Sally O’Neil plays the titular Brat, a young street urchin with a heart of gold who opens the film before a night court judge, on trial for stealing a meal. Alan Dinehart plays Mac Forrester, an aristocrat novelist who’s buddy-buddy with the judge and sitting in on the court for story ideas.
Mac takes an interest in the Brat, and squares her debt, saving her from the workhouse. He wants to use her as inspiration for his next novel’s protagonist and invites her to stay at his family’s country estate. She accepts, months pass, and she, of course, falls in love with him. Mac leads her on, asking for kisses and other affection. In time, she realizes Mac’s a jerk, and she’s in love with Mac’s black-sheep younger brother. By now, Mac realizes he loves her, but it’s too late. The film rounds out with the Brat lecturing Mac’s family in her Jersey drawl on how people treat one-another better in the slums. An inspired Mac turns over a new leaf. The Brat marries the younger brother and remarks how if only her dead mother (god rest her soul) could see her married by an actual bishop.
The script paints the Brat as street-wise in the angles of seduction, but never kissed. Naïve when she swings over the estate’s swan lake—her dress billowing up to reveal ample leg. Street smart when she tears into a rival suitor in a fight that sees them rip and tear each-other’s clothes. The madonna-whore trope.
Opposite her, Mac slums it in night courts, mining material for novels like The Restless Virgin, then retreats to his country estate where his butler can prepare him midnight snacks. He sees nothing wrong with leading the Brat on, then kicking her out when convenient. A womanizing snob.
And then there’s the black-sheep younger brother, who lashes out against his privilege by going on black-market benders and whining to his servants.
It’s no wonder Ford dismissed this forced assignment—though he enjoyed the fight scene—saying:1
That was just one of those damn things they handed you, but we had a fight between these two women—and it turned into a real one— they hated each other’s guts and really went at it. I was going to stop it, and then I said, ‘The hell with it, let ‘em go, nobody’s gonna get hurt.‘ Pulling hair and slugging one another-there was no faking about it. Very funny.
The lone known print resides with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but I found an apparent camcorder release on the internet. Aside from the darkness and greenish hue, the quality suffices. This is no masterpiece.
- Peter Bogdanovich. John Ford (University of California Press, 1967), 55.↩