Directed by Henry Levin for Columbia Pictures, "The Petty Girl" (1950) is a delightful look at sexual flirtation that glories in its low-brow attitude. Joan Caulfield plays a repressed college professor who visits the big city with her older friend Dr. Crutcher (Elsa Lanchester). Being an attractive woman, especially next to the dowdy Crutcher, she is hit on by the bumbling artist George Petty, played in manic style by Robert Cummings. Petty happens to specialize in doing pin-ups, though his patron and apparent girlfriend Conny (Audrey Long) has worked hard to transform him into a high-brow portrait painter.
|A little dab 'll do ya.|
There are the standard comic complications and a song (by George Duning and Werner R. Heymann thrown in here and there for good measure. But this film has no pretensions, it is little more than a showcase for the delightful Joan. We see Joan dressing for a night out, Joan in a negligee, Joan in a one-piece bathing suit, Joan in a tight sweater - you get the idea. Perhaps the most iconic scene is one in which Joan agrees to pose for George, so she innocently goes to his ground-floor apartment one evening (scandalous!). They pull the blinds, and Joan undresses down to a bathing suit.
|Joan got some ad work out of her role, too.|
However, a jealous colleague (Mary Wickes) has called the school administration to witness this terrible, terrible scene, and they (and we, thankfully) get to view Joan's full profile in silhouette through the shades. "Well, have you seen enough?" Wickes asks furiously. The school's dean turns away, thinks about it, then looks back to get another good, long smirking eyeful. "Not yet."
|Joan in a production still from "The Petty Girl"|
Cummings bumbles around annoyingly (physical comedy really wasn't his strength, he was no Bob Hope), and Conny is mysteriously absent both in reality and in the mind of George for virtually the entire film. The plot makes little sense. Joan as a professor who blithely gives it all up to be a burlesque dancer, well at least the second part is believable.... The songs and dances (well, they are more poses than dances) are tepid at best.
|Joan Caulfield / production still from Henry Levin’s The Petty Girl (1950).|
But none of that is why you would see this film anyway. Everything is just a set-up to get ex-model Joan out of her clothes and into zany situations where she can pose in bathing suits, scamper around like a little sex pot, and flirt like crazy. That is all done with great skill.
|The concluding review is a campy riot.|
Joan in this film is cheesecake art brought to life. That's not everybody's cup of tea. But if you appreciate that or just admire the delightful Joan Caulfield at the height of her talent, this one's for you.