The Purchase Price

The Purchase Price is a 1932 pre-Code American romantic drama film, which was directed by William Wellman and starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, and Lyle Talbot. Adapted from the novel by Arthur Stringer, with a screenplay by Robert Lord, the film is about an attractive nightclub singer who leaves her criminal boyfriend and travels to Canada and becomes the mail-order bride of a humble farmer.

The Purchase Price
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Wellman
Screenplay byRobert Lord
Story byArthur Stringer
Music byLeo F. Forbstein
CinematographySidney Hickox
Edited byWilliam Holmes
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • July 23, 1932 (1932-07-23) (USA)
Running time
68 minutes
CountryUnited States


Joan Gordon, a New York torch singer who has been performing since age 15, has left her wealthy criminal boyfriend, Eddie Fields, for upstanding citizen Don Leslie. However, Don's father has found out about her relationship with Eddie; she and Don break off their engagement, and she decides to leave town rather than return to Eddie. In Montreal, she changes her name and resumes performing; not long thereafter, one of Eddie's men recognizes her and informs his boss. Unwilling to return to him, she trades places with her hotel's maid, Emily, who had used Joan's picture when corresponding with a North Dakota farmer in search of a mail-order bride. Offering the maid $100 (about 7 weeks' wages) for the farmer's address, Joan sets out to become the wife of Jim Gilson, with only a vague idea of all the hardships of farm life during the height of the Great Depression.

Jim and Joan's relationship gets off to a rocky start; on their first night, she rejects his advances and forces him to sleep elsewhere. In the morning, she apologizes but he keeps his distance. Over time she falls in love with him, but he remains aloof. Meanwhile, Jim is informed that he will lose his land if he cannot pay his overdue mortgage. He has developed a great strain of wheat and is sure it will bring a profit, but he has no way to keep foreclosure at bay long enough to plant and harvest a crop. A neighboring farmer, Bull McDowell, offers to buy Jim's land in exchange for Joan's company, but Jim is unwilling to make such a bargain and thereby makes an enemy of Bull.

A little later, Joan—who has become a very capable farmer's wife—visits a neighbor who just gave birth with only her adolescent daughter by her side. Joan cleans the home, prepares food, turns an old dress into diapers, and calms the frightened daughter, Sarah Tipton. She braves a snowstorm to return home, where Jim has taken in a man who lost his way in the storm—Eddie. She pretends not to know him, but Eddie quickly tries to take her with him. Jim, angry at Joan because of her complicated past, and because he's jealous, though he can't yet admit that he cares about her, tells her to go with Eddie. She refuses and later asks Eddie privately for a loan to save Jim's land.

The loan, which Jim thinks is an extension from the bank, enables them to stay on the farm until after the harvest. She continues to stand by him, but he remains distant. Then one night Bull torches part of the harvested-but-not-sold crop, and Joan and Jim fight to save it. Joan is injured, but they succeed—and her determination and dedication finally break through Jim's reserve.


Production notes

  • During the fight scene between Talbot and Brent, Wellman approached each actor privately with the instruction: "let him have it." The actors worked the fight out between themselves beforehand. However, when Talbot flew back against a wall (as planned), his head struck a nail. "It just bled like mad. They had to take me over to the infirmary and sew me up."[1]
  • A news item carried in The Film Daily on May 13, 1932, reported that "Barbara Stanwyck was badly burned about the legs when she went too near the flames of a burning wheat field while making scenes for her next picture [The Purchase Price]."[2]
  • Stanwyck's rendition of "Take Me Away" marked the first time she sang onscreen.[1]

Critical response

The New York Times wrote that "many of its individual scenes are undeniably good, but the effect is of fifteen scenarists collaborating on a story without consulting each other. It seemed a bit hard on the cast." NYT also called it "totally incomprehensible" and "one of the weirdest scenarios within the memory of man."[3]

The entertainment trade publication Variety thought Stanwyck and Brent were "both 100% miscast", while the Kansas City Star stated that "the picture has more entertainment value than the plot has logic." The reviewer added, "Miss Stanwyck continues to exercise her uncanny ability to make the most phony heroines seem like human beings."[1]

Time magazine reviewed the film as follows: "The picture hews close to the line of probability ... [R]are until recently has been the cinema heroine who preferred the stupid poor man to the bright city fellow. The viewpoint of The Purchase Price is simple and masculine. It advertises the virtue of hard work and loyalty."[4]

Home media

The Purchase Price was released on VHS under MGM's Forbidden Hollywood 1990s label. In addition to four other Wellman Pre-Code films, it was released to DVD as part of Turner Classic Movies's 2009 Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 3 collection in 2009.[5]


  1. TCM Spotlight on Forbidden Hollywood
  2. "BARBARA STANWYCK HURT", The Film Daily (New York, N.Y.), May 13, 1932, page 2. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  3. A.D.S. (July 16, 1932). "Movie Review - The Purchase Price - Life on a Ranch". Retrieved January 5, 2014.
  4. Cinema: The New Pictures: July 25, 1932, Time
  5. Turner Classic Movies profile
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