Why Be Good: Review
Before the iconic "It" girl, Clara Bow, there was Colleen Moore. Colleen Moore was the first flapper. She was the girl you could drink all night with and then take home to meet the parents. She danced a Charleston between loose flapper and Daddy's angel, in a fringe dress with a high hemline. And nowhere were her comedic talents on better display than in Why Be Good?
The 1929 comedy seems, in the manner of the Jazz Age, to want to have it all. At its heart is Colleen Moore playing Pert Kelly, a hardworking salesgirl by day, dance-winning flapper by night. Her father shakes his head in confusion, but her mother secretly praises her darling girl. Pert insists she's a good girl, but that comes into question when she meets a young millionaire (Neil Hamilton) who falls in love with her. His father doesn't approve, and his doubts cause junior to doubt as well. After all, a girl with hair like that and clothes like that doesn't want to be good, does she?
Why Be Good? is so much fun that it is possible to miss the unsubtle jab at gender politics that plays throughout the movie. Pert wears short skirts, so men assume she's loose. She dances, so men assume she's available. For what it's worth, she encourages them to think so, because apparently in Jazz Age Hollywood it was better to be considered fast than a prude. Still, when her doubting boyfriend takes her to a hotel, she lets him have it, in a whirlwind of title cards that had the women in the audience at my screening whistling and clapping. "Men want us to dress this way, and then when we give them what they want, they punish us for it!"
Of course, it's no great hardship to dress like Pert Kelly. The film is a gorgeous example of black and white Art Deco design. With beautiful feather-and-sequins gowns, ridiculously over-the-top sets (including a penthouse and a club), Why Be Good? perfectly captures the devil-may-care excess that gave the Roaring 20s their moniker. It's the over exuberant design that would later be tamed by MGM and RKO in the 1930s musicals. There is supposed to be a rags-to-riches story at the film's heart, but it's difficult to believe when Pert's house has such high ceilings. Still, it's all good-natured fun.
Why Be Good? epitomizes the innocent whimsy of the Colleen Moore picture. Unlike the hard-edged glamour girls who would take her place, Colleen Moore was the flapper-next-door, a good girl in a short dress. As the Jazz Age got jazzier and the rules got looser, Moore's brand of sweet turned sour. Her career was short-lived, and these days she is best known for the dollhouse that she donated to the Art Institute of Chicago. If you ever want to learn what early Hollywood glamor meant, check out Why Be Good?