sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2017-06-21 11:52 pm
Entry tags:

Gee, bozo, what a tough deal you must have had

Happy solstice! I was indeed awake all night. I'm still awake. Sleep or no sleep, however, sometimes a person has to yell about a movie on the internet.

Girl of the Port (1930), directed for RKO by Bert Glennon, is a pre-Code curiosity if ever I encountered one: a hopelessly confused adventure-melodrama-romance between a tough-cookie showgirl and a shell-shocked veteran set in the South Seas islands, which is part of its problem. Its title is technically relevant in that the heroine is the only female character of any prominence, but thematically it would have done much better to be released under its production title of The Fire-Walker, after the original short story by John Russell. Story elements include World War I, half a dozen nervous breakdowns, British tourists, mixology, untranslated Chinese, institutional racism, surprise aristocracy, the climactic if no longer eponymous firewalk, and the whole thing's over in 65 minutes, so it gets the plot in with a crowbar. There are really interesting things in it and there are really frustrating things in it and they are not arranged in any separable fashion. I am not sorry to have seen it, but I do not expect anyone else to feel the same.

It opens with title cards, setting the zeitgeist of the Lost Generation: "Not all the casualties of war are in hospital cots. There are wounds of the spirit as lasting as those of the flesh, but less pitied, and little understood. Few know the dark fears brought back from the battlefront. Even fewer know that those fears may be cast out . . . but only by the mind that harbors them." The sequence that follows startled me; I keep forgetting that while the Production Code did its best to reduce the realities of sex, race, and gender to cartoons, it also did a lasting disservice to violence—not the two-fisted pantomime kind where bullets leave no marks and people's eyes close gently when they die, but the kind people should be scared of. We see it in the barbed wire trenches of World War I, where a battalion of British soldiers is getting ready to go over the top. It's cold, dark, ghostly. A young officer is trying to reassure an enlisted man even younger than himself, a hollow-eyed boy whose head is already bandaged bloodily under his tin hat. Five in the morning is zero hour; he re-checks his watch, takes a deep breath, and blows the signal. All together, his men call out their watchword, "God and the right!" and scramble up over the sandbags into no man's land. Their German counterparts affirm, "Gott mit uns!" and do the same. There's little sense of strategy on the British side, just a loose line of men ordered into hell with rifles and nerve.1 They walk into a nest of German flamethrowers. It's horrifying. At first they don't see the danger, decoyed by the smoke and the disorienting concussions of the mortar barrage covering the German advance; then it's too late to get out of range. There is something uncanny and inhuman in the flamethrower troops with their deep-sea gear and the long, long streams of fire they send snaking out before them, licking and curling as if they were living and hungry things. The young officer stands his ground with his service pistol, trying to take the flamethrowers out, but soon he's dry-firing and then a stutter of enemy machine-guns takes him in the leg and the arm; he tumbles into a shell-hole alongside the feebly flailing body of a fellow soldier with some obliquely shot but grisly makeup effects on his face—burned, blinded. He keeps crying about the fire, about his eyes. With his helmet knocked off, we can see the officer's face under its stiff tousle of dark hair, terrified and suddenly, desperately young. "Stick close to me," he said confidently, just a few minutes ago in the safety of the trench, "and don't forget—those Fritzes are nothing but men." But fire is more than men, fire can eat men alive, and it's doing just that all around him. Everywhere he looks, the white-hot hissing light of the flamethrowers coming on and the bodies of men he knew burning, or worse, stumbling through the inferno, screaming. He's trapped. He can't get out. Suddenly he's screaming, too, high and hoarse and raw: "Oh, God, don't let the fire get me—don't let the fire get me—oh, God!" And scene.

It's a harsh opening and the viewer may be forgiven for feeling a little whiplashed when the action jumps years and genres to the rainy night in Suva, Fiji when footloose, all-American Josie (Sally O'Neil, a mostly silent actress new to me) blows out of the storm and into MacDougal's Bamboo Bar. Late of Coney Island, she fast-talks her way into a bartending job with theatrical sass, booting the current barman and introducing herself to the appreciative all-male clientele like the carnival talker of her own attraction: "I don't need no assistance, thanks. My father was a bouncer in the Tenth Ward. My mother was a lion tamer with Ringling. I was weaned on raw meat and red pepper. Boo!" She's petite and kitten-faced, brash and blonde as an undercranked Joan Blondell; her dialogue is a glorious compendium of pop culture and pure, nasal Brooklyn slang. She refers to her pet canary alternately as "John McCormack" and "Jenny Lind," derides a hoary pick-up line as "old when Fanny was a girl's name," and deflects an incipient attack of sentiment with the admonition not "to go . . . getting all Jolson about it." A handsy customer gets the brush-off "What are you, a chiropractor? You rub me the wrong way." When she finds another new patron passed out face-first on a table, their exchange as he groggily props himself up gives a good idea of the script's overall mix of the snappy and the sententious:

"Who in blazes are you?"
"Lon Chaney."
"I'm coming up to date. Usually at this stage I'm seeing Jonah's whale."
"Snap out of it, bozo. Ain't you glad you don't see pink elephants?"
"Lassie, I drink so's I
can see them. They crowd out other things. Four fingers, please."

Asked for the color of his money, the man produces a military decoration: thin and scruffy in an old collarless shirt, no longer quite so boyish with the haunted lines in his face, it's the young officer of the opening scenes (Reginald Sharland, also new to me; he had an eleven-film career between 1927 and 1934 and by turns he reminded me of Richard Barthelmess, Peter Capaldi, and Dick Van Dyke, which is a hell of a thing to say about anyone). He has shell-shock you can see from space. When the bar pianist starts tinkling a jaunty improv on "Tipperary," he recites the chorus in a kind of bitter trance, tellingly omitting the last line about his heart. Josie tries to break in by guessing his rank; when she reaches "Captain," he jolts to his feet like a snapped elastic, giving an instinctive salute and then a haggard smile: "Clever, don't you think yourself?" In a welcome gesture toward nuance, he's fucked up, but not totally pathetic. He's known as Whiskey Johnny, after the stuff he drinks more thirstily than water and the song he'll perform in exchange for free glasses of it, especially when egged on by white-suited local bully McEwen (Mitchell Lewis, wait for it). This sort of setup is usually the cue for public humiliation, but Johnny can actually sing and he grins round at the room while he does it, a slight, shabby, definitely not sober man, drawing his audience in all the same. I had a girl and her name was Lize. Whiskey, Johnny! Oh, she put whiskey in her pies. Whiskey for my Johnny! He balks only when McEwen presses him to sing the last verse, the one that Johnny nervously protests "isn't done amongst gentlemen, is it? Not when ladies are present."2 In response, McEwen insults Josie, Johnny insults McEwen, words escalate to fists escalate to McEwen pulling a knife, Johnny grabbing a chair, and Josie throwing a bottle that smashes the nearest lamp. The oil ignites as soon as it hits the floor, a quick mushroom of flame spurting up right in Johnny's face. He was unsteady but combative a moment ago; in the face of the fire, he screams like a child. "Oh, God, the fire! Don't let the fire get me! Oh, God, let me out of here!" A few voices call after him as he blunders jaggedly away through the crowd, plainly seeing nothing but Flanders and flames, but most dismiss him as a "ruddy coward . . . not worth stopping, with his tail between his legs." The next morning, flinchingly hungover on the beat-up chaise longue in the back room of the bar, he tells Josie the story of how he won his medal, the sole survivor of his company decorated for bravery for cowering in a shell-hole "watching the others crisp up and die—hearing them die—seeing the fire draw nearer, nearer, seeing it all round me—oh, God, don't let the fire get me! Don't let the fire get me!" He can recover a wry self-possession in quieter moments, but he "can't face fire" or even the memory of it: the terror is always just below the surface. McEwen has only to flick a cigarette into a bucket of gasoline to bust him back down to a shuddering wreck, trying to hide in the furniture, chokingly gulping the drink he just swore he wouldn't touch.

Josie's solution is unorthodox but unhesitating: she has him move into her cabin. McEwen can't get at him there. House rules are they don't sleep together and Johnny doesn't drink. As the intermittent intertitles tell us, "Half her time she saw that men got liquor at Macdougal's . . . the other half, she saw that one man didn't!" After eight weeks, their relationship is a comfortable but charged mixture of emotional intimacy and unacknowledged sexual tension and I think accidentally sort of kinky. Each night when she leaves for work at the bar, she locks Johnny in—by now at his own request—so that he can't wander off in search of booze despite his best intentions. He refers to her as his "doctor, nurse, pal, and jailor—and savior, you know. That is, if a chap who didn't deserve it ever had one." His hands shake badly when he kneels to put her shoes on for her, but he insists on doing it anyway, just as he insists on helping with the washing-up even when they lose more plates that way. She treats him practically, not like something broken or breakable; she calls him "Bozo" because she doesn't like "Whiskey Johnny" and he doesn't like "Captain." Eventually, diffidently, he introduces himself as "Jameson," at which Josie shoots him a skeptical look: "I've seen that name on bottles." She's fallen for him by now, which the audience could see coming from the moment she deflated his romantic sob story of a contemptuous fiancée who betrayed him with his best friend with the tartly dismissive "What a dim bulb she turned out to be," but she keeps a self-protective distance, correctly recognizing that she's given him a breather, not a miracle, and in the meantime he's imprinted on her like a battle-fatigued duckling. When he declares his love, she warns him, "Now don't go mixing up love and gratitude, 'cause they ain't no more alike than champagne and Ovaltine." They end up in a clinch, of course, and a jubilant Johnny promises that they're going to "lick that fear—together," waving her off to work like a happy husband already. The viewer with a better idea of dramatic structure vs. runtime waits for the third-act crisis to come home to roost.

All of this is an amazing demonstration of the durability of hurt/comfort over the decades and to be honest it's pretty great of its type, even if occasionally over the top even by the standards of idfic. Both O'Neil and Sharland's acting styles are mixed somewhere between early sound naturalism and the full-body expression of silent film—O'Neil acquires a vocal quaver in moments of emotion and Sharland employs some highly stylized gestures in his breakdowns, though there's nothing old-fashioned or stagy about his screams—but since they are generally in the same register at the same time, it works fine. They make a sympathetically matching couple with their respective fears of being unlovable, Josie who bluntly admits that she "ain't a nice girl," Johnny convinced he's a coward and a failure, "finished." Some of their best romantic moments are not declarative passion but shy happiness, the actors just glowing at one another. The trouble is that what I have been describing is the best version of the film, the one without the radioactive levels of racism that start at surprisingly upsettingly high and escalate to Jesus, was D.W. Griffith ghosting this thing? and essentially make it impossible for me to recommend this movie to anyone without qualifiers galore.

America is sleeted through with racist thought. My cousin is reading Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016), as my father is reading Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2017), in order to recognize just how built into the myths and institutions of this country it is. Witness the need for a Black Lives Matter movement in the first place, the fact that Juneteenth is not a national holiday. In most of the media I'm used to, racism on the part of the production manifests as erasure and marginalization, so that interesting things happen only to white people and/or non-white people exist only in ancillary or incomplete roles, either conforming to particular stereotypes or breaking them in narratively significant ways; it's more about reproducing harmful tropes and patterns than it is about flinging epithets across the screen, unless the language is being used to direct audience sympathy or highlight a social problem. What I am not used to, because I did not vote for 45 and his race-baiting regime of embarrassments to ass clowns, is openly and casually expressed racism as an accepted characteristic of heroes. Girl of the Port features frequent examples of both flavors and the results can be difficult.

I actually watched this movie because I recognized one name in the cast list on TCM: Duke Kahanamoku, a Native Hawaiian Olympic champion who lived through four eras of Hawaii—Kingdom, Republic, Territory, State—and was known by the end of his life as the father of modern surfing for his international work in preserving and popularizing the traditional sport. Hollywood seems to have wanted him only for bit parts, a waste of an eloquent, intelligent, and drop-dead gorgeous man. As Kalita in Girl of the Port, he is stuck speaking a cod-pidgin that bears no resemblance to actual Fiji English and serving as a kind of magical Melanesian. At first he cuts a slightly comical figure, proudly wearing his corporal's uniform jacket over a traditional sulu; it's nice that the film remembers that the First and Second Fiji Contingents were a thing, but it would be nicer if the camera didn't look at him like he was playing dress-up because of it, grinning as if really flattered by Josie's teasing nicknames of "Corporal," "Captain," and "General Delivery." Later, reappearing at a crucial moment in his full tribal ornament, he'll lay down the moral high ground for a white character who needs to get their act together, but he'll still have to express it in a white screenwriter's simple, agrammatical, no-tickee-no-shirtee idea of a native idiom. He's the sole positive character of color in the entire film. The barman whom Josie turfs out is East Asian, protesting her takeover in broken English that she mocks him with: "You go plenty quick out of here, please blast your eyes—before I bounce one off your snoot!" So is the older gentleman with the pet duck who's scrubbing the floors the morning after the aborted bar fight; she kicks him out so that she can be alone with Johnny, shooing him like a bird himself ("And take tomorrow's dinner with you!") and slamming the door on his shouted Chinese. Even Kalita doesn't want to take her into MacDougal's at first, but she steamrolls him like the rest. I believe this is the distinction between comedy punching up and punching down. It's charming and spunky when Josie takes no guff from white men, but it's much less subversive when she strong-arms men who don't have the advantage of color on their side. Kalita never calls her anything but "Missy," unless it's "White Missy," and she's supposed to think of him as a friend.

McEwen at first looks like something interesting and not unknown in pre-Code movies, a heavy who is not just repellent in his treatment of women but vocally and aggressively racist. A big man with a deceptively genial smile, he toasts "to our dearest heritage—white supremacy" and makes a point of forcing Kalita to accept a disdainfully flipped coin when the "blackfella" had just firmly refused to take Josie's money for carrying her bags.3 "If I had my way," he declares afterward, "I'd make it a flogging offense for a native to so much as lift his eyes in the presence of a white woman." He barely tolerates the small group of mixed-race drinkers who are allowed in the bar so long as they keep to themselves. Then we find out that McEwen himself is what the expatriate Brits sensitively refer to as "a half-caste . . . touched with the tarbrush . . . you've guessed his dark secret" and suddenly his forceful, threatening pursuit of Josie flips from chauvinist privilege to the South Seas equivalent of where the white women at? It's not even subtext. The bar fight starts because Johnny, on hearing Josie's honor slandered,4 deliberately sneers back, "Of course, you don't know a white lady when you see one, do you? That's the disadvantage of being a half-caste." The word lands like a blow in the film; it did on my ears. That is not the kind of thing sympathetic characters say in the world I try to live in. If anything, throwing a character's ethnicity in their face is the hallmark of a villain. And yet I can tell that it was not meant to turn the audience against Johnny or even complicate our feelings toward him because it happens again and again, each time legitimized by the script through the simple fact of McEwen behaving badly. He's called—by the would-be lovers, our damaged, vulnerable heroes—a "common cuffy," "yellow swine," and "Malay" as if the word were an accusation. "You would think that," Josie hisses when he implies improper relations between herself and Johnny, "you dirty half-breed!" Then she threatens to scratch his "yellow face." When he swears revenge on Johnny for outing him, he frames it himself in explicit racial terms: "Natives have nasty long memories. They don't forget. They don't run out like rotten dirty white tramps . . . Whiskey and fire, is it? I shall give you both, my lad. I'll make you drunk until you roll into the gutter, and out of the gutter into the jail, and out of the jail into the road gang, but I won't let you die. Because when you die, you'll be out of my reach, and I want you close to me, my friend, so I can play with you until I run you lower than any half-caste, lower than any bug-eating bushman on these islands." He'll use native methods to do it, too, forcing Johnny to participate in a firewalking ritual being staged over on the small island of Beqa for the pleasure of a boatful of visiting British. Or he'll spare the sodden Englishman in exchange for Josie's sexual compliance, starting the night of the firewalk and ending when he tires of her. The range of racist language used against McEwen means I have trouble telling whether we're meant to interpret him in terms of Yellow Peril or Black hypersexuality or some combination of the two, but there's definitely a horror of miscegenation in this fate worse than death. Having delivered his terms to Josie, McEwen—who from this point on will increasingly be called by his native given name, Tavua—gloats, "Half-castes always keep their promises."5

The thing is, looking at this movie as a self-contained narrative, there is absolutely nothing in it that demands McEwen be the cunning, unforgiving, sexually threatening Other in order for the plot to work. The whole story builds toward the moment when Johnny has to face his fears on the flame-licked bed of hot coals, but since McEwen "owns the whole of Beqa Island and holds paper on half of the planters here," it seems a safe bet that he could have arranged the firewalk even as a wealthy white planter. It's not treated as some secret, sacred rite that only the natives know—it's performed for tourists, for God's sake. McEwen boasts as much, because it means he'll have an audience for Johnny's demolition: "Folks come from all over creation to see it." As for his motives, the film itself supplies them in an early scene where Josie counters another of his possessive breaches of personal space with a pointed "Say, did you ever get an empty stocking for Christmas?" There's no shortage in the news these days of the violence that occurs when men, especially white men, don't get what they want. I would believe a version of this story in which McEwen desires Josie as obsessively and petulantly as a man who has never been denied anything and hates Johnny not just for attracting the coveted girl object himself but for standing up to his tormentor before witnesses, the spineless sponge pushing back at last. You could still have the firewalk; it could still blow up ironically in its author's face. You could leave in all the melodrama and lose most of the racism.

I would have preferred that tack, because the firewalking scene itself has some wonderful things in it. When Johnny wakes from the drunken stupor that McEwen fire-frightened him into in order to shanghai him to Beqa, I really appreciate that he's greeted by Kalita, resplendent in a grass skirt and a necklace of boar or whale ivory and completely unimpressed with the discombobulated, hungover, self-recriminating white man at his feet. As the drumming and dancing of the rite build in the background, Kalita explains the situation with more contempt than I thought even the pre-Code era allowed a man of color to show for a white one: "Missy scared for you. She bargain for you, Whiskey Johnny," the name pronounced as distastefully as a curse. "She come to there with Tavua so you can go plenty safe away . . . She speak to me. She say, tell Bozo-fella he got to make the grade now, 'cause I earn his passage out of Fiji." Guilt-stricken, Johnny tries to push the blame off onto Kalita for not being man enough to protect Josie from McEwen, whereupon the islander coolly shows him which one of them is currently flunking out in the conventionally defined courage department: at the sight of the pit of flame where the embers are being prepared, Johnny folds, gasping and pleading, hiding his face in his arms from the fire that isn't even close enough to singe him. Kalita stands implacably over him, driving home the weight of Johnny's responsibility for Josie's plight—it's one thing to be afraid, but it's another to flee predictably into a bottle because of it. He played right into McEwen's hands and the girl he claimed to love is going to suffer for it. "Fire make men," Kalita repeats. "Burn out dirt. Burn up cowards . . . You coward. Missy there with Tavua. You send her. God no want you. Man no want you. Fire no want you. Dirt! Coward! Dirt!" A glassy-eyed Johnny repeats as if in a daze, "Fire—burn up—cowards." He moves past Kalita abruptly, wades through the crowd of spectators and dancers and pushes his way to the head of the queue. As he comes face to face with the fire pit, he begins to cry out, "Don't let it—" and then with a visible effort masters himself. In a voice we haven't heard from him since the Western Front, he calls out, "God and the right!" and steps through the curtaining fire onto the smoking coals. I think it is an accidental ambiguity, but it is not possible to tell in this moment whether he means to prove his courage or whether he's giving himself up to die, letting the fire take him as it should have all those years ago with his men. Maybe both: it's in the hands of the gods. Trial by ordeal. Reenactment. Exorcism. Fire burn up cowards. Let it judge what you are.

As the audience knew he would, he comes safely across the gauntlet of embers, smoke-stained, astonished. "Jo," he cries to the air in delight, "we've licked it!" The tourists murmur in amazement, squinting second looks through their field glasses: "I say, it's a white man!" The film then immediately shoots itself in both feet by having Josie ecstatically hail him as "the whitest man of you all!" In a similar vein, while I understand that in order for machismo to be satisfied, Johnny has to finish the bar fight that's been on hold since his spectacular exit from MacDougal's, it leaves a very bad taste that he uses a whip and the repeated taunt of "half-caste" to do it, especially when he comes straight from thrashing the "dirty hound" McEwen to be greeted by three of the British tourists as the long-lost "Sir James" who jumped ship off his yacht in Tahiti. In a whirlwind Cinderella finale, Josie finds herself receiving a proposal of marriage from Whiskey Johnny, Bozo, Jameson, Sir James, Jim, the same thin-faced, shy-smiling man in his shirtsleeves who looks at her, a knockabout no-class girl from Coney Island, like there's nothing more precious and wonderful in the world. He doesn't sound at all lordly as he asks her, "Will you come home to England with me, Josie?" Searching his face, Josie echoes, "Will I?" Then she laughs aloud and throws her arms around his neck: "Wire the King and Queen to lay out the guest towels!" It's a very sweet ending. I got even more whiplash from it than I did from the opening. You see why I have difficulty suggesting anyone watch this movie except for curiosity, homework, or maybe a drinking game. If you take a shot every time a character says something racist, you'll pass out long before you get anywhere near the full bore colonialist finale. I really think the yacht was a bridge too far.

Either way, this movie left me feeling that I had seen a perfect example of "our dearest heritage—white supremacy" in action. The script affords sympathy and complexity to the protagonists even when they have screwed up big time; they are white and their failings are orthogonal to their race. Whiskey Johnny drowning his fire-fear in drink is not an exemplar of the essentially weak nature of white people, their well-known cowardice, their moral frailty—he's the butt of jokes and a bit of an embarrassment, but no one will refuse now to serve alcohol to other white men because of him. Meanwhile, anything McEwen does wrong is explicitly linked to his racial status. He doesn't belong, he's trying too hard, he's a danger to white girls, he doesn't have the right to belittle white men. He doesn't just need to be defeated, he needs to be put back in his place. I look at the names he's called and I am not surprised that he decided to pass for white; I'm just sorry that he got such a whack of internalized racism that he went around behaving like a Klan member in an effort to distance himself from the part of his family that rendered him a second-class citizen. It's not an excuse for his bullying of Johnny, his blackmailing of Josie, and his nastiness toward Kalita, but neither are these behaviors, as the film would have it, simply no more than one could expect from a man of his breed. There is also an issue I don't quite know how to classify. I like Josie and Johnny in their scenes together. They're funny, sweet, poignant, interesting people. As soon as either of them interacts with a non-white character, oh, God. I wind up describing them to [personal profile] spatch as racist douchecanoes. Despite my historic fondness for fuck-ups and weirdos from here to eternity, it turns out I have a hard time rooting for a white man to recover his sanity and self-respect when that regeneration is motivated by a sexual threat to a white woman by a man of color. The defense of white womanhood is an excuse that kills people—Black men, mostly—to this day. I did not expect to run into it in an otherwise adorable, rather idficcy romance. I never actually wanted to find out would happen if you put The Last Flight (1931) in a blender with The Birth of a Nation (1915), you know?

I do not know how closely Girl of the Port resembles its source story, which can be found in Russell's Far Wandering Men (1929). Since he seems to have specialized in South Seas adventures, I assume some of the racism is baked in; I also wouldn't be surprised if some of it was introduced in the process of adaptation. I can get his earlier collection Where the Pavement Ends (1919) on Project Gutenberg, but Far Wandering Men isn't even in the local library system, so it may take me a little while to find out. Until then, I don't know what else I can tell you. "Frustrating" may have been an understatement. I don't want Sharland, O'Neil, and lines like "There you go, full of ambition. You have your youth, your health, and now you want shelves" to have been wasted on this film, but I fear that they may. Duke Kahanamoku certainly was. Mitchell Lewis, by the way, is most famous these days for his uncredited three-line role as the Captain of the Winkie Guard in The Wizard of Oz (1939)—I didn't recognize him as such in Girl of the Port, but once I made the connection, the deep voice and the strongly marked brows were unmistakable. I like him a lot better when he's green. This damaged recovery brought to you by my stronger backers at Patreon.

1. And kilts, which means they must be one of the Highland regiments, but in the chaos of battle I did not get a good look at the tartan.

2. Seriously? I've got like five versions of "Whiskey Johnny"/"Whiskey Is the Life of Man"/"John Rise Her Up" on my iTunes and I wouldn't call any of them racy. It's a halyard chantey. What have I been missing all these years?

3. Once safely outside MacDougal's, Kalita spits on the coin in disgust and then throws it away in the rain. I really think the script is trying its best with him, but because even his positive scenes rely on stereotypes, I credit most of his extant dimensions to Kahanamoku.

4. With a slur I've never heard before: "That little tabby over there . . . T-A-B-B-Y, tabby. The girl that's trying to make you!" From this context I assume it means a gold digger or a tart, but if it's real slang rather than minced for purposes of the Hays Code, I don't think it widely survived.

5. We are also, presumably, supposed to cheer plucky Josie for finding a way to turn the villain's heritage against him: before she agrees to his blackmail, she makes him swear to keep his end of the bargain on something he won't be able to cheat, not God or his honor, but the carved shell charm from his Fijian mother that he wears beneath his European shirts and suits, the hidden and telltale truth of him. "Swear on this Hindu hocus-pocus," she challenges, gripping it in her white hand. "Go on. That'll hold a Malay." Native superstition out of nowhere wins the day. Looking suddenly shaken, he swears.
nineweaving: (Default)

[personal profile] nineweaving 2017-06-22 05:41 am (UTC)(link)
That "tabby" is British: "An old or elderly maiden lady: a dyslogistic appellation; often with a half-humorous attribution of certain qualities of the cat; sometimes applied to any spiteful or ill-natured female gossip or tattler."

This "tabby" is Australian: "An (attractive) young woman or girl." And while it's not said to be a dyslogistic appellation, the quotes aren't precisely respectful. The first is 1916: " Then the tabbies took to screamin'." 1932 is worse: "We don't need to go mackin' round with Chinks and wimmen's earnings. We pay our tabs..when we want 'em, and tell 'em to get to hell out of it when we don't." "Macking" in African-American usage is "pimping"--could this be an Australian parallel?

Nine
alexxkay: (Default)

[personal profile] alexxkay 2017-06-22 10:45 pm (UTC)(link)
I was unable to find more solid data on this. But it occurred to me that the place I thought to look, though egregiously lacking a search function, might still be of interest to you: http://www.horntip.com
alexxkay: (Default)

[personal profile] alexxkay 2017-06-23 02:08 pm (UTC)(link)
You're most welcome!

Google is of modest help if you use "site:horntip.com".