Paramount Pictures and the other movie studios knew that millions of shopgirls went to the movies every week, so it isn’t surprising that many romantic plots revolve around the dreams of shopgirls. In the movie version of Elinor Glyn’s novel, “It,” released by Paramount Pictures in 1927, Clara Bow plays a shopgirl (Betty Lou) with “It,” a special quality of personal and sexual magnetism that catches the attention of her bosses at a busy department store called Walthams.
The film, directed by Clarence G. Badger (with an uncredited nod to Josef Von Sternberg), is a delightful silent movie comedy that showcases Bow’s talents and provides an example of how silent film actors use their entire bodies to emote. Bow’s clever stage business emphasizes the advantage of silent movies in capturing movement compared to the early sound era, which required actors to stand stiffly in front of the camera to be close to the microphone.
The movie opens with Cyrus Waltham (Antonio Moreno) filling in for his father in the director’s office at the Waltham Department Store. In walks the effete Monty, portrayed in glorious broadness by William Austin. A close friend of Cyrus, he gets the run of the store and usually palls around with his friend on most nights. Monty is taken by an article in a magazine by Elinor Glyn describing the special quality called It. He attempts to explain it to Cyrus, who finds it a silly notion and not worth thinking about.
Later, Cyrus makes a tour of the store, which catches the attention of Betty Lou, who boasts to the other shopgirls that she’ll end up marrying Cyrus. She even says the Prince of Wales will be the best man at he wedding. Meanwhile, Monty, on the lookout for a shopgirl with It, notices Betty Lou and recognizes her gifts immediately. He stares at her momentarily, and then bolts off. In a long shot, we see Betty Lou making a “he’s crazy” gesture with her finger. Despite the number of extras in the scene, the viewer keeps his focus on Clara Bow.
When Betty Lou finally catches Cyrus’ attention, he falls for her, but she makes him take her out for a day at an amusement park. Cyrus and Betty Lou grab hot dogs and then go on a couple of rides, including a long slide in which Betty Lou’s dress rides up and we see her bloomers. Von Sternberg denied having anything to do with the movie, but the amusement park scenes and their energetic visual montage style vary considerable from the static interior scenes in the film. Betty Lou’s date with Cyrus goes well, but since this is a romantic comedy, a series of misunderstandings must ensue, and they do until all is resolved during a yachting trip that plunges both Betty Lou and Cyrus into the water.
With her engaging looks and energy, Bow projects the It quality effortlessly and delivers an inventive performance as Betty Lou. Cyrus can also choose romance with his high-status blonde friend Molly (Priscilla Bonner), but Betty Lou’s charms hardly make it a contest. Even Clara Bow’s subtle facial expressions are remarkably endearing.