In 1937, Patricia Douglas, a straight-laced, 17-year-old studio dancer was sent by a casting agent to what she thought was a film call. She ended up at a MGM Studios sales convention "stag" party where she was manhandled and eventually raped and beaten by an out-of-town salesman.
When she tried to seek justice, she got screwed again - this time by everyone from top MGM brass, the district attorney, the press, and key witnesses to her doctor, lawyer and own mother. The emotional ripple effect of that crime has been felt by three generations to-date.
Flash forward 65 years to Hollywood historian, author and filmmaker David Stenn's discovery of Douglas' story in old newspapers while researching a Jean Harlow biography and pursuing the truth, much to the chagrin of Douglas who gave up hoping for justice long ago.
GIRL 27 is not only a documentary about a powerful studio scandal and cover-up, it's also the story of how an 85-year-old woman overcomes decades of pain, fear and disappointment to learn to trust someone again when they say "I want to help you find justice, vindication, peace." As such, I liked that the film shows the development of Stenn and Douglas' friendship and the emotional bond they formed.
The most compelling part of the film is Douglas' on-camera recollections, speaking about the rape for the first time ever. (She was never interviewed for any of the exploitative newspaper articles of the day.) This is a woman who needed to feel, and did ultimately feel, heard and understood.
There's lot to love about this film besides the courage and heroic beauty of Patricia Douglas. Vintage film clips showing how violence against women was treated by Hollywood at the time, interviews with family members of key players in the story and insights provided by experts such as actress Diana Carey (herself a victim of studio system sexual harassment), author Judy Lewis (the daughter of Clark Gable and Loretta Young, and victim of a Hollywood scandal cover-up), attorney Michael Taitelman and legal analyst Greta Van Susteren.
I'd highly recommend viewing the DVD while listening to Stenn's audio commentary track. He provides lots of relevant insights and additional facts pertaining to the case and Hollywood history, as well as background tid-bits on the making of the documentary. I thought it was one of the more compelling commentary tracks I've heard in years.