In 1937 MGM held a huge party in Los Angeles for their top film salesman. MGM was the most successful movie studio in Hollywood at the time making MGM President Louis B. Mayer the highest paid person in the country. MGM owned their own railroad line, they had their own in-house police force and they were awfully chummy with all the powerful folks around town.
So they were able to roll out the red carpet for their salesman from all over the country and pulled out all the stops. The party would culminate at an old barn located on the MGM property where there was plenty of booze, a few celebrity appearances and over a hundred underage girls for entertainment.
When it was all over 17-year-old starlet Patricia Douglas claimed she had booze forced down her throat and was raped by one of the visiting salesman. When she pursed legal action, MGM’s long powerful arm went to work. Her story was buried, witnesses changed their testimony, lawyers were influenced, Douglas was discredited and she and the alleged crime would become one of the most sinister forgotten Hollywood scandals.
Girl 27 details this silenced chapter in Hollywood history. The title refers to Douglas’ number on the call-sheet for the party.
Director David Steen does an impressive job of establishing the atmosphere of 1937, the power MGM possessed at the time and using old studio footage to document this convention party and how the glamorous life for female extras was much different than the studio publicity machine would have the public believe.
He even manages to pinpoint Douglas’ alleged attacker arriving at the MGM property from old film footage covering the convention.
Steen then sets out on a quest to find the elderly Douglas and after some coercion we hear her give her own account of her story sixty-five years later. It’s a compelling story. I found it quite convincing and believed it. It leaves you feeling angry that the studio was so anxious to make her disappear and all the ones who helped with the cover-up would never receive any justice for their part in it.
So Girl 27does a commendable job of exploring this story. However, it loses its focus a bit too often and takes unnecessary detours that don’t provide further light on Douglas or the politics of MGM in 1937 and the covering up of her rape allegations.
There has been much criticism for Steen appearing in the film way too frequently, his enthusiasm finding Douglas and a self-congratulatory attitude he has about finally getting to meet her. Although I thought he was genuine in his feelings about her and her story, I thought all this served no purpose in the inclusion of the film and could have been left out.
There also appears to be what I can only call ‘unnecessary filler’. I suppose to offer up another example of an old Hollywood scandals, there’s an interview with Judy Lewis who was the illegitimate daughter of Loretta Young and Clark Gable.
An old Betty Boop cartoon and film clips meant to illustrate that rape was not considered a serious crime at the time. I understand its point, but it could have been made more succinctly.
A montage of the dance ‘trucking’ which Douglas said her assailant wanted her to teach him. The most confusing and out-of-place bit is a juxtaposed montage of a Jennifer Lopez music video and dancers from the 1930’s, simply because of a casual comment Douglas made saying she danced like J-Lo. It’s pretty strange.
Despite all its flaws and that it drifts aimlessly around sporadically until it gets its bearings again, it’s a decent exploration into Douglas’ story and reveals a story that MGM wanted to be forgotten. I found the most compelling pieces of the film when it explores how MGM handled wiping clean its hands from this scandal and the seemingly insurmountable forces Douglas was up against by going public – including her own mother.
For its running time of an hour and half its too long and doesn’t have enough to warrant that length. It would have been a much more effective doc if it lost thirty minutes and simply concentrated on that party in 1937 and the aftermath that followed.