MoMA Presents: Sidney Lanfield’s Hat Check Girl

In 2013 MoMA collaborated with Twentieth Century-Fox to preserve what may have been the only extant 35mm nitrate print of Hat Check Girl (1932). Long unseen by moviegoers, the film made a triumphant return, in a new 35mm print, at Turner Classic Movies’ Classic Film Festival in April 2014. The audacious pre-code romantic comedy is set in a smart Manhattan nightclub where the good, the bad, and the ugly congregate for music, bootleg champagne, and scantily dressed showgirls.

Sidney Lanfield’s Hat Check Girl was was produced during the Prohibition era, but prior to the establishment of the 1934 Motion Picture Production Code. The Code administrators policed films to insure they did not include objectionable content—ridiculing the clergy, the excessive use of firearms, overt sexuality and nudity, etc. Hat Check Girl, for example, depicts a world of bootleggers, crooked politicians, cheating husbands, and women who find frequent excuses to strip down to their teddies. Though Ginger Rogers appears as the sassy sidekick, the spotlight belongs to Sally Eilers as Gerry, the film’s moral compass, who doles out constant refusals to the ne’er-do-well men who want to lavish her with cash, furs, and jewels for her favor.

Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film. Special thanks to Twentieth Century-Fox.