Diana Barrymore … Caroline ‘Carrie’ Bishop
Robert Cummings … Jimmy Blake
Kay Francis … Christine ‘Chris’ Bishop
John Boles … Steven J. Forbes
Andy Devine … Mike Kilinsky
Ethel Griffies … Gallagher
Walter Catlett … Desk Sergeant
Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams … Father of the Boys
Scotty Beckett … Little Prince Leopold
Andrew Tombes … Doctor
Peter Jamerson … Harold
Mary Treen … Mary Belle
Produced and Directed by Henry Koster.
Based on the play “Le Fruit Vert” by Regis Gignoux & Jacques Thery.
Adapted by Hans Jacoby & John Jacoby.
Screenplay by Miles Connolly & True Boardman.
Gowns by Vera West.
Musical Direction by Charles Pervin.
Camera by Joseph A. Valentine.
Editing by Frank Gross.
Special make-up by Bud Westmore (Diana Barrymore’s costume make-up).
Released September 4, 1942.
A Universal Picture.
Background: Between Us Girls has the sad distinction of being Kay Francis’ last real Hollywood movie. The film, a lesser version of It’s a Date, was an attempt to make a star out of Diana Barrymore. Although more interesting than the year’s previous Always in My Heart, whatever remained of Kay’s star status was just disposed upon in an attempt to build the career of Diana Barrymore, who never really went anywhere.
It should be noted that, even as late as 1941, Kay was still being voted by moviegoers as a top-box office attraction. Despite being in group one during her top Warner Bros. years (1937 and prior), she was still placing in the group two or group three categories between First Lady (1937) and Between Us Girls. When she placed in group three in 1941, she was beside names such as Brian Aherne, Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, W.C. Fields, Greta Garbo, and Katharine Hepburn.<
These box-office rankings were determined by the Motion Picture Herald, who annually announced the top 10 stars across the entire country. While Kay might not have ever placed in there on their specific top ten poll, she was still clearly represented by legions of moviegoers and theater owners in the group categories.
For some reason or another, Kay chose to lessen her standards for quick work (and quick money). As a result, the movies she made after Warner Bros. weren’t much better than the ones she made under contract. And as a matter-of-fact some of them were worse, much worse. It’s clear evidence that Kay was still careless about her scripts when it came to quick cash. This attitude served her well financially, but severely dampened her chances at ever continuing her work in Hollywood as a top star. After she dedicated most of her time to helping soldiers in World War II, her career was virtually finished.
Unfortunately this was true for many of Kay’s generation of Hollywood. After the war, they were basically unemployable. Some went on to film noir (which is a shame Kay never did, she would have been perfect for such material), but most were forced out by the lavish (and gaudy) Technicolor musicals being put out all over the country. The types of parts that made actors popular in 30’s had stopped being profitable. Many found themselves out of work or settling for substandard material. Unfortunately, Kay was one of those individuals.
Between Us Girls was based on a foreign play “Le Fruit Vert” by Regis Gignoux. It was adapted for the screen the first time in Germany in 1934. According to The Complete Kay Francis Career Record, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, and Deanna Durbin were considered for the role which eventually went to Diana Barrymore. It is likely this was conceived before Kay’s casting since it would be unthinkable to imagine her playing Katharine Hepburn or Ginger Rogers’ mother, since Kay was only three and six years older than each lady, respectively.
During production of the film, John Barrymore, Diana’s father, died. Barrymore was paid $1,500 a week for her work, the salary for Kay is unknown. Diana was supposedly a brat during filming, and even pointed out at Deanna Durbin (who was working on a nearby soundstage, but visiting this one) during a take and rudely asked “who’s that?” After Between Us Girls, booze interfered with her chances at ever becoming someone, and she died before she turned 40. Still, she sobered up enough to write a very telling autobiography before her death, and seemed to have fond memories of Kay.
The film opened to so-so opinions from the critics and audiences. The most memorable aspect of the movie for Kay Francis fans would be her work with John Boles, a subtle, talented actor who added so much to the films he appeared in by downplaying so many of his characters.
Between Us Girls opens up with a play about the life of Queen Victoria. 21-year-old actress Caroline Bishop is closing up the show with the final performance. After the show, she prepares for a visit home to see her mother for two days before she heads off to Detroit to play Sadie Thompson in Rain.
When Caroline arrives at the new house her mother has, she is in awe of the décor and the amount of flowers all over the place. She is also surprised that, past 11 in the morning, her mother is still sleeping. She wakes her mother up by pretending to be Gallagher, their old Irish maid. The two enjoy a good laugh and Carole grills her mother, Christine, about her new boyfriend.
Christine admits she’s in love with Steven, and when he calls it becomes clear that he expects Caroline to be a young girl.
Since Caroline is an actress, and because she fears Steven will lose interest in her mother if he realizes she’s got a daughter in her 20s, she decides to pretend to be a 12-year-old girl. Christine, in shock when Caroline makes her appearance in child’s clothing, goes along with it reluctantly. Gallagher, who cannot tell a lie, will not bring herself to go through with it.
Caroline locks Gallagher in a closet while she puts on a histrionic performance in front of Christine, Steven, and Jimmy, Steven’s friend. When Caroline notices a picture of herself on the piano, she claims it’s her alcoholic aunt (Christine’s sister).
The next time Jim comes along, Caroline is rehearsing for Rain. She pretends to be the angry, drunken aunt. Jim takes Caroline away for ice cream after a big fight takes place between Jim, Caroline posing as the aunt, and Caroline posing as a 12-year-old…
Sadly, the movie hits rock bottom even before this point, not even a half hour into the film.
Long, tediously played out scenes between Caroline and Jim ensue. We see them at an ice cream parlor; after that they have a terrible experience in a car, almost causing a major accident. They get picked up by the cops, Christine and Steven enter to get them out.
Mike, Caroline’s stage manager, takes Christine and Caroline to a Cuban club where Jim appears. He realizes Caroline is not 12, but really 21. They take a long car ride and she comes down with a cold. Mike panics because she’s got to play Sadie Thompson, but decides that because she’s so in love with Jim it would make more sense for her to play Joan of Arc (where this comes from, I have no idea…).
At the end of the film, all is perfectly resolved. Steven and Christine are married. Caroline plays Joan of Arc. And Jim gets to admit his love for Caroline in an unusual way (on the stage, dressed as a knight).
This is one of those bad movies that, despite everyone’s forewarnings about how bad it really is, cannot even be realized by a classic movie fan until they go to see the film. I feel like the absolute worst part about the entire thing is the story does have some potential, it’s just handled in such a horrific way it’s impossible to sit through this one from beginning to end.
I found myself at 45 minutes into the movie HAVING to do something else. Go get a snack, a drink, refresh myself, then get back into this dreadful film.
It starts off fairly well, too. The first 15 minutes are actually interesting and fast paced. It’s all downhill once Caroline plays the 12-year-old for less than 5 minutes.
Two major problems ruin this movie. The first is that Barrymore completely missed the ballpark regarding the concepts of subtly in a performance. She’s ridiculous in her scenes as a 12 year old. And why Jim would be so interested in a 12 year old he doesn’t know is a little sick in itself. The second strike is the jokes go on far too long they lose steam immediately and then just become frustrating for the viewer. The car episode is a great example. There’s no interaction between Barrymore and Cummings, the car, and the city streets. It’s just clearly the two actors in a car in front of a screen. Not even an attempt for realization to garner more laughs.
The direction by Koster missed by many, many miles. And the second rate production values make it even worse. Perhaps if this had been a picture for Deanna Durbin it would have been handled more adequately. Barrymore, despite coming from a strong acting background, shows little talent here. Watching her effortlessly give some of Sadie Thompson’s speeches confirmed it for me (compare it to Joan Crawford in 1932’s Rain).
Watch this movie for John Boles and Kay Francis, though they disappear for about 40 minutes in the middle of the film. They have good chemistry opposite one another, and are both convincing. It’s nice to see two mature actors never paired together.
It’s interesting to see Kay in the beginning hamming it up with Barrymore. Even though she’s going out of her normal range, she does it so well and it’s so unlike her I believed it. She does great with the bad material. I also liked the shot of her in front of the mirror, when she realizes she might indeed lose Steven when he realizes how old Caroline is. Here’s Kay, who had her own hang-ups about aging and playing second fiddle to immature newcomers like Barrymore, allowing us to see that part of herself on the screen. Even though it’s brief, it hits deep, especially for people who really know a lot about Kay.
Universal tried to hype of Kay’s embracement of second-billed roles. In truth, it was a blow to her ego. And seeing the great Kay Francis billed BELOW the title, BELOW Diana Barrymore and Robert Cummings is a major low point for Kay Francis fans.
There’s not a lot known about parts Kay was considered for during these years. It is known that Warner Bros. was interested in resigning her, but her interest in the USO activities involving World War II caught her attention.
It’s very admirable for her patriotic efforts, but it was indeed the death knell for her film career. Between lackluster freelance assignments before and during the War, after it she was virtually unemployable.
Between Us Girls has to be a part of that reason.
By T.S. in the New York Times, September 25, 1942.
No doubt even the offspring of royal families must be allowed their little indiscretions, but why display them? Certainly not Diana Barrymore’s protean revel in the Capitol’s “Between Us Girls,” which might better have used the title of the original script, “Green Fruit,” or more pointedly, “Six Performances in Search of an Actress.” With an unabashed zest hardly equalled by Mickey Rooney himself, Miss Barrymore runs the gamut of her limitations—from old Queen Victoria, not even a makeup artist’s triumph, to a grade school Joan of Arc; from gin-voiced, hip-swinging Sadie Thompson to a screeching adolescent. Miss Barrymore’s abilities are hardly so diverse. If she has talent she should not conceal it in such a frenzied and labored exhibition.
Adapted from a farce of the meager sort once regularly imported from France, the film tells the story of a young actress who comes home from the road to find her mother again facing the pleasant prospect of marriage to a suitor, who has illusions as to the mother’s age; to prevent a disastrous disillusionment the actress promptly pops into middy waists and short socks and ribbons only to discover finally that the whole ruse was unnecessary. A thin story, its only excuse for existence is as a showcase for a talented comedienne, and, as of the moment, Miss Barrymore hardly qualifies. She does not assume a role, she wrestles with it. She has not learned that in comedy the ribs should be tickled not poked. As a display of sheer vim and vigor, Miss Barrymore’s performance is a great advertisement for breakfast food.
In supporting roles, Robert Cummings portrays an amusingly baffled young man and Andy Devine, Kay Francis and John Boles are adequate. But inasmuch as the picture frankly sets out to exploit Miss Barrymore’s talents, it stands or falls upon them. It falls, we fear, with a rather heavy thud.