July 13, 2022

The Richest Girl in the World (1934)
Grade: 61/100

Director: William A. Seiter
Stars: Miriam Hopkins, Joel McCrae, Fay Wray

What it's about. An A-list romantic comedy. Dorothy (Miriam Hopkins) is the title character, a young woman who has inherited vast wealth from her late parents. Wealth is not enough for Dorothy. She wants a man, but also wants him to love her for her splendid personality instead of her wealth.

Hence the great ruse. Ravishing young brunette Sylvia (Fay Wray) lives with Dorothy and serves as her impostor. The scheme is to have a handsome suitor meet the two women and propose to Dorothy instead, even though it is Sylvia presented as "the richest girl in the world."

Enter Tony (Joel McCrae), a nice, normal guy but no pushover. As he attempts to romance Dorothy, she suggests that he court and propose to Sylvia instead. Sylvia doesn't seem to mind much, though her newlywed husband, Phillip (Reginald Denny), is less keen on it. Also going along is Dorothy's blue-blood businessman father figure, John (Henry Stephenson), who for some reason places Dorothy's ultimate happiness over his own interests.

Anyone who has seen a movie before knows that the movie will have a happy ending, with Dorothy married to Tony before he learns that Dorothy is Sylvia, Sylvia is Dorothy, and Tony is now very wealthy. Tony almost fails the test, but in the nick of time socks the astonished Phillip in the jaw and carries off his soon-to-be bride to the chapel.

The film was remade as Bride by Mistake (1944) and The French Line (1953).

How others will see it. Despite its fine cast, The Richest Girl in the World is obscure today. It did manage an Oscar nomination for Best Original Story. Today at imdb.com, it has less than 1K user votes, compared to the 85K user votes for Fay Wray's best-known movie, King Kong (1933).

The user rating of 6.3 out of 10 is okay plus, but short of recognized greatness. Women over 45 like it best, probably because Miriam Hopkins gets her man, even if he is a foot taller than her. The user reviews suggest most people consider it slight but nonetheless enjoy the movie. It is considered racy for the Production Code era, since Tony is courting married Sylvia, and the single Dorothy lives under the same room as at least three men (Tony, John, and Phillip).

How I felt about it. The obvious problem with the plot is that Tony is almost certain to favor Sylvia over Dorothy. Sylvia is gorgeous, she is less neurotic than Dorothy, she is willing, and she is rich. Especially given that Dorothy keeps pushing Tony onto Sylvia.

One wonders whether the payoff of the game for Dorothy is her confirmation of the shallow nature of men, instead of securing a husband. But such an ending is unthinkable, both then and now, nearly 90 years later. A superior (and more realistic) outcome is seen in The Heiress (1949), where the ardent paramour turns out to be a fortune hunter, despite his many protestations to the contrary.

The Richest Girl in the World was released during the Great Depression, a time of economic misery for many. In an era of mass unemployment and soup kitchens, the present film was escapist fare. The only poor character is Tony, and he ends up rich. Along the way, he lives in grand style with a blonde and brunette to choose from.