Our Modern Maidens hit the silver screen in the final year of the roaring 20s. The movie captures the youth culture of the 1920s, which consisted of alcohol filled parties, jazz music, dancing the Charleston, and a sense of reckless abandon. The youth of the Twenties were living life at lightning speed and never dreamed that it could come to a crashing halt. They were much to busy living in the moment. As Our Modern Maidens exemplifies, this lifestyle has potential consequences. Living too fast can lead to unexpected detours and collisions if one does not slow down enough to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.
Our Modern Maidens was released as a sequel to Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and starred some of the top movie stars of the day including Joan Crawford, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Anita Page, and Rod La Rocque. Our Modern Maidens tells a tale of two lovers, Billie and Gil (Crawford and Fairbanks), who conspire to get Gil a position as a diplomat in Paris after they secretly get engaged to one another. Billie woos businessman Glenn Abbott (Rod La Rocque) who she believes will be able to help Gil become a diplomat. What Billie didn’t count on was falling in love with Glenn. As she spends more and more time with Glenn, Gil turns his affections toward Kentucky (Anita Page), who is also Billie’s best friend. Once Billie secures Gil a diplomatic position in Paris, she leaves Glenn and goes on to marry Gil. But it is obvious that she is still in love with Glenn and that Gil is a little unsure of the marriage himself. Scandal hits the wedding as Billie discovers that Kentucky is pregnant with Gil’s child. Billie decides to do the right thing and leaves Gil to marry Kentucky. She gracefully takes the fall without harming the reputation of Gil or Kentucky and runs away to be with Glenn.
The year 1929, when Our Modern Maidens was released, was an important one in the life of Joan Crawford. Ever since she arrived in Hollywood, she worked tirelessly to become a star and in 1929, she was finally getting paid her dues. She referred to Our Dancing Daughters as a turning point in her career. Despite there being no one star of the film, theaters across the country purposefully named Joan as the star of the film due to the positive response of film fans. She wrote, “My name went up on their marquees and I’d drive around with a small box camera taking pictures of ‘Joan Crawford’ in lights.”1(63) Joan Crawford was on her way to the top and Our Modern Maidens solidified her growing stardom.
Even though it wasn’t her first time playing a flapper (a role she was used to playing both on and off screen), the film did consist of many other firsts for Joan Crawford. It was the first time she officially received star billing. Even though her name appears above the title in Our Dancing Daughters, the top billing went to the main characters equally. Due to her success in Our Dancing Daughters and audience response, she received top billing all to herself in Our Modern Maidens. It was also her first time to wear a gown by Adrian, something she would go on to do throughout the remainder of her film career. It was also the first and only movie she appeared in with husband, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Fairbanks probably would never have been cast in the movie had it not been for he and Joan’s highly publicized romance and engagement. The two publicly announced their engagement on October 8, 1928 and on November 21, Louis B. Mayer informed Joan they would be starring in Our Modern Maidens together. Fairbanks referred to it as a “good exploitation stunt” and that while it was enjoyable to work together they “felt like commercialized puppets.”2 Crawford called it “the climax to our year-and-a-half courtship.” She went on to write, “We planned to be married immediately afterward, and we didn’t want to commercialize our love, but for this one time, we were together.”3 As soon as they finished filming, Joan put her hand and footprints in the cement at Grauman’s and the lovebirds slipped away to New York to be married in an intimate wedding ceremony on June 3, 1929.
Overall, Our Modern Maidens is an entertaining film that moves at a fast pace and provides all the spectacle of the 1920s that one could desire. Beautiful, larger than life sets, stunning gowns by Adrian, dancing, and youthful romance. On top of it all, Joan Crawford shines in this role. As stated by Motion Picture News in 1929, “Joan Crawford is superb in ‘Our Modern Maidens,’ exquisite to gaze upon, devastating in her feminine wiles, lightning-fast in her jazz capers.”4 It is easy to see why F. Scott Fitzgerald referred to her as the quintessential flapper. One of the best scenes in the film is Joan performing a solo dance in a two piece costume by Adrian in an attempt to seduce Rod La Rocque’s character. Another entertaining scene shows Fairbanks impersonating some of the top stars from the silent era. Crawford later wrote, “Douglas had a scene where he impersonated John Barrymore, John Gilbert and Douglas Senior. These impersonations stand up today.”5
Beyond Joan’s fantastic performance, one of the most appealing parts of this film is how it paints a truthful picture of 1920s youth. Joan even writes, “We all bounced, skipped, danced and hippety-hopped, which I guess was our way of showing animation, but we also exhibited a rather touching sincerity.” And she’s absolutely accurate in this statement. The characters and the friendships in the movie are honest and believable. Our Modern Maidens stands up today because it represents timeless themes of love, friendship, and youth. But it also continues to draw audiences because it is much like peering into a time capsule of a decade notorious for excess. It serves as a firsthand account of the Jazz Age in all its glory and demonstrates the power of film as a historic tool.
***This piece was written for the Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click the banner below to read the entries!
- Joan Crawford, A Portrait of Joan: An Autobiography by Joan Crawford (New York: Doubleday, 1962), 63.
- Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., The Salad Days: An Autobiography (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 146.
- Crawford, A Portrait of Joan, 64.
- “Joan Crawford Will Appear in Two All-Talking and Two Silent Pictures,” Motion Picture News, June 29, 1929. <http://archive.org/stream/motionpic39moti#page/n1381/mode/1up>
- Crawford, A Portrait of Joan, 65.