sort of sadly happy then.
Arthur: Sadly happy.
Alice: Don't you know? Only children can be just happily happy. I think that when we get older, some of our happiest moments are like this one. It's like that music, oh so sweet, and oh so sad.
Arthur: But what makes it sad for you?
Alice: I don't know. Perhaps it's a kind of useless foreboding I seem to have pretty often. I'm afraid I'm gonna miss these summer evenings of ours when they're over.
Arthur: Do they have to be over?
Alice: Everything's over, sometime.
Arthur: Oh no, let's not look so far ahead. You don't have to already be thinking of the cemetery, do we?
Alice: Our summer evenings will be over before that, Arthur Russell.
Arthur: Why?
Alice: Oh, oh, good heavens...Almost a proposal in a single word...Oh, don't worry. I shan't hold you to it. No, but something will interfere. Somebody will, I mean. You know, people talk about each other fearfully in this town. They don't always stop at the truth. They make things up. Yes they do, really.
Arthur: Well, what difference does it all make?
Alice: It's just that I'd, I'd rather they didn't make things up about me to you.
Arthur: I'd know they weren't true.
Alice: Wouldn't it be wonderful if two people could just keep themselves to themselves? If they could manage to be friends without people talking about them?
Arthur: Well, we've done that pretty well, so far, haven't we? And if you want our summer evenings to be over, you'll have to drive me away yourself.
Alice: No one else could?
Arthur: No one.
Alice: Well, I have you. (They kiss)

To wistfully savor the evening after she has been dropped off at her house, Alice remains on the dark porch where she is joined by her mother. They talk about Arthur together:

I don't deserve anything...I'm pretty happy these days, mom...Oh, I don't mean, I wasn't meaning to tell you that I'm engaged. We're not. It's just that, uh, things seem pretty beautiful to me in spite of everything I've done to spoil them...He's so honestly what he is. I feel like a tricky mess beside him. I don't know why he likes me. Sometimes I'm afraid he wouldn't if he knew me.

Indoors, father and son discuss another matter - Walter's mysterious demands for $150 dollars from his father. Mr. Adams replies incredulously: "What do you think I am, a mint?"

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