Girls About Town, Cukor's last picture at Paramount for almost a decade, is an inconsequential romp, in the “gold diggers” comedy tradition. The story concerns two smart girls acting as “professional” entertainers for out-of town millionaires. One of the girls falls in love and goes straight, while the other sends her friend back to his wife and returns to her profession.
Tarts in the big city were not new ground for writer Zoe Akins, but fearing censorship, Akins bathed the film's heroines in a charming innocence. The women had lovely wardrobes, money, and a succession of rich men, but at the end of the evening they just smiled and said good night–as if this was the extent of their activities. “What if the audience wonders where do these girls get all those fancy clothes” Cukor sarcastically teased Akins.
The film is directed by Cukor with a light touch, sharply pacing its comedy sequences. In one of the finnier scenes, the girls attempt to raise money by auctioning off their ill-gotten clothes and jewels. A rowdy scene results, which in tone and catty sophistication looks ahead to later and better Cukor comedies, such as The Women in 1939.
Despite the material's underlying dishonesty, Cukor finessed a highly polished acting from his cast, which ultimately saved the picture. Lillian Tashman's excellent performance, reminiscent of Jean Harlow, was particularly surprising. Tashman had usually played heavies, never before given the opportunity to tap into her real persona. Cukor recognized Tashman's lively and outrageous Peronality; his eye for casting was already well hewed by years in the theater. Through his direction, Cukor was able to relax Tashman, allowing her to be as amusing onscreen as she was in life. Cukor was good at facilitating this kind of transformation, bringing out Tashman's lighter side, something he was unable to do with Bankhead in Tarnished Lady.
The rest of the cast was more than adequate. Kay Francis's natural elegance (she wore clothes well) contrasted well with Tashman's vigor. The young and attractive Joel McCrea played the lover who won't fall for careless girls unless they reform, and character actor Eugene Palette, in the role of the old Michigan millionaire, was also amusing.
Aside from good acting, Girls About Town marked the emergence of what would become Cukor's distinct cinematic style: Elaborately staged scenes that seemed fresh and unobtrusive. In a scene where Francis and McCrea go to the zoo, Cukor's camera tracks their stroll past the cages with a long dolly shot, interrupting their dialogue from time to time with a casual look at the animals. This smooth, fluid camera work conveyed a natural quality to Cukor's technique, one that didn't call attention to itself and yet reflected the director's sensibility and feeling about the material.
Though Royal Family enjoyed more prestige when released, Girls About Town, which at the time was considered routine, holds up much better. Based on an original screenplay, it was less encumbered by the contrived conventions of the stage.