Newspaper publicity still of Barbara Stanwyck, Zasu Pitts and Regis Toomey.
Barbara Stanwyck would seem to have had as good a track record as any Pre-Code star, shuttling between Columbia assignments for Frank Capra and high-powered stuff like Night Nurse and Baby Face for Warners. But she couldn't work for Capra all the time, and given her rapid rise to stardom both Columbia and Warners stuffed her into as many vehicles as possible. The more that Turner Classic Movies and on-demand DVD stores mine the depths of both studios' archives, the lower Stanwyck's hit average will sink, though it shouldn't sink too far. TCM thought it had something to show off in Shopworn, playing it in prime time to open a four-film marathon of Stanwyck Pre-Codes, but the film is hopeless. Toomey is an inert male lead; it would take alchemy, not chemistry, for sparks to strike between him and Stanwyck. But a more charismatic actor probably could not have saved the, well, shopworn scenario (concocted by Capra cohorts Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin) and its catalogue of corny climaxes. Fortunately, Hollywood knew how to be brief in those days, so you lose little more than an hour of your life sitting through Shopworn. Movie fans probably should find a film like it to watch sometime, if only to remind themselves that not everything in the Pre-Code era was scintillating, relevant or even interesting. Content and context can redeem a lot of Pre-Code crap, but not every time. For a film about scandal, Shopworn talks a good game -- I close in a generous mood -- but doesn't walk the walk. With Stanwyck there to walk it for them, that should prove what a stinker Shopworn is.
Bonus material: An enterprising exhibitor in Regina, Saskatchewan, convinced local merchants to stage tie-in "Shopworn" sales to promote the movie. Here's a page worth of publicity from one of the Regina newspapers.