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Working Girls

Dorothy Arzner was the only female—let alone out lesbian—filmmaker working at a major Hollywood studio in the 1920s and ’30s, under contract at Paramount and making several pictures a year. Her 1931 directorial effort Working Girls is an all-female affair, based on a play by Vera Caspary (Laura) and Winifred Lenihan, and scripted by playwright Zoë Adkins. Naïve Mae (Dorothy Hall) and streetwise June (Judith Wood), sisters from the Midwest who move to New York City in search of fortune (and perhaps fame), wind up in a homeless shelter—but quickly find jobs and men. While the sisters’ relationships with their beaus are crucial to the film, Arzner’s focus on the women’s internal lives and their sisterly relationship makes Working Girls much more than a standard pre-code comedy or morality play. Rather, it’s about two women’s lives, lived with humor, sadness, frustration, and sublimity. “Working Girls is a brutally honest film, coming as it does at the height of the Depression, depicting precisely what it was like to be a young woman—far from home in a big city—trying to get ahead in a hostile world. . . . Arzner creates a fresh, compact, and decidedly female-centered tale, which remains shockingly relevant even today.”—Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Senses of Cinema.

Genres: Drama