So many films have been made where a rich man falls for a woman from the lower classes, mostly a burlesque dancer, and then the woman and usually her real boyfriend try to blackmail the rich man into buying their silence. Sometimes those films are comedies sometimes they are dramas. Upper World from 1934 is one of those films.
Alexander Stream (Warren William) is a rich railroad man with a family. He and his wife Hettie (Mary Astor) and their son Tommy have everything they could ever want in life.
One day Alexander is out on his yacht when he notices a young girl swimming by the yacht and she is in distress. He saves Lilly Linda (Ginger Rogers) a burlesque dancer. Alexander takes Lilly back to her apartment in the city. He goes up with her and the two of them spend a fun afternoon just talking and eating and even singing some songs together.
On the way back to the office, Alexander’s car gets pulled over. The driver and the assistant tell the officer that the car belongs to Alexander Stream. Officer Moran is unimpressed and even gets a little flippant. He issues the driver a speeding ticket. Later in the day Moran is told by his superior that the commissioner got a call from Alexander about the ticket. Moran is put on traffic control.
When Alexander arrives home that night Hettie is throwing a costume party. He tells her that he is fed up with coming home every night and there always being an event happening. Hettie tells him she wants to be a social success just like he is a financial success. She wants him to come down to the party but he instead stays up in his son’s room to play with him.
The following day is Alexander and Hettie’s fourteenth wedding anniversary. He makes nice plans to take her to a hotel room for dinner. Hettie tells him she already had dinner plans that night with another rich couple. While driving around the city Alexander and his driver see a poster with Lilly on it for a new burlesque show. They both go in to see it. Between acts Alexander goes backstage to see Lilly. He takes her to the hotel room for dinner. There is nothing romantic about their relationship he likes her company he is lonely.
Hettie sends their son off to an exclusive camp for the summer to keep up with other socially prominent families. She herself is going on a yachting party for a few weeks with some of her friends. Alexander will be left alone in the house since he has work. He gets bored and gives Lilly a call. Her manager/boyfriend Lou is there when she takes the call. Lou gets the idea that she should take Alexander for as much money as possible. Lilly really likes Alexander as a friend she does not want to take anything from him. Alexander takes Lilly for a ride in his plane. The plane has to make an emergency landing in the woods. They are left alone while the pilot goes to look for help. He tells Lilly he is crazy about her and they kiss.
Back in the city, Alexander keeps buying Lilly all kinds of expensive things. Lou still wants her to blackmail him for money. He decides to take Alexander’s letters that she keeps and send them to the papers. She tries to hide them but Lou catches her trying to. Lilly pulls out a gun but Lou is too quick for her he grabs the gun and smacks her to the ground and takes the letters. Just as he is about to leave Alexander comes by. Lou lies to him and tells him that Lilly had been playing him the whole time. Alexander is furious he will not listen to her when she says she really does love him she would never hurt him. Alexander wants the letters but Lou will not give them to him. He punches Lou to the ground. Lou pulls out his gun to shoot Alexander but Lilly steps in front of him and is shot dead. Alexander takes Lilly’s gun and shoots Lou. Before he leaves he switches the bullets to make it look like a murder/suicide. He switches the bullets in the gun.
Outside the apartment building Moran is on his beat. He sees Alexander leaving. He manages to get a hold of the guns and he notices that there is a bullet from each gun in the opposite gun. Moran begs his superior to investigate he has a suspicion who the killer might be but he cannot say. The superior gives him forty-eight hours to get some evidence.
Hettie finally sees how nothing in her social life is as important as being with her husband and family. She has a feeling Alexander may need her. He wants to go away as soon as their son comes home the following day but they cannot leave that quickly because he has a merger with another railroad company coming up.
Alexander finds out that the janitor at Lilly’s apartment has given a description of him. He speaks to the janitor and tells the man he will be given one thousand dollars if he forgets everything. Of course the janitor agrees. Moran comes a few minutes later. He notices someone in the apartment. He takes the light bulb that Alexander touched to check for fingerprints. He goes to the police commissioner but the man break the bulb on purpose. Moran is furious that Alexander has his hands in law enforcement. He talks to a reporter and the reporter convinces his boss to get some detectives together to get some evidence. They all corner Alexander at his house and force him, in a certain way, to give his prints.
Alexander is acquitted of the crime. He and his family sail off to England and to travel the world.
I always wanted to see this film since Ginger Rogers is in it. It was one of her early films of her career. The year before this Rogers had just made her first film with Fred Astaire. Lilly is the type of role I love watching her play. I adore Ginger Rogers I love her early roles where she was risqué but still sweet. I was shocked to see her character get shot and killed! I was totally not expecting that! Warren William was great. It is always a treat to see him play a nice guy I am so used to seeing him in other Pre-Codes where he is the nasty bad guy. Mary Astor in her few scenes was alright. She was made to seem shallow and was the reason for her husband going astray. In the end she sees the error of her social-climbing ways and goes back to focusing on her family.
Upper World is a decent Pre-Code. I did like how Alexander and Lilly were not really, really in love they were just good friends and he enjoyed the company that Lilly gave that he wife was not giving him. I caught Upper World on TCM. If the channel airs the film again give it a try especially if you like Pre-Codes or any of the leads.