Alice Adams – George Stevens
We sympathize with Alice through this period of suffering because, despite her outward pretentiousness, snobbery, and silliness, her vulnerability—the eager, expectant look in her eyes—shines through. We realize that her pride demands this show of bravado, which reveals how she thinks a society girl enjoying herself at a party would act. At last, giving up all hope of a partner, Alice is going to sit with the old chaperones when she is rescued by the tall dark stranger, whom Mildred introduces to her as Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray). Here is Prince Charming, but Alice, thinking Mildred has asked him to dance with her out of pity, is for once silent and natural. After the dance, she asks Russell to find Walter for her so she can go home.
The next day Alice meets Russell again just as she has worked up enough nerve to enter a business college to seek a secretarial job. Having rescued her from a horrible fate—one that would have put any chance of social advancement entirely out of her reach—Russell proceeds to tell her he has been thinking about her and wants to see more of her. Alice immediately assumes her airs and mannerisms, talking incessantly, giving little trills of laughter, fabricating a social background similar to those of the other girls of his acquaintance, and guarding herself against gossip by telling him she is not very popular with men because she shows them she is bored by them.
Russell is anxious to visit and further his acquaintance, but Alice, who is ashamed of her family’s shabby house, refuses to let him come inside. Indeed, their entire courtship is conducted on the front porch of the house or at restaurants. Finally, Mrs. Adams practically forces Alice to invite Russell to dinner. Up to this point Alice’s strategy has been masterly. She has already warned him against listening to gossip about herself or her family and has used her father’s illness as an excuse for always entertaining him outside and not going to dinners and dances to which, unknown to Russell, she has not been invited. As she tells him, with more truth than he knows, she would not dare to be merely herself with him.
Meanwhile, her mother’s constant nagging has worn her father down, and despite many misgivings, he has mortgaged the house to start his own glue factory. Virgil Adams feels it is like stealing to take a glue formula developed on company time to start his own business. He likes and trusts his paternalistic employer, J. A. Lamb (for whom he has worked for twenty-five years), and does not want to anger him. But under his wife’s relentless hammering he makes the break and rents an old warehouse for his factory. On the evening of the ill-fated dinner he is worried because there has been no response to this action from Lamb, who is not a man to let someone else get the best of him.
In order to do the dinner in style, her mother hires a black maid and cook, Malena (Hattie McDaniel), for the evening. Although it is a hot, humid night, the meal is heavy and elaborate, beginning with caviar sandwiches and hot soup. The slow-moving, gum-chewing Malena, with her maid’s cap askew, inelegantly removes plates and thrusts serving trays under people’s noses. Everything that can go wrong, does. Virgil Adams’ shirtfront keeps popping open, and when he wants more water, he cannot remember the maid’s name. The smell of Brussels sprouts pervades the little house, and Russell is obviously ill-at-east as he mops his sweaty neck. Alice chatters brightly, trying to retrieve what she knows is a disaster, but Russell is politely unresponsive. When she offers a penny for his thoughts, he replies uncomfortably that he hasn’t any. She takes him outside, “where we belong,” and indicates her understanding of his feelings by telling him she knows it is over, that he will not be coming to see her again. After all, when “everything’s spoiled you can’t do anything but run away,” she tells him.