Category Archives: Films

The Films of Kay Francis

House That Shadows Built (1931)

1932paramountjubileeA Paramount Picture.
Released in July, 1931.
Frequently shown as a double feature with The Magnificent Lie, a Ruth Chatterton film released on July 25, 1931 (RC).

Background/Review:

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary, Paramount released a short, 55 minute feature highlighting the studios past, present, and future accomplishments. Today, considering how unavailable the films from Paramount are, it’s a rare find. I was fortunate enough to see a copy online for free which had decent quality. The first actual shot in the film is a barn, a barn which supposedly still existed in 1931 because the film shows footage of it. In this barn is where the origins of Paramount Studios began, a showcase of its humble beginnings.

The film goes begins to show clips from the very, very early films. Footage is shown of stars like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Lon Chaney, and others. There’s excellent shots from many of their most memorable silent films, some of which I believe are now lost so House That Shadows Built contains the very brief segments of footage which is all that exists today.

In regard to Kay Francis, she is spotlighted as they show her picture when announcing their roster of great stars. Her name is shown on a marquee for two of her upcoming Paramount films: 1931’s 24 Hours & Girls About Town. This is basically it.

If you’re a fan who REALLY knows the Paramount film stars, you’ll be excited over the brief, dramatic footage of Ruth Chatterton in Stepdaughters of War, which was never completed. According to the film’s director, Dorothy Arzner, “There was a wonderful script called Stepdaughters of War. I’d worked on it for months with Chatterton, but she signed with Warners and it had to be called off. Warners offered her everything an actress could desire. Much later, we tried planning it with Dietrich. It was a big anti-war picture” (RC).

So the footage of Chatterton in here from Stepdaughters is the only known footage of the film known to survive. This is part of what makes House That Shadows Built unique.

Of course in the upcoming films section there are several listed productions that were never made, or were made at a much later date with a completely different cast. This includes: An Entirely Different Woman (Marlene Dietrich), Uncertain Woman (Claudette Colbert), The Round-Up (produced by Paramount 10 year later), A Farwell to Arms (Helen Hayes ended up in the released film, not Eleanor Boardman as advertised here), The Man With Red Hair, The Lives of Bengal Lancer (not made until 1935).

In regards to Kay Francis, viewing this film really puts it into perspective how unimportant she really was on the Paramount lot. She was popular with audiences, of course, but she doesn’t get the attention and hype here as some of the other female stars received. This may be in part because House that Shadows Built was released after Kay had signed with Warner Bros., and Paramount wasn’t too happy about losing her, despite the fact they had no real plans for her career to begin with.

Sources: (RC) Ruth Chatterton: Actress, Aviator, Author by Scott O’Brien, BearManor Media, 2013.

Screenshots from the film (the last two images are from Stepdaughters of War):

The Vice Squad (1931)

vicesquad0815Cast:
Paul Lukas … Stephen Lucarno
Kay Francis … Alice Morrison
Judith Wood … Madeleine Hunt
William B. Davidson … Magistrate Tom Morrison
Rockliffe Fellowes … Detective-Sergeant Mather
Esther Howard … Josie
Monte Carter … Max Miller – Public Defender
Juliette Compton … Ambassador’s Wife
G. Pat Collins … Pete – Detective
Phil Tead … Tony – Waiter
Davison Clark … Doctor
Tom Wilson … Night Court Attendant
James Durkin … Second Magistrate
William Arnold … Prosecutor

Directed by John Cromwell.
Story by Oliver H.P. Garrett.
Original Music by Rudolph G. Kopp & Ralph Rainger.
Sound by E.C. Sullivan.
Camera by Charles Land & Robert Pittack & Franklin Titius.
Still Photography by Ray Jones.

Released June 5, 1931.
A Paramount Picture.

IMDb Info.
AFI Catalog.

Background Information:

The Vice Squad paired actress Kay Francis and director John Cromwell again. The combination had collaborated for an earlier release titled Scandal Sheet, and worked again many years later on In Name Only (1939), which would provide Francis a much needed comeback after a major falling out with Warner Bros.

But that was all in the future. At the time The Vice Squad was in production, Francis was still ranking among the undistinguished featured players on the Paramount lot. She had arrived at their Hollywood location in the spring of 1929 after completing her first two movies in New York City. While Hollywood and the moviegoers in the dark theaters had grown to appreciate Francis’ unique beauty and personality, her employer seemed to be unsure about her talents.

Paramount clearly had lost interest in Francis early on, despite public response to her minor assignments in mediocre films. The fan magazines had picked up on her, and by June of 1931, when The Vice Squad was released, Francis was well covered in the press.

Fay Wray and Lilyan Tashman were considered for the role which ended up going to Francis here. Still, a lot of the attention in The Vice Squad went to Paul Lukas, the film’s real star, and Judith Wood.

Of Francis’ performance, Variety reported that “she stands up as always.”

From The Vice Squad, in which she was briefly shown, Kay Francis went on to star in Transgression (1931). The movie would team her with Ricardo Cortez, who she would work with more notably once she transitioned to her new studio, Warner Bros., when she became a top notch star in her own right.


 

Vintage Reviews:

By Mordaunt Hall. Published June 6, 1931 in the New York Times.

The first of the pictures in which Hollywood turns to crooked detectives and a stool pigeon for a story is now on view at the Paramount. It bears the title of “The Vice Squad” and although there is no gainsaying that an element of interest courses through its stream of scenes, several pivotal incidents are far from convincing.

It is another case where fiction is stranger than truth, for the stool pigeon in this film is Stephen Locarno, who, be it known, at the opening of the production is the military attaché to the embassy of an unnamed government. Lucarno and a woman are surprised by a detective who demands to know why their car lights are not turned on. He makes slanderous accusations and asks for their names. While Lucarno is out of the car, the woman, frightened by the suggestion of scandal, steps on the gas, drives over the detective, who is killed instantly, and speeds away.

Another sleuth drives up and finding Lucarno standing by the dead man asks for details of the killing, and when Lucarno refuses to give the name of his companion in the car, the minion of the law threatens the military attaché with arrest on a homicide charge. Subsequently, the policeman agrees to report the killing of the detective as a hit-and-run case, provided Lucarno becomes his stool pigeon in preying upon unsuspecting women.

Lucarno becomes deeply involved in many cases in which the unfortunate women are sent to prison, but he is not called as a witness in court. It seems rather surprising that, in view of the fact that the detective, one named Sergeant Mather, is himself guilty in withholding information from justice, Lucarno does not flee from his persecutor. And considering that at least part of the truth has to come out in the end, it might just as well have been told by Lucarno long before.

Lucarno comes to the rescue of a girl named Madeleine Hunt, who is grateful. At the moment he is staggering, through excessive drinking, and might have ended, his life under a subway train had not Madeleine pulled him away from the edge of the platform. She escorts him to his home and nurses him. Mather one day encounters Madeleine and he tries to flirt with her. He asks for her name and address and after she gives it to him he tries to embrace her and she slaps his face. Armed with the address, the stool pigeon is sent to see Madeleine, without knowing that she is the girl who is virtually responsible for his still being in the land of the living.

This narrative is further complicated by the actions of a Magistrate Morrison, whose sister, Alice, is in love with Lucarno, whom she had met while he was a military attaché. She and her brother are eager to help Lucarno when they hear his dismal story.

Mather holds the whip hand over Lucarno until the latter makes a clean breast of his activities with Mather’s squad. What is done about the automobile killing is left up in the air.

Paul Lukas impersonates Lucarno with a certain ability. Kay Francis does well as Alice Morrison. William B. Davidson, Rockliffe Fellowes and Helen Johnson give competent performances.

On the Paramount stage are Gilda Gray and Rudy Vallee, who officiate in a contribution known as “Shakin’ the Blues.”

Originally appeared in the July 1931 issue of Photoplay:

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Four Jills in a Jeep (1944)

fourjill234132Cast:
Kay Francis … Kay Francis
Carole Landis … Carole Landis
Martha Raye … Martha Raye
Mitzi Mayfair … Mitzi Mayfair
Jimmy Dorsey … Orchestra Leader
Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra
John Harvey … Ted Warren
Phil Silvers … Eddie
Dick Haymes … Lt. Dick Ryan
Alice Faye … Alice Faye
Betty Grable … Betty Grable
Carmen Miranda … Carmen Miranda
George Jessel … Master of Ceremonies

Produced by Irving Starr.
Directed by William A Seiter.
Story by Froma Sand & Fred Niblo, Jr.
Based on the actual experiences of Kay Francis, Carole Landis, Martha Raye & Mitzi Mayfair.
Music by Maurice De Packh, Jimmy McHugh, Harold Adamson, Leo Robin, Harry Warren.
Costumes by Yvonne Wood.
Make-up by Guy Pierce.
Set decoration by Thomas Little.

A Twentieth Century-Fox film.
Released April 6, 1944.

Box Office Information:

[The following appeared in the June 3, 1944 issue of the Motion Picture Herald. This figure does not provide the entire box office take for the film, only until the publication date of that specific periodical.]

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Background Information:

Following some rumors in the press about a possible return to Warner Bros. as a contract star, and even having a few projects publicly announced by the studio, Kay Francis decided to place her priorities on the increasing war effort. She put her Hollywood career on the back burner, which was possibly the death knell for her stardom.

Not that her tours with the USO, Red Cross, and several patriotic causes were a character flaw by any means. Legendary Bob Hope later summed up her contributions perfectly: “Nowadays, people forget what a trouper Kay was. She did a lot for the USO and gave her time to many patriotic causes. She was a real class act.”

The problem with Four Jills in a Jeep, which was based off of a book by Carole Landis, is by the time it reached the screen it was completely altered from truth.

The original tour began on October 16, 1942 and ended a little over 3 months later. The tour included Great Britain, Ireland, and North Africa. The peak of the tour was when they performed for the Queen of England, which wasn’t shown in the actual film but, in the movie, the girls do put on a show for very upper crust London citizens.

Carole Landis did marry an officer while on the tour, but it ended quickly after the release of the movie. The sweaters that Kay, Mitzi Mayfair, Carole Landis, and Martha Raye wore were considered too revealing for the censors, and they were not allowed to wear them on the film. Little bits of information were modified to fit into a nicely idealistic film for wartime audiences.

Also, the women in real life had simply just asked to go, waiting for months for permission. In the film they go almost reluctantly. This kind-of changes the entire spark behind the whole thing. It makes them look as though they just got themselves into a mess of trouble when, in reality, they had their brave faces on and wanted to get as close to the action as possible without becoming a distraction.

This was the first USO tour for Martha Raye, who went on to do several more tours for other wars and earned a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1969 for her patriotic contributions. In conjunction with the release of Four Jills in a Jeep, she would appear in a small role in Pin Up Girl, which starred Betty Grable, who also had appeared in Four Jills.

Mitiz Mayfair had only appeared in short films and Paramount on Parade, which also boasted Kay Francis’ only appearance in Technicolor. Carole Landis’ life was cut short when she committed suicide.

Surprisingly, Kay Francis made no mention of it in her diary.

Aside from Grable’s appearance in the film, Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda also made cameo appearances as themselves. Unfortunately for Kay Francis fans, this was mostly done to beef up box office. None of the headlining stars had the draw to provide a financial return to match the extravagant costs.

From all the World War II and patriotic pride aside, for fans of Kay Francis Four Jills in a Jeep marked the finish line of her Hollywood and her stardom. While it’s nice to see she was still the center of attraction in a big movie after several years of supporting freelance roles, it wasn’t a very good production.

After this Kay Francis completed only 3 more films, all for the low-ranking studio, Monogram Pictures.


 

Webmaster’s Review

Four Jills in a Jeep opens up with Kay hosting a Command Performance over the radio. Betty Grable gets up and sings at the microphone. After Grable’s performance, Kay is joined by Carole Landis, Mitzi Mayfair, and Martha Raye to wish all the soldiers luck and give thanks for their efforts.

Backstage Carole, Mitzi, and Martha express their interest in taking the show abroad for the troops. Kay joins in to tell them that… surprise! She’s already off to England, and that they are welcome to come with her. The girls, a bit nervous, realize they have to go, realizing that their fears are minimum to the fears of the young men in active duty.

After arriving in England, they become acquainted with their tour guide, Eddie (played by the always obnoxious Phil Silvers). They meet up with the service men, and Carole begins to develop feelings for Ted, who helps her get out of the mud when she becomes unsurprisingly stuck as he looks on.

From the obscure base they make their way to London, where they put on a grand show for a bunch of upper-level civilians. Kay, beautifully dressed in a white evening gown with a head wrap, tells them that they have to sit on the floor “just like the boys do” when they put on their shows for servicemen. Martha Raye makes an idiot of herself singing and playing the piano, while Mitzi Mayfair does a dance which showcases her beautiful legs that help distract from her lackluster dancing skills.

Some romantic fluff begins to ensue, and Carole marries Ted.

From London they make their way to North Africa where they are met with skepticism. The female on the staff complains that they are in need of actual nurses not “you screen queens.” To her surprise, Kay helps the other girls roll up their sleeves and get their hands to work. When a doctor orders Kay (whom he does not recognize) to scrub the floors, she begins to do so. He realizes that it’s Kay Francis on her knees with a pale and brush and tells her she doesn’t have to. She continues anyway, and tells him to just refer to her as Kay. Not “Miss Francis or “Miss Kay.” “Please, just call me Kay,” she requests.

They put on a show for the men at the base and watch as they drive off on their next mission.

In all, it was very admirable what Kay, Mitzi, Martha, and Carole did. Actually, it’s very admirable what all of the Hollywood community did for the war efforts. But these were four of the stars who really got into the action and risked their own lives to help entertain the men who were protecting theirs.

The fault with this movie, and all of these World War II studios revues, is they’re just empty showcases for their current roster of stars. The actual final presentation of Four Jills, or even Thank Your Lucky Stars or Hollywood Canteen, is no different than the presentation that the studios were putting out 15 years earlier with the musical reviews when sound films came in.

For me, the only difference between Four Jills and Hollywood Canteen from Paramount on Parade and the Hollywood Revue is just that there are no two-strip Technicolor scenes and a war is involved. That’s all. But I would definitely consider Four Jills to be the most entertaining of the war musicals put out. The story here is much more interesting to follow than Hollywood Canteen or Thank Your Lucky Stars.

(“Much more interesting” as in watching sand fall through an hour glass versus watching paint dry.)

What’s nice about this film, as a Kay Francis fan, is it shows how she could still hold her own and headline the entire thing at 39 years old. When she’s in the field she’s in standard uniform, but in the beginning of the movie and in the London scenes, she is breathtakingly beautiful. She outshines Mayfair, Raye, and even Landis as the most glamorous member of the entire bunch. Even in their first night in England, she wears clothes to bed that are more beautiful than the average person would have worn to an upscale restaurant.

Viewers clearly expected Kay Francis to be a glamorous woman even 6 years after leaving Warner Bros. and just months shy away from turning 40 years old. And of that expectation, Twentieth Century-Fox clearly delivered.

Martha Raye does have some good comedy lines. Landis has a few heartwarming scenes as a young woman in love, but Mayfair certain just blends into the background. This is really a showcase for Kay Francis, and I’m not just saying that as a fan. She’s clearly leading the girls through everything, and she gets the most attention from the camera than any other star in the film. And it’s just so fascinating to see Kay Francis play Kay Francis.

Betty Grable, Alice Faye, and Carmen Miranda just make brief appearances that were inserted clearly to beef up box office. This definitely wasn’t a cheap movie to make, and, to be realistic, none of the feminine stars in the film had the draw to guarantee a return in profits. As a result, the most popular stars at Fox were just tossed in to lure more viewers.

Phil Silvers is the most annoying of the whole cast. His only shining moment is when he’s exchanging sarcastic words with a serviceman who says, “That joke’s my father’s.” Silvers responds, “And what are you, one of your mothers?”

That’s his only pleasant moment in the entire movie.

My personal opinions aside, there are many out there who love this film. Unfortunately, I’m one of the few who don’t.

This is one of Kay’s most popular films, but’s definitely far from her best.


 

Bosely Crowther review in the New York Times, April 6, 1944.
The adventures of Kay Francis, Carole Landis, Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair on a USD Camp tour of England and North Africa a little more than a year ago were no doubt diverting to the ladies. And the soldiers whom they entertained were probably so fired with admiration that we herewith proceed at our own peril. But it has to be stated bluntly that the film which Twentieth Century-Fox has made about that star-spangled journey among warriors is something less than okay. “Four Jills in a Jeep,” the claptrap saga which came to the Roxy yesterday, is just a raw piece of capitalization upon a widely publicized affair.

As an authentic record of that journey it may or may not have its points. Miss Landis meets a flier in this picture and marries him, as she did on the tour. Miss Mayfair casts dream eyes at a soldier who does a lot of singing in the film; and Miss Francis and Miss Raye have soulful moments with a medical officer and a clown sergeant, respectively. These latter romantic diversions may be accurate. We wouldn’t know.

But as a piece of screen entertainment it is decidedly impromptu. It gives the painful impression of having been tossed together in a couple of hours. All that happens, really, is a lot of dizzying about the dames and some singing and dancing by them in an undistinguished style. At a party in a London mansion (attended mainly by swells), Miss Raye sings “Mr. Paganinni” and Miss Mayfair dances to Jimmy Dorsey’s band. And in an old barn somewhere in North Africa Miss Landis sings “Crazy Me.” (This latter bit, incidentally, is the only one which rings remotely true.)

Otherwise, Dick Haymes sings two numbers, Phil Silvers clowns around a bit and Mr. Dorsey’s musicians contribute some musical time. Also, by virtue of the radio, Carmen Miranda, Betty Grable and Alice Faye are pulled in to warble hit numbers from recent Twentieth Century-Fox films.


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The Cocoanuts (1929)

Cast:

Groucho Marx as Mr. Hammer
Harpo Marx as Harpo
Chico Marx as Chico
Zeppo Marx as Jamison
Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Potter
Mary Eaton as Polly Potter
Oscar Shaw as Robert ‘Bob’ Adams
Kay Francis as Penelope
Cyril Ring as Harvey Yates
Basil Ruysdael as Detective Hennessey

Directed by Robert Florey & Joseph Santley
Produced by Monta Bell
Written by Morrie Ryskind
Based on the play by George S. Kaufman

Released May 3, 1929
A Paramount Picture.

The film had an estimated budget of $500,000 and earned nearly $2 million.

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The Marriage Playground (1929)

marriageplayground011892Cast:
Mary Brian … Judith Wheater
Fredric March … Martin Boyne
Lilyan Tashman … Joyce Wheater
Huntley Gordon … Cliff Wheater
Kay Francis … Lady Wrench
William Austin … Lord Wrench
Seena Owen … Rose Sellers
Philippe De Lacy … Terry Wheater
Anita Louise … Blanca Wheater
Mitzi Green … Zinnie Wheater
Billy Seay … Bun Wheater
Ruby Parsley … Beatrice Wheater
Donald Smith … Chip Wheater

Directed by Lothar Mendes.
Based on “The Children,” a novel by Edith Wharton.
Screenplay by J. Walter Ruben.
Dialogue by Doris Anderson.
Camera by Victor Milner.

A Paramount Picture.
Released December 13, 1929.

About the film: After a handful of films for Paramount, it was unclear to the film industry to know what exactly the studio was doing with Kay Francis. Was she being groomed for stardom or supporting player status? The Marriage Playground seemed to convince the world it was the latter.

Two projects that Kay had been announced for after completing Illusion fell through. Those were The Genius, in which Kay was to play a vamp who sinks her teeth into a young musician, and Youth Has Its Fling. Instead, Kay was cast as a vamp named Zinnia La Crosse in the film version of The Children, a novel from Edith Wharton re-titled, The Marriage Playground.

Surprisingly, despite the handsome Fredric March as the leading man and virginal Mary Brian, it was Kay and Lilyan Tashman who stole the show from its players. Hyped as major fashion rivals only a few months earlier when Kay came to Paramount, the studio made sure to give off the vibe that there was “something” between the Francis/Tashman teaming. At the climax of the movie, the two have it out over showing up to a society event in the same outfit.

Later, in 1931, the two would be teamed again, not as rival but this time as best friends, in Girls About Town, directed by George Cukor.

The Marriage Playground was also one of the first movies for Fredric March, a fresh face on the Paramount lot himself but clearly already groomed for leading man status. In The Films of Fredric March, author Lawrence Quirk wrote, “The critics were, for the most part, kind, and March came in for a goodly share of praise…Kay Francis was also along for the ride, though this was before her top-liner days, and her role, while displaying her attractively, was essentially peripheral.”

March followed The Marriage Playground up with Sarah and Son (1930), a Ruth Chatterton mega-hit which mirrored the long-suffering mother roles which Kay later acquired herself at Warner Bros.

Anita Louise, who later became a very popular supporting actor in films such as Marie Antoinette (1938), later worked with Kay in My Bill, playing her ungrateful daughter.

As for Kay Francis, she went onto better films, of course. But Wharton’s novels was revived again for the screen in 1990 shot under the original title and starred Kim Novak, among others.


 

Vintage Reviews:

By Mordaunt Hall. Published December 14, 1929 in the New York Times.

Edith Wharton’s novel, “The Children,” has come to the Paramount in audible film form under the title of “The Marriage Playground.” Although it has spasmodic lapses and the youngsters are a trifle too precocious, even for this generation, it is quite an intelligent production with well-woven strands of humor and sympathy, pathos and an appealing romance. The brunt of the acting falls on Frederic March and Mary Brian, who are thoroughly believable in their rôles.

This offering was directed by Lothar Mendes, who would have embellished his scenes considerably had he not photographed all of them within the studio doors. It is far more effective to see the real sunshine, the real sands, with a real breeze fanning a seaside resort, such as the Lido, rather than to gaze upon an obviously artificially lighted patch of sand with a sky that is all too near. Mr. Mendes, however, has done far better by this tale of quarreling parents and their mixed brood than he has with other pictures. He has succeeded in eliciting a diversity of natures from the seven youngsters, the oldest of whom is Judith Wheater, played by Mary Brian. If one thinks that these children are exaggerated types, one may ponder that it may after all be the result of their upbringing and the reckless conduct of their parents. Mr. and Mrs. Wheater have been divorced and re-married to each other. The seven neglected offsprings have different parents, but they all love each other and do not want to be separated.

Judith, with the help of a faithful nurse, Miss Scopy, cares for the six boys, girls and an infant. Mr. and Mrs. Wheater’s second marriage is far from happy and Judith as well as the other youngsters are always terribly afraid that the hectic lives of their parents or step-parents, as the case may be, may lead to their being sent to different homes. As it is, they go from pillar to post on European sands.

A sympathetic soul appears on the horizon in the shape of Martin Boyne, who encounters Judith and her sextet at the Lido. To her gratification she discovers that Mr. Boyne knew her father in Europe. Boyne soon is like a big brother to the six, but Judith, who is getting on for 18, has her own idea about him. Even a 10-year-old girl looks forward to matrimony with somebody and it could not be any one better than Martin, as they call him.

Unfortunately, however, for these youngsters and particularly for Judith, Martin is engaged to marry Rose Sellers, who lives with her philosophic, white-haired aunt. Martin delays going to his fiancée, who happens to be in Switzerland, much to Rose’s annoyance. Rose had been married once before, and one concludes that she is lucky indeed to have inveigled Martin into proposing to her. One also is impelled to think that Martin is not as bright as he seems to be or he would not have fallen in love with Rose.

There are a number of scenes in which pathos and humor are mingled. One of the children is impudent, another is coy; a third, a boy, is getting beyond Judith’s control. In one episode one perceives the youngsters lined up at the side of a bathtub filled with water and two or three of the youngsters are taking their turns at trying to see how long they can keep their heads under water. Victory means a lot to them in this sport. The affection developed by these children for Martin is charming.

Lilyan Tashman is sure enough of herself in the part of Mrs. Wheater, but more often than not she makes the grievous error of reciting rather than talking. Huntly Gordon does well as Mr. Wheater and William Austin delivers some amusement as an English lord. Maude Turner Gordon is splendid as Rose’s elderly aunt. Seena Owen is capital as Martin’s fretting fiancée and Master Philippe de Lacy does intelligent acting as the oldest boy of the heterogeneous flock.

Ruby Keeler Jolson is appearing in the Paramount’s stage attraction, “Ingenues’ Gambol,” which was staged by Boris Petroff.


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Charley’s Aunt (1941)

charleys0813Cast:
Jack Benny … Babbs Babberley
Kay Francis … Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez
James Ellison … Jack Chesney
Anne Baxter … Amy Spettigue
Edmund Gwenn … Stephen Spettigue
Laird Cregar … Sir Francis Chesney
Reginald Owen … Redcliff
Arleen Whelan … Kitty Verdun
Richard Haydn … Charley Wyckham
Ernest Cossart … Brasset

Produced by William Perlberg.
Directed by Archie Mayo.
Based on the play by Brandon Thomas.
Screenplay by George Seaton.
Music by Alfred Newman.
Set decorated by Thomas Little.
Costumed by Travis Banton.
Editing by Robert Bischoff.

Released August 1, 1941.
A Twentieth Century-Fox film.

Background: After two so-so comedies, Play Girl and The Man Who Lost Himself, Kay’s freelance career needed a new boost. She chose to play the title role in Twentieth Century-Fox’s Charley’s Aunt (1941). But her role was a supporting one, as much of the story revolves around a young man masquerading around as his aunt, believing she is an older, ugly woman, before his young, glamorous aunt makes her entrance towards the end of the story.

The story had been brought to the screen many, many times before this production. One of the more memorable movie versions of this famous play came in 1930 with Kay’s future Trouble in Paradise costar, Charles Ruggles, taking on the starring role.

But it was this version, directed by Kay’s frequent coworker Archie Mayo (who once went as far as to tell Kay she couldn’t act during the filming of Give Me Your Heart) that became the 8th highest grossing movie of 1941, according to Variety.

The film was shot fairly quickly, with production beginning May 12, 1941 and ending June 24. But, considering her small role, Kay wasn’t required to begin work on the film until May 24. She recreated her performance on Jack Benny’s radio show on May 28 to promote the film.

Kay’s career after Charley’s Aunt only rose to the top once more in The Feminine Touch (1941), her last A-role in a quality film. It was downhill into the full-fledged B-movie status after that.

As Lynn Kear and John Rossman pointed out in Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, in truth, much of Kay’s freelance work wasn’t much better than the projects Warners had offered her in the late 30’s.

On a positive note, the film did provide Kay an opportunity to rework with her Paramount costume designer, Travis Banton, who helped make Kay into the clotheshorse she is famous for today.


 

Review by T.S. in the New York Times, published August 1, 1941.
Consider this a minority report. For though a good deal of the world’s innocence has gone up in smoke since 1892 and the original “Charley’s Aunt,” one never would have known it yesterday at the Roxy, where Jack Benny, in crinolines and cigars, was bucketing through its latest screen incarnation. Not in quite a while has an audience been in more uproarious spirits at a comic shindig. When the Benny physiognomy peered impishly from behind a lacy fan, the audience held its sides, and when in the final scene his wig vanished to leave his masculine coiffure stark naked, there was a roar of laughter that must have shaken the Roxy’s rococo ceiling.

But if Mr. Benny’s ill-fated excursion to the distaff side seemed a hilarious jape to others, we did not find it a more than occasionally chucklesome charade. After an interval of nearly half a century, the merriment of Brandon Thomas’s Oxford comedy of errors seems too tightly calculated. Its comic situations are so obviously plotted and so long forewarned that it never achieves the loose humors of a spontaneous antic. When Mr. Benny is caught with his skirts off, so to speak, the cue for laughter has the dismal inevitability of a grandfather clock sounding out the chimes. And laughter should never be inevitable.

If its humors seem not a little dated, the producers have nevertheless embroidered the skit with foolish detail and dotted it with amusing players. Mr. Benny, as young Lord Babberly who agrees to masquerade as his classmates’ chaperon only to find himself furiously pursued through the halls and box-hedges by several short-winded-gentlemen, has a dryly sardonic delivery that may seem a little worldly-wise for a guileless romp but gives the part an edge it needs. And when he coos “Chase me!” to a bewhiskered suitor, his invitation is in the coyest school of acting.

As the young knaves whose amours started it all, James Ellison and Richard Haydn make a likable pair of exaggerated innocents. Arleen Whelan and Anne Baxter, as the ladies in question, bustle about in twittering feminine apprehension. Laird Cregar’s swashbuckling parent and Edmund Gwenn’s hot-footed old codger are wickedly comic portraits both, and Reginald Owen as a doddering Oxford don turns his role into a hilarious commentary on all guardians of the cloistered life. Only Kay Francis, as the lady from Brazil, seems oddl colorless.

But amid the random gayeties of fussy pedagogues, presumptuously moral guardians and frolicking youths, the escapade of young Babberly still seems strangely mechanical. Although it is breezily played, it has the dubious gayety of an old gentleman cutting a caper. We could almost hear the joints creak—or was it the stop-watch clocking the laughs?


 

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The Films of Kay Francis

givemeyourheart11334Kay Francis completed 68 films beginning her debut in 1929’s Gentlemen of the Press, and ending with 1946’s Wife Wanted, which turned out to be her final film. Click on the title of a film in the table below to go to that film’s page where you can find my reviews, vintage reviews, photos from the film, and images from advertising materials as well as background information about the production.

Important Kay Francis films which I feel readers should especially see are highlighted in bold purple text.

Click here to view information regarding box office figures for Kay Francis movies.

The Availability column refers to a film’s status for readers viewing. If the film is shown on Turner Classic Movies, then TCM is written under the column. Films which are on DVD are noted, and reader’s should keep in mind that almost all of the movies of Kay Francis’ which are on DVD are also shown on Turner Classic Movies. The titles marked “unavailable” refer to titles, most of which Francis completed for Paramount, which are not shown on TCM or available for DVD purchase. The only film of Kay Francis’ which is considered lost is Illusion (1929).

If you’re interested in finding out which movies of Kay Francis you can own on DVD, click here. To find out what Kay Francis movies are being shown on Turner Classic Movies, click here.

Lastly, scroll to the bottom of THIS page for general information/trivia about her Hollywood career.

Film Studio Availability
Gentlemen of the Press
(1929)
Paramount Unavailable
The Cocoanuts (1929) Paramount DVD
Dangerous Curves (1929) Paramount Unavailable
Illusion (1929) Paramount Unavailable
The Marriage Playground
(1929)
Paramount Unavailable
Behind the Make-Up (1930) Paramount Unavailable
Street of Chance (1930) Paramount Unavailable
Paramount on Parade (1930) Paramount Unavailable
A Notorious Affair (1930) Paramount TCM
For the Defense (1930) Paramount DVD
Raffles (1930) Goldwyn/
UA
DVD
Let’s Go Native (1930) Paramount Unavailable
The Virtuous Sin (1930) Paramount Unavailable
Passion Flower (1930) MGM TCM
Scandal Sheet (1931) Paramount Unavailable
Ladies’ Man Paramount Unavailable
The Vice Squad (1931) Paramount Unavailable
Transgression (1931) RKO TCM
House That
Shadows Built
(1931)
Paramount Unavailable
Guilty Hands (1931) MGM TCM
24 Hours (1931) Paramount TCM
Girls About Town (1931) Paramount Unavailable
The False Madonna (1931) Paramount Unavailable
Strangers in Love (1932) Paramount Unavailable
Man Wanted (1932) WB DVD
Street of Women (1932) WB DVD
Jewel Robbery (1932) WB TCM
One Way Passage (1932) WB DVD
Trouble in Paradise (1932) Paramount DVD
Cynara (1932) Goldwyn/
UA
TCM
The Keyhole (1933) WB TCM
Storm at Daybreak (1933) MGM TCM
Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933) WB TCM
I Loved a Woman (1933) WB TCM
The House on 56th Street
(1933)
WB DVD
Mandalay (1934) WB DVD
Wonder Bar (1934) WB DVD
Dr. Monica (1934) WB TCM
British Agent (1934) WB DVD
Living on Velvet (1935) WB DVD
Stranded (1935) WB DVD
The Goose and the Gander
(1935)
WB DVD
I Found Stella Parish (1935) WB DVD
The White Angel (1936) WB DVD
Give Me Your Heart (1936) WB DVD
Stolen Holiday (1937) WB DVD
Another Dawn (1937) WB DVD
Confession (1937) WB DVD
First Lady (1937) WB TCM
Women Are Like That (1938) WB TCM
My Bill (1938) WB TCM
Secrets of an Actress (1938) WB TCM
Comet Over Broadway (1938) WB TCM
King of the Underworld (1939) WB DVD
Women in the Wind (1939) WB TCM
In Name Only (1939) RKO DVD
It’s a Date (1940) Universal TCM
When the Daltons Rode (1940) Universal DVD
Little Men (1940) RKO DVD
Play Girl (1941) RKO DVD
The Man Who Lost
Himself (1941)
Universal Unavailable
Charley’s Aunt (1941) 20th
Century
Fox
DVD
The Feminine Touch (1941) MGM DVD
Always in My Heart (1942) WB TCM
Between Us Girls (1942) Universal Unavailable
Four Jills in a Jeep (1944) 20th
Century
Fox
DVD
Divorce (1945) Monogram TCM
Allotment Wives (1945) Monogram TCM
Wife Wanted (1946) Monogram DVD
     

 Film Trivia:

Kay’s Costars:

womenarelikethatposterKay’s most frequent leading men were William Powell, Ian Hunter, George Brent, and Walter Huston. She made a total of 7 films with Powell, 7 with Hunter, 6 with Brent, and 4 with Huston.

But Kay also had some other memorable leading men: Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Fredric March, Pat O’Brien, Basil Rathbone, Edward G. Robinson, Ronald Colman, Claude Rains, Leslie Howard, Lionel Barrymore, Randolph Scott, and Ricardo Cortez.

In terms of memorable female costars, well, Kay also had a few mentionable women she worked with on film too: Carole Lombard, Jeanette MacDonald, Clara Bow, and Rosalind Russell. According to Shirley Temple, she had a bit part in Mandalay, but good luck trying to find her in the film.

It should also be mentioned Kay did have one of her earliest film appearances opposite the Marx Brothers in 1929’s The Cocoanuts.

Kay’s Characters:

Though mostly identified with being a fashion icon, in some of Kay’s most memorable movies she played career women, especially in her early Warner Bros. films. Man Wanted featured Kay as head-honcho in the publishing world. In Street of Women she owns her own salon. She plays doctors in Mary Stevens, M.D. and Doctor Monica. Kay also played Florence Nightingale in The White Angel. In Women Are Like That she takes charge in the advertising industry in a battle of the sexes with onscreen husband Pat O’Brien.

Kay’s Fashion Image:

streetofwomenYes, Kay Francis was a clotheshorse of the first order. There are two of her movies which have a specific tie-in to the fashion world: Street of Women (1932) and Stolen Holiday (1937). In the first, Kay has one of her best roles as the owner of a fashion boutique. In the latter, originally titled Mistress of Fashion, she plays an American model in Paris who begins a business association with a seedy business man who helps her become one of the most important women in the Parisian fashion scene.

In Stolen Holiday, Kay Francis makes perhaps her best entrance at a party in a white-organdy dress complete with a headpiece turban.

Kay’s first notable association with a fashion designer was with Travis Banton in her time at Paramount (1930-1932). But it was at Warner Bros. where she became one of the most important women regarding fashion and film due to her association with Orry-Kelly. Cary Grant recommended Kelly to Warner Bros., and he was told he would be hired only of Ruth Chatterton and Kay approved of his creations (PL).

Orry-Kelly remembered Kay fondly. He said of her, “In the beginning, she was very reserved but well-mannered and knew exactly what she wanted. I designed simple unadorned evening gowns in velvet, chiffon, and crepes for One-Way Passage. And I introduced what was the forerunner of the shirtmaker dress for evening. At first, only those with sensitive taste were impressed. Luckily, Kay was the essence of good taste” (PL).

Kay also worked with notable designers Adrian (when she was on loan-out to MGM) and Vera West.

When Kay worked for Monogram at the very end of her career, her costumes for Divorce and Allotment Wives were designed by Odette Myrtil. The last designer to dress Kay Francis for the screen was Athena, who designed the wardrobe for Wife Wanted, which was Kay’s last film.

Kay’s Star Status & Salary at Warner Bros.

1935kayfrancisblackgownThis is one of the most interesting and widely debated aspects of Kay Francis’ career. Just how popular was she?

When Kay was at Paramount (pre 1932) she was really just playing featured roles. When Warner Bros. hired her, they upped her salary from the $750 she was making per week at Paramount to $2,000 per week with the promises of stardom and more money if she succeeded (this figure quickly went up, 4 years later to $5,250/week, PL). In 1935, Kay’s annual salary was $115,167; in 1936 she earned $227,100 and in 1937 $209,100 (PL). The latter two salaries were reported in the New York Times as having topped the entire Warner Bros. payroll for their respective years. Contrast that with James Cagney who made $150,000 in 1935 and Bette Davis who made a meagerly $18,000 that same year (DV).

Author Ed Sikov wisely wrote in Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, “[Bette Davis] knew she wasn’t being cast in the best of the studio’s productions…The producer Robert Lord suggested Bette for the lead in Give Me Your Heart, a melodrama, but Warners cast Kay Francis instead. Davis was actually announced for the role of Julia in Another Dawn, but again Kay Francis took the role, this time opposite Errol Flynn.”

While most historians make note of Davis’ long waiting period to achieve superstardom between her breakthrough in Of Human Bondage (1934) and Jezebel (1938), which made her a top star, most also leave out Kay’s position at the studio as a factor in all of that. While Davis herself made references to Francis’ popularity causing Warner Bros. to second-guess her own, few writers, until recently, have actually acknowledged the fact that those years Davis spent waiting in the wings were due in part to Kay Francis receiving all of the star treatment herself.

It was in 1934-1937 when Kay Francis was at the peak of her success at the studio. In January 1934 the Motion Picture Herald listed the top money-making stars in 1932-1933. Kay Francis was ranked 42nd, Joan Blondell 44th, Barbara Stanwyck 46th, Ruth Chatterton 55th while Bette Davis wasn’t listed at all (RC). In 1937 when Variety announced the most popular female stars in the entire movie industry, Kay was voted 6th behind Myrna Loy, Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers and Alice Faye (PL).

kayfrancisandbettedavisWhen the year switched over from 1937 to 1938, Kay had two major box office bombs: First Lady and Women Are Like That. The latter, made during her lawsuit with Warner Bros. in the fall of ’37, confirmed in the minds of studio executives it was time to dispose of Francis’ services. Of course, one could wisely point to the fact that the disappointing returns of both films could be due in part to the terrible script quality. However, when Davis (being paid a fraction of what Kay was) began the year with Jezebel, Warner Bros. felt the time had come to end Kay’s employment with them.

Though The Sisters and Dark Victory were purchased for Kay Francis (BF), she was demoted to B-movies. Those projects were handed to Davis. Though Kay’s contract ended in late September 1938, her last film for Warner Bros., Women in the Wind, was not released until the summer of 1939. A month later RKO released In Name Only, with Kay’s name in equal billing, though third billed, to Carole Lombard and Cary Grant’s.

It should be noted that there was no animosity between Kay and Davis. Actually, Bette Davis was one of the people who stuck up for Kay Francis even long after both had left the studio (BF).

Sources:
(BF) Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten, Scott O’Brien, 2006, BearManor Media.
(DV) Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, Ed Sikov, 2007, Holt.
(PL) Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, Lynn Kear and John Rossman, 2006, McFarland.
(RC) Ruth Chatterton: Actress, Aviator, Author, O’Brien, 2013, BearManor Media.

Wife Wanted (1946)

1945KayFrancisColor46Cast:
Kay Francis … Carole Raymond
Paul Cavanagh … Jeffrey Caldwell
Robert Shayne … Bill Tyler
Veda Ann Borg … Nola Reed
Teala Loring … Mildred Kayes
John Gallaudet … Lee Kirby
Jonathan Hale … Philip Conway
Tim Ryan … Bartender
Barton Yarborough … Walter Desmond

Produced by Jeffrey Bernerd and Kay Francis.
Directed by Phil Karlson.
Based on the novel by Robert E. Callahan.
Screenplay by Caryl Coleman & Sidney Sutherland.
Musical Direction by Edward J. Kay.
Sound by Tom Lambert.
“There Wasn’t a Moon” by Edgar Hayes.
Camera by Harry Neumann.
Editing by Ace Herman.
Miss Francis’ gowns by Athena.

Released November 2, 1946.
A Monogram Picture.

When Kay Francis finished her obligations for Monogram, she had no idea that her Hollywood career would be over. Monogram’s parent company, the newly founded Allied-Artists, had offered her a couple of deals.

She politely turned them down. At this point she was interested in returning to the stage.

Kay was only considered for two major projects after this. The first was the role of Judy Garland’s mother in The Helen Morgan Story, which was supposed to be made in the early 1950’s at Warner Bros. but never materialized. The second was to play Lana Turner’s mother in the outdated Madame X (1966). By then she was dying of the cancer that would indeed end her life two years later.

Even from the beginning of her freelancing days there was trouble with Kay’s career. She wisely chose to play in In Name Only (1939) and It’s a Date (1940). But she lost good parts in The Rains Came (1939) and My Son, My Son! (1940) to Myrna Loy and Madeleine Carroll, respectively.

Instead she made two stinkers: Little Men (1940) and When the Daltons Rode (1940), which could have been played by any young starlet.

The box office polls were arranged into three categories: the top 10, the 15 honor stars (both for sensational favorites, few had durability up there), group one, group two, and group three. Western stars were in a category all their own. In 1937 Kay placed in the first group (other names were Norma Shearer and Bette Davis). In 1938 she fell into group two (Judy Garland, Jean Arthur, Charles Boyer placed in this category). By 1939, 1940 and 1941 she slumped into the third listing (with Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn, whose careers had also slumped).

It was probably a lack of enthusiasm and laziness which caused Kay’s freelancing career decline. She had always been carefree about her career until Warner Bros. aggravated her with taking Tovarich (1937) away from her. But her freelancing parts weren’t any better than the stuff Warner Bros. had offered her in 1938, honestly.

After she took time off to help out with World War II, she was virtually unemployable. (Of course, one can not fault her for; what she did was extremely generous and patriotic.) When Monogram employed her, she was likely humiliated by having fallen so far from grace.

As with Divorce and Allotment Wives (both 1945), Kay worked with Jeffrey Bernerd. Jonathan Hale had a small part in the film [he also worked with Kay in In Name Only (1939)]. But Wife Wanted was less creditable than either film. It fell into the campy category of “so bad, it’s good.”

Released to second-rate theaters and not reviewed in the major publications (New York Times, Variety), Wife Wanted turned out to be the final film Kay Francis ever made.

It should be mentioned, that same year Joan Crawford (the same age as Kay) had two successful films: Possessed, for which she received an Oscar nomination, and Daisy Kenyon. Katharine Hepburn appeared in Sea of Grass with Spencer Tracy. Both stars had appeared with Kay on the “box office poison” list in 1938.

Unfortunately, Kay Francis didn’t have the determination or motivation to succeed from the failure she shared with her one-time contemporaries.


Webmaster’s Review:

As Carole Raymond, Kay Francis is a girl in all sorts of trouble these days (wasn’t Kay ALWAYS in trouble during her screen roles?). Here, as Ms. Raymond, she plays a fading movie queen. Her shady agent has turned down two parts within the past week because they weren’t “right” for her. But he has a plan: real-estate. “Lots of picture people have made a lot of money in real-estate ventures,” he tells her.

She agrees, but admits, “I’d hate to give up pictures entirely…”

Unfortunately, the shady real-estate business is connected with the shady “friendship club.” This friendship club serves the purpose to falsely link lonely people together (not mentioned outright in the film, but made quite clear by the players: it’s a club for sexually repressed individuals to meet others looking for some passion).

The real-life one time Queen of Warner Bros. wants no part in the friendship club when she learns of it, she tells her new real-estate partner. So he has her take Mr. Desmond out to a beautiful home on the palisades. For a B-movie, the house is gorgeous. There Mr. Desmond produces a check for $40,000, telling Carole that was really what she just wanted from him.

“I don’t believe I know what you’re talking about, Mr. Desmond.”

He tells her she’s a “come-on” for Jeff Caldwell. He tells her how he’s been basically robbed by someone through Caldwell’s friendship club, and blackmailed. She still denies any involvement and goes to the phone to call Caldwell to the home. While she’s trying to get him on the phone, a shady, shadowy figure emerges and throws him from the balcony off the cliff and into the waters below.

Carole emerges from the home and finds him dead. Her place at the beach home that night is covered by Caldwell. When she tells him she still wants out, he tells her it’s too late. If she opens her mouth about anything Desmond said, he will spread the word so that movie producers won’t be so keen on signing her for a new movie.

Like Kay would do in real life, Carole goes to a bar and gets drunk. The next morning she wakes up with Mildred in her home, and doesn’t know how she got there (just like some mornings for real-life Kay!). Here, Mildred was a bit player who Carole got a good part in a good film for. Unfortunately, it’s been downhill from here ever since. And Mildred has been in trouble ever since she got met up with a man she met at the friendship club, the man we later found out was Mr. Desmond. Carole agrees to hide Mildred out while she lands back on her feet.

Carole meets Bill Tyler through the club. She’s trying to get him to buy some real estate, since he is quite wealthy.

Jeff Caldwell and his secretary Nola find out that Carole is plotting to expose them, that she is hiding Mildred in her home. Caldwell goes there to kill Mildred, but she stumbles down the stairs. Thinking she’s dead, he walks away and leaves her there. Then we see a shot of doctors saying “she’ll be alright.” That’s the last we see of Mildred.

Bill confronts Carole and tells her she’s a shady soul, tied up in phony scams with Caldwell. Carole is beside herself, since she was, of course, finally starting to fall in love with Bill. “There’s only one night I was at that beach house,” she tells Bill. “That was the night Mr. Desmond was killed.”

He calls the police after she leaves.

At the beach house, Carole meets Caldwell. He presents the check, which she says “…wait…that check was here the night I was here with Mr. Desmond…that means…you were here, too. You pushed him from that balcony!”

Caldwell presents a gun, and walks Carole over to the balcony. Before he can push her off, Bill and a police officer arrive, arrest him and save Carole.

Bill and Carole embrace and all is well for Carole Raymond again.

I like this movie. Like Kay’s other two Monogram movies, it’s fast-paced, compelling, and the production values are surprisingly strong. It’s no Stolen Holiday, of course, but nonetheless still a must-see.

Kay does an excellent job with this script. It’s fun seeing her play drunk at the bar. What must be said is that even at 42-years-old she still has that irresistible Kay Francis charm. That warm smile, the sweetness, it’s all still there. Still just as fresh from the I Found Stella Parish days.

It’s bitter-sweet, though. It shows she still could have worked as a top-star at lucrative studios such as Warner Bros. MGM, Paramount, and RKO. Unfortunately, a long, long movie career just wasn’t in the cards for her.

Still, her final three Monogram movies are most interesting than any of the B-movies she made during her final Warner Bros. years, her early Paramount years, and her early free-lance years. Her performances in these final three are still amazing to watch.

The other players do fine. Veda Ann Borg is memorable as the nasty secretary for Caldwell. Teala Loring, as usual, is beautiful but has an exceptionally annoying character to play. As usual, she’s the sweet, innocent dimwit of the film.

Robert Shayne does well in his small screen time as Kay’s love interest. Paul Cavanagh, a long-time player opposite Kay since the days of Virtuous Sin and Transgression.

The lighting and sets are superb for a “poverty row” studio.

Kay’s gowns are breathtaking; just as stunning as anything Orry-Kelly or Adrian made for her.



 

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Dangerous Curves

Cast:
Clara Bow … Pat Delaney
Richard Arlen … Larry Lee
Kay Francis … Zara Flynn
David Newell … Tony Barretti
Anders Randolf … Colonel P.P. Brack
May Boley … Ma Spinelli
T. Roy Barnes … Po Spinelli
Joyce Compton … Jennie Silver

Directed by Lothar Mendes.
Production Supervisor Ernst Lubitsch.
From a story by Leslie Cohen.
Screenplay by Donald Davis; Florence Ryerson.
Dialogue by Viola Brothers Shore.
Camerawork by Harry Fischbeck.
Editing by Eda Warren.
Music by W. Franke Harling.

A Paramount Picture.
Released July 13, 1929.

IMDb Info.
TCMDb Info.

Background Information:

After completing two productions at Paramount’s New York City studio, Kay Francis was summoned by their Hollywood location to begin her career as a long term contract star. From the beginning, Francis was leery of the move to Hollywood, as the thought working in pictures professionally was more terrifying than the so-so career she had built for herself on the stage.

It was the money which made up her mind, of course.

Dangerous Curves was Kay’s first production completed on the west coast. The film was a starring vehicle for Clara Bow, Paramount’s top star, then-titled Pink Tights. Richard Arlen was the leading man who shared the affections of both Bow, his true love, and Francis, the vamp who set out to steal him for herself.

Kay was later quoted about her fear of working with Hollywood stars, but Bow was kind to newcomer Francis. Legend has it that it was Bow who convinced Kay to shorten her name from Katherine, so it would fit snugly on a marquee. Also, Bow encouraged Kay to “move in a little closer” to the camera, so that Francis would get some deserved attention that the director might not have set out to give.

Richard Arlen turned out to be one of Kay’s first regular west coast friends. His chemistry in the film with both Francis and Bow was genuine, and some believed that Kay walked off with the film.

Her own opinion was a little different than the rest. Francis simply stated in her diary after viewing the final print on June 21, “Ouch!”

Personal and professional problems Bow was enduring did not cause too much chaos on the set. It was not long after the completion of Dangerous Curves that Bow found her career on the rocks at Paramount. A brief revival at Fox studios three years later did little to help bring her back to her former glory. She left the screen soon for good.

For Kay Francis, Dangerous Curves proved to be the successful launch for a star who would become one of the most prominent and admired in the decade to come.


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The False Madonna (1931)

Cast:
Kay Francis … Tina
William ‘Stage’ Boyd … Dr. Ed Marcy
Conway Tearle … Grant Arnold
John Breeden … Phillip Bellows
Marjorie Gateson … Rose
Charles D. Brown … Peter Angel

Directed by Stuart Walker.
Based on “The Heart is Young” by May Edginton.
Screenplay by Arthur Kober & Ray Harris.
Dialogue by Arthur Kober.
Camera by Henry Sharp.
Still Photography by Bert Lynch.
Music by Hermand Hand, W. Franke Harling & Bernard Kaun.
Song “Roamin’ in the Gloamin'” by Sir Harry Lauder.

Released December 5, 1931.
A Paramount Picture.


 

Webmaster’s Review:

The False Madonna, Kay’s last starring film for her Paramount contract, signaled to moviegoers exactly why she had made the switch from Paramount to Warner Bros. after two years of so-so roles. The film was almost good. The keyword in that description is almost.

Kay plays Tina, a hard-edged con woman who’s fed up with her life of crime. Her partners include Dr. Ed Marcy (played by William Boyd), Rose (Marjorie Gateson), and Peter Angel (Charles D. Brown). The film opens up with them on a train heading to their next hideout. Dr. Marcy is not a legitimate doctor. He was forced to give up his practice when he was linked to some shady malpractice.

Despite Tina’s desire to leave them for good, Dr. Marcy comes up with a plot to get a lot of fast cash. There’s a young blind man, Phillip Bellows (John Breeden) who is searching for his mother. Dr. Marcy doesn’t know the boy is blind, but decides Tina would be perfect to pose as her, get some cash, then they can bail and she can leave the racket for good.

A reluctant Tina goes through with it. No one is familiar with the real Mrs. Bellows, since she left her home and husband right after her child was born. Grant Arnold, a father-like figure for Phillip, is immediately suspicious, but doesn’t let anyone else know he’s onto Tina.

Since Phillip is blind (from an airplane accident two years ago), he believes Tina is really Mrs. Bellows. Almost immediately he’s attached to her. They spend time in a beautiful garden together, play games, and enjoy what appears to be the start of a long relationship.

Unfortunately, Phillip is ill, and most likely will die soon. Dr. Marcy begins to press Tina for the cash. She ignores him, as she’s beginning to love Phillip as her own. When he dies, she’s heartbroken.

Dr. Marcy plans a shakedown, not knowing Phillip is dead. Everything comes out, and Grant, who has come to admire Tina for allowing Phillip to die happily, decides she can stay with him.

As I was watching the film, I was aware of how bizarre the plot was. But didn’t realize how absurd it all is until I sat down to write this review. Despite its shortcomings and dated dramatic material, it does come together nicely. There’s only one major flaw with the film: Kay Francis, at 26, was too young for the part.

Seriously. It’s even too ridiculous for the other people around Phillip to be convinced she’s his mother because she’s so young. That, not the weird plot-line, are what dampen the movie. It’s not a bad one, and Kay Francis does great acting with her awkward position, but the role called for someone older.

The only way the producers could have made this more believable would be if the age of Phillip was reduced by 10 years. It’s more believable to have a 26-year-old Kay Francis fake her position as a mother of a seven year old than a 17 year old. Really.

Marjorie Gateson, who appeared with Kay in several films, is almost unrecognizable, as she’s under a cheap platinum blonde wig. William Boyd does great with his part as the corrupt doctor, and Conway Tearle also does well as Grant Arnold.

The acting by the entire cast is excellent. And the part allows Kay great range, but because of the ridiculous plot-line and miscasting of Kay Francis, this one would never be considered a classic or a must see.

There are a few interesting shots of Kay getting herself ready before a mirror. That’s about it in terms of clever camera work. The sets are beautiful, but this definitely was not an expensive picture to make.

Still, it was Kay’s largest role at Paramount to date, and the first film she ever made for the studio which was completely about her character.

Unfortunately, this was also the last.


 

Vintage Reviews

(From the January 1932 issue of Photoplay):

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