One of my favorite aspects of the World Wars to learn about was women’s roles during the time periods. It is so interesting to see how women were given the chance to get out of the homes to work and to fill in for the men while they were away. The 1943 film Government Girl starring Olivia de Havilland shows one side of women working during the War in Washington DC. Her character is one of thousands of “government girls” who work for the War Department as secretaries.
The film starts out with a man named Ed Browne looking for a room at a hotel in Washington DC. He is new to the city from Detroit where he makes automobiles. All Ed wants is a room where he can sleep. He said he had made a reservation weeks before but no one in the staff seems to be able to find it so Ed is made to stay in the lobby until a room can be found. At the same time a wedding group comes in. Weddings are common occurrences with soldiers having quick weddings before they ship off. Elizabeth “Smokey” Allard (de Havilland) is part of the wedding party, her roommate May is the bride. May loses her ring so Smokey gets down on the ground and crawls for it under the chairs. One of the chairs she crawls under is the one Ed happens to be sitting on. All Smokey tells Ed is that she is looking for the ring and he gets all upset saying he cannot stand how people have been getting married in a rush these days thinking she is the one getting married.
Finally Ed gets a room but it is the honeymoon suite where May and Joe are supposed to stay. Smokey has a fit pounding on the door and demanding Ed give up the room but he is just as stubborn and will not leave. Smokey and May return to their boarding house which is unfortunately only for women. Whatever move they make is loud and they wake up the whole house. The landlady comes back and has Joe kicked out. Joe leaves his motorcycle in the front and needs it back the next day. Smokey has no idea how to ride and besides she is wearing a skirt. Ed walking down the street literally smacks right into her. He says he rode a motorcycle when he was younger and should still be able to. He makes Smokey get on the back and takes her for the craziest ride through Washington DC! When he pulls in front of the building where Smokey works she is so dizzy and disoriented she has to sit on the steps a few seconds. He asks her if she liked the ride and she gets up gives him a good look and yells “NO!”
Ed is in Washington DC because his automobile factory in Detroit has been turned into a war production factory like several others in the country. The factory turns out bombers and he becomes the head of the bomber planes unit. Ed gets his own office and Smokey as his own secretary. At first she tells him to get out because she does not know who is and he yells her.
Ed walks out of his office one day and does not come back for two weeks!! He did not even tell Smokey where he was going. Smokey almost has a nervous breakdown one day when all these men take over the office to work. She runs out of the office without her shoes and slides right into her friend Branch. Apparently Branch really likes Smokey and has been asking her to marry him half kidding and half for real for years. Smokey is hung up on Dana McGuire an ambitious young man. Dana is not good for her he is a womanizer and is not afraid to do anything to get ahead.
When Ed returns Smokey is beyond pissed at him. Ed wants to give up he does not like the political procedure and just wants to go home to Detroit. He tells Smokey he is too focused on getting things done he does not want to have to worry about political procedure. Smokey helps him out by showing him what to do and how he has to be patient.
Out of nowhere Dana asks Smokey to marry him. He seems shady from the moment he asks her. Dana uses Smokey to get information about Ed and what they have been doing to bring him in front of a senate hearing. She feels so terrible that she steals the papers and plans to burn them so Ed will not get in trouble. Instead of burning the papers Smokey goes to the hearing and tells the truth and helps Ed to get out trouble with the government and continues to make his bombers.
The story is a bit rough to sit through because it is a bit boring and just screams America morals and attitudes during the War. I got lost with the story at some points it seemed that some things were not explained too well and some of the story was all over the place.
Olivia de Havilland was a panic in this film I was hysterical with her throughout the whole thing. She was loaned out to RKO from Warner Bros. for Ingrid Bergman and de Havilland was not happy at all. She was getting upset with the material Warners was giving her and this film just made things worse. De Havilland tried to ruin her character by making bad faces and overacting… well if this was Olivia de Havilland at her worst she still did damn a good job! I do not think the woman knew how to be a bad actress she was just always so fabulous. To me this is one of her funniest and best roles. Her faces were cracking me up especially the one where she yells “NO!” in Ed’s face. My favorite part of the film and possibly one of my favorite scenes de Havilland made was when Smokey and May were asked to do a little undercover work. A senator comes to them to pretend to get drunk to pump a guy with fake information to see if he will pay them for the information. Olivia de Havilland in a drunk scene is possibly one of the funniest things you will ever see!! She was crazy and jumping all over the place which is something you do not see her do very often in her films. The more I see Olivia de Havilland in her few comedies the more I adore her she was so brilliant.
I must mention how much I loved Olivia de Havilland's costumes. Most them looked great on her and some were a bit too much. The outfits she wore to the office were my favorite they were typical 1940s women's suit jackets and skirts.
The rest of the cast sucked. Well I should not say that about Anne Shirley as May she was excellent and very funny. Sonny Tufts gave one of the worst performances as a leading man I have ever seen. I do not know if this was because Tufts was a bad actor or if it was because his character was not written very well. Who knows but I just did not like him or the character. Agnes Moorehead makes an appearance in two scenes as a Washington DC society matron. The character was an airhead it was weird seeing her act as one since I have only ever seen her in serious roles. Harry Davenport aka Dr. Meade from Gone With the Wind is one of the senators at Ed’s hearing… just have to mention a Gone With the Wind reference especially since he had a scene with Olivia de Havilland.
Government Girl is really not a bad film. I am sure you are thinking to yourself I am just saying it is not too bad because I am such a fan of Olivia de Havilland but I would have told the truth if the film was pure crap even with her in the film. I liked seeing the portrayal of a working girl during World War II. A lot of women took the place of men and became very productive. Smokey was a bit of a tough career girl who would let no one stand in her way and de Havilland did a great job playing this determined young woman that had come about at this time. I also liked how they made Smokey patriotic but not unbearably so which tended to happen to film characters in the 1940s. Government Girl is not available on DVD nor is it available on Youtube. I happened to catch it on TCM. If the channel happens to air Government Girl again definitely sit through it.