Joel McCrea seems to have a special place in my heart, and the more I think about it, I realize my only rationale is his presence in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent. He is a lot of fun in that movie with the dry delivery of humor and every-man look that makes him a nice romantic lead. I have not seen a great many of his films, however, so my judgement thus far is that McCrea probably does not have a great acting range, but who cares so long as he keeps within his comfort zone.
The Richest Girl in the World is one of those films that fits McCrea well. He plays Tony, a modest man making a modest living. I should be clear, however, this film is not about him. Instead, Miriam Hopkins is Dorothy, the literal richest girl in the world. Her parents died when she was four and she inherited all their assets. A board of directors manages her affairs and starts the film by approving her marriage to a man partially selected by the young woman’s guardian, if you will, Connors (Henry Stephenson).
No one in the media or public has ever seen Dorothy, and the lady often has her secretary Sylvia (Fay Wray) stand in for her in public settings. This continues to be the case at a party that was originally meant to announce the engagement. Unfortunately, the couple broke it off the day before because the man was not in love with Dorothy, who happens to not believe in that mush. Dorothy meets Tony at the party and the two hit it off with Tony thinking the woman is in fact Dorothy’s secretary. Our protagonist quite likes Tony, but when he promises her a canoe ride and instead takes the fake Dorothy on one, the question arises: Does Tony prefer love or money.
The Sylvia-Dorothy flip-flop is upheld as Dorothy seeks to spend time with Tony while pushing him toward dating the fake Dorothy. Tony, although he is gradually falling in love with the genuine rich lady, has his emotions confused as Dorothy insists that the fake Dorothy really likes him.
Naturally, we assume that Tony and Dorothy will end up together, but Tony’s behavior is not entirely predictable. The way the plot tumbles, it seems as though Dorothy will have no choice but to reject him, despite how much McCrea has won the audience over as a great suitor for her. There’s a charming scene where, alone in a cabin, Tony stretches out on the couch laying his head in Dorothy’s lap in the dim light of a fireplace as if it were the most common of gestures. Although the two have had a considerable amount to drink, neither gives hint of inebriation. Tony talks casually to the girl while she sits awkwardly with her arms up at her shoulders unsure how to ease into this intimate position. He confesses his love for her, but the mood is quickly dashed by his follow up line. This short sequence does a great job of conveying the sexual tension Dorothy feels and the utmost comfort with his friend/love Tony feels.
Although The Richest Girl in the World is no gem, it offers a unique plot and some nice romance. It is entertaining but not an award winner (it was nominated for Best Screenplay).