Girl 27

Dir: David Stenn, 2007. Documentary.
Girl 27

Though this documentary has a subject that is extremely compelling and brave, it was unfortunately poorly made. Somehow I don't believe that the fault was at the hands of the directors or producers, but simply the lack of cooperation and substantial footage. The fact that I still took away a lot of information and was able to truly sympathize with all the victims and their stories was enough to make me see the film as something well-worth everyone's time.

In April 2003, Vanity Fair printed their Hollywood Issue. Inside was a story titled, “It Happened One MGM,” which gave a detailed account of a massive cover up by MGM that has to do with the rape of Patricia Douglas. In 1937, MGM decided to organize a large convention for all of its sales employees and producers who, I should add, were all men. These conventions were seen as a sort of holiday among the participants, where lodging, food, entertainment, and a lot of alcohol were provided to ensure that everyone had a good time and felt that they were essential to the company. The entertainment for one of these conventions would come in the form of over one hundred female dancers, most of whom were under-aged girls. Before the big party of the convention happened, a casting call was made by MGM in which these girls were told that they would be dancing in a movie and needed to be fitted for cowgirl costumes, then report to a barn on Hal Roach's ranch. On the casting call list, one of these girls had her name in bold and underlined: Girl 27, Pat Douglas, who was 17 at the time. The movie the girls were supposed to be dancing in turned out to be a stag party for all of the MGM employees, one of whom was presumably made to feel as though he had one of the many girls all to himself. That man was producer David Ross and the girl he was pushed toward was Patricia Douglas.

One of the most shocking details of the documentary is the realization that the word rape simply didn't exist in the mindset of people back then. Of the very few films made then that show rape, all of them, to this day, have never been released on VHS or DVD. To people then, a girl who was raped was someone who was deserving, or a tramp. So when Douglas came out in the open and said that she had been attacked and raped by David Ross at an MGM party no one believed her. She talks about that night with pain and disgust, but it is what followed that was life-shattering.

After waking up in a hospital, she was instructed to douche, which of course removed all evidence of the attack. Her lawyer was well associated with MGM and never served David Ross with a subpena. The doctor who examined her was offered a job at MGM for life and, in return, only had to keep quiet. Her mother, after being palmed money, eventually sold her out and made her out to be a promiscuous liar. In time, Douglas would become a recluse and forget how to trust people. Director David Stenn worked for years to convince her that he was well-meaning and only trying to get her vindication, if not justice.

The documentary goes from her story to two other stories that are in some ways linked to her. The first is a series of articles that she collects which were featured in the same one that her story was. The articles have to do with Loretta Young, who adopted a daughter. Douglas obsesses over the story because Young didn't actually adopt the infant girl; it was her illegitimate child with Clark Gable, which she gave up for adoption and got back days later. Hollywood knew this and protected the star by calling it simply an adoption, while just a few pages away the papers were dragging Douglas's name through the mud, even putting her full name, photo, and address in the article and referring to MGM as a “local studio.” The second story that is linked to her has to do with a singer who used the same lawyer after being raped and had the same disastrous results. She later tried to start a family and then committed suicide.

These are the additional spurts of information that help the documentary get its point across. Since the concept of rape didn't exist then, it exposes the tragic aftermath of women who were attacked. It also helps us realize that the studios back then were seen as a sort of mafia, where everything was kept clean. When you think about it, their job was make people happy and forget what they were going through. MGM was the leader among its competitors who, at the time, were facing bankruptcy, and those interviewed from the time honestly believed that they owned the city. For Douglas to be raised in that belief and try to go against them anyway, the first lawsuit of its kind to reach the high courts, is miraculous and can give people hope. She danced in Busby Berkeley’s The Gold Diggers of 1933 and could have had an amazing dancing career were it not for her traumatizing experience. I still think that her cooperation in this documentary is the biggest achievement of her life, which led to a heartwarming friendship between her and the director before she passed.

With all this information it would seem as though the documentary wasn't flawed, but there was something about the delivery that was off-putting. To come to its defense, it did provide a lot of photos and archival footage from the people documented here and the film industry. During a question when Stenn asks Douglas to describe her dancing, being a big MTV fan, she compared it to J-Lo, which was followed by footage of Jennifer Lopez dancing in a music video and inter-cut with footage of girls doing more sultry dances in the '30s. It added perhaps a little unintended comic relief, but these juxtapositions to other events came off as mockery. Whenever Douglas mentions the attack or the director discusses it, it is edited alongside images from films where a woman is being slapped around or sexually harassed by a man. Something about it was foolish - like a crime scene reenactment for a sensational television show - and pulled you away from what natural emotions you felt from such testimonies. I'm sure the feeling of mockery was not intended, but the rushed and jumbled ending just wasn't what I expected or thought to be tasteful. Besides that, the movie deserves to be seen and talked about for Patrica's sake, and for the informative information it contains.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Feb 25, 2011 6:27pm
Steve Earle and the Dukes
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