Shamedown #12: Saleslady

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IMDb

It’s hard to believe this is our last Shamedown of 2022…this year went quick and slow at the same time, didn’t it? If anyone would like to know what a Shamedown is the details can be found here and past Shamedowns can be found here. And now, on with the show…

Mistaken identity is a common theme in comedic archetype, and 1938’s Saleslady makes a game attempt at putting it to work, although not as much as it could have.

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Mary Dakin (Anne Nagel) is the heiress to the Cannon Mattress Company fortune, and it goes without saying that she’s very popular with the society set, but she wants someone to love her for her and not for her fortune. Her grandfather, Miles (Henry Davenport) is dubious but supportive, and Mary goes off to a nearby city, where she checks into a boarding house and pretends to be a working class girl. Her roommate promises to get her a job at a local department store, and Mary wows the manager with her knowledge of mattresses and their inner workings.

It doesn’t take long for Mary to meet Bob Spencer (Weldon Heyburn), who wastes no time asking her out. He persists even though Mary is resistant, showing up at her boardinghouse with two big bags of groceries, and he won’t leave until Mary comes down. It’s assumed he wants her to go to his apartment, but Mary knows better and steers him toward a park bench, where the two of them have a picnic. A sudden rainshower sends them scurrying to a nearby barn, and they have a good laugh while the rain falls.

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The courtship is a whirlwind one, and Mary and Bob get married right away, setting up house in a nice apartment with all the trimmings, including a piano and a fancy-but-not-too-fancy roadster with a radio. Bob’s positive everything’s going to be easy from here on out, but his only provisos are that women shouldn’t work outside the home and that he can’t stand heiresses. He also wants his wife to learn to play the piano.

Mary doesn’t tell him who she really is, and despite already being an accomplished pianist puts on a great show of pretending to not know how to play, giving Bob a slow but competent rendition of Für Elise. Bob is impressed and thinks his wife is unusually talented.

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When Grandpa comes to visit Mary has him pretend he’s just an average guy from a small town, and Grandpa plays along, giving Bob pointers on how to economize, but the façade cracks when Mary fractures her skull falling down some stairs and Grandpa sends she and Bob some money. Things are going to get a lot worse for Bob and Mary before they get better, but the bottom line is that honesty is the best policy and everyone’s got something to learn.

The plot of Saleslady is pretty bare boned, but like a lot of our other Shamedowns we’ve looked at this year it is a Poverty Row movie likely developed for TV and then abandoned for a decade or so when TV development was temporarily shelved during the Second World War. Yet another offering from prolific serial factory Monogram Pictures, its distribution was extremely limited and its budget even more so, with no score, few extras, and the actors likely wearing their own clothes. It was likely also sold as part of a package of cheap movies to distributors when the time came to show it and is now in public domain, which is why Amazon can stream it from now until eternity.

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While a limited budget doesn’t necessarily doom a movie to mediocrity, Saleslady is unfailingly flaccid in a lot of respects. Bob and Mary’s courtship is not only waaaaaay too fast (One date before proposing? Come on, Bob), but there’s no chemistry between these actors at all. Anne Nagel in particular seems to want any kissing and hugging to be over before they start, and Bob is kind of a jerk anyway. Sure, it was the usual thing for women to stay home in that era, at least for the most part, but Bob had no business dictating to Mary how she should act, especially when she already showed him she had brains.

Mary’s not off the hook, either, though. She didn’t do Bob any favors by lying to him about her background, and it sure wouldn’t have killed her to play that piano properly. Good piano skills aren’t limited to the upper class, as any piano student (including me) can vouch for. On the other hand, she deserves kudos for pretending to play less well than she ordinarily would have, because once a musician reaches a certain level of proficiency it’s actually harder if not impossible to play badly.

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IMDb

Saleslady‘s other weak point is mostly leaving out Mary’s rich girl past. If she’s such a socialite, it’s presumed that her picture or at least her name would be in the papers somewhere, but we don’t see it, and Bob certainly never says Mary looks familiar. There were so many angles that could have been worked here and nothing happens.

Oh, and let’s not forget Henry Davenport, whose Grandpa has almost nothing to do except offer sage advice and (spoiler alert) get into an argument with Bob over finances. As he was a durable character man, Davenport was easily the most prolific and superior of the three principal cast members, so this is a shame.

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Saleslady would have been better as a one-act play with a bit more character development, but oh well. Monogram Pictures and Poverty Row definitely did worse.

And now for the next order of business. This month’s Pick My Movie tag is…Maddy at Classic Film and TV Corner!

Congrats and welcome back to blogging, Maddy! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to review something from your watchlist, and the longer it’s been on there, the better. The rest of the tag rules can be found here, and as always, if anyone else would like to jump in and participate in the tag as well, feel free.

All right, we have a special holiday edition of “During World War Two” coming up tomorrow. As always, thanks for reading all, and I hope to see you then…


Saleslady is available on DVD or to stream for Prime customers.

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If you’re enjoying what you see on Taking Up Room, please look for additional content on Substack, where you’ll find both free and subscriber-only articles. I publish every Wednesday and Saturday.

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