Category Archives: Films

The Films of Kay Francis

The Virtuous Sin (1930)

Walter Huston … Gen. Gregori Platoff
Kay Francis … Marya Ivanova Sablin
Kenneth MacKenna … Lt. Victor Sablin
Jobyna Howland … Alexandra Stroganov
Paul Cavanagh … Capt. Orloff
Eric Kalkhurst … Lt. Glinka
Oscar Apfel … Maj. Ivanoff
Gordon McLeod … Col. Nikitin
Youcca Troubetzkov … Capt. Sobakin
Victor Potel … Sentry

Directed by George Cukor & Louis Gasnier.
Based on the play “A Tabornok” by Lajos Zilahy.
Screenplay by Martin Brown.
Scenery by Louise Long.
Music by Sam Coslow, Karl Hajos, Howard Jackson, Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin, Max Terr & Richard A Whiting.
Sound by Harold M. McNiff.
Camera by David Abel.
Editing by Otto Lovering.
Gowns by Travis Banton.

Released October 24, 1930.
A Paramount Picture.

Webmaster’s Review:

The Virtuous Sin, despite a second billing to Walter Huston, proved to be the first starring role for Kay Francis. And it’s a good one. Floating between heavy drama and clever comedy, the picture gave Kay her best acting opportunity until that point. The role allowed her to play a desperate woman trying to save the life of a husband she doesn’t love by posing as a glorified prostitute, trying to seduce a hard-edged General, falling in love with him in the process.

The film opens up in Russia in 1914. Kay plays Marya, a young woman interested in scientist Victor, played by Kay’s future husband Kenneth MacKenna. Though she doesn’t really love him, they decide to get married anyway, since Marya is interested in his science work. Unfortunately, she loses him when he is drafted into the war under the tough, dominant General Gregori Platoff.

Victor doesn’t prove to be a good solider. Uninterested in his duties, he has a confrontation with Platoff. When he refuses to respect the General, he is sentenced to die by firing squad.

Marya receives a letter announcing the news her husband is to die. She unsuccessfully tried to beg Platoff not to draft her husband before, and he was unimpressed by her tears.

This time, she’s firm. There will be no tears.

Marya goes away and gets herself in with Alexandra, the mistress of an enormous brothel. The General and his soldiers visit frequently, and Marya realizes this is her best opportunity to seduce the Platoff into a night of love making, after which she can plea for her husband’s pardon.

After her first night there, the General doesn’t come in. Knowing it’s only days until her husband is to be shot, she goes out to lure him in. She pretends that one of his soldiers made a cheap pass at her as she was walking along, and she demands him to walk her home. Isn’t he quite surprised when her home is the brothel he and his soldiers visit?

Interested in her, he goes to Alexandra’s that night. They drink and go for a long walk. By the next night, they make love.

During the course of this the camera shows a shot here and there of Victor sitting in his cell thinking and wondering what it is Marya can possibly doing to get him out.

The morning after their night together, Marya goes to visit General Platoff to beg him to release Victor. She tells him she’s his wife. He’s enraged, believing her and Victor got this scheme together to release him. She tells him Victor doesn’t know, “Then you’ve been rotten to both of us!” He scolds her, and tells her to get out.

Victor is released by Platoff, but realizes what Marya has done. When she confirms it, and that she never really loved Victor, he’s surprised but not entirely shocked. When questioning her, she admits, “To be loyal, I had to be disloyal.”

Realizing they are an unmatched pair, Victor agrees they should get a divorce.

The last scene shows General Patoff and Marya embrace and kiss.

This film was far better than I had ever expected it to be. Really. I know the plot is extremely dated, but I think it’s handled fairly well. This is one of those Kay Francis movies her critics like to use to argue she had no talent. In reality, take a name like Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis and throw them in here and the performances would have been just as uniformly poor.

Or even worse.

Honestly, this isn’t that bad of a movie. It certainly moves quickly, and the brothel is really a marvel to look at. It’s like a palace. The rest of the sets are a bit drab, but it’s 1914 Russia at the start of the First World War. It’s not a glamorous setup to begin with. This isn’t Park Ave, and the set designers weren’t about to give it the illusion as being such.

Kay gives a good performance. This allows her great range. To say it’s one of her best may be a bit of a stretch, but it certainly was up until that point. Despite Walter Huston getting top billing, this is her movie. This is about her struggle, no one else’s.

It’s most interesting seeing her play coquettish when the General is walking her home. The camera shoots Kay from a downward angle, and she’s extremely flirty but very suggestive. Almost channeling the suggestiveness of Clara Bow, whom she had worked with in the previous year’s Dangerous Curves.

It’s interesting to see her play opposite Kenneth MacKenna, knowing how hot things were between them off the set. Still, aside from all her personal diary entries about their love making, she is totally out for Walter Huston in this one.

His character is ideal for him, a tough General whose heart is warmed by a young woman in trouble. He makes the most of every scene he’s in, and his chemistry with Kay is the strongest here than in any of the other films that made together: Gentlemen of the Press, Storm At Daybreak, and Always in My Heart.

MacKenna is theatrical in the way one would expect a stage actor from New York to be in an early sound film. Really, it is Jobyna Howland as Alexandra who does most of the scene stealing. Standing at 6 feet tall, she is the only woman I can ever remember seeing on the screen who towered over Kay Francis.

The two have good chemistry, too. Howland as the older mistress of the brothel, and Kay, a young a woman who’s pretending to work there. She’s humorous and the center of attention of whatever scene she’s in. It is her who prevents this film from becoming just another early talking melodrama.

It’s unfortunate she didn’t make more films.

Director George Cukor later said he wished the movie would just disappear. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. While this may not have been the best example of his work, it certainly wasn’t as painful as he remembered it to be.

There are painful to watch movies made from this time. The Virtuous Sin definitely isn’t one of them.

A spread that originally appeared in
Picture Play, December 1930:



Vintage Reviews:

By Mordaunt Hall. Published November 2, 1930 in the New York Times.

“THE Virtuous Sin,” the lurid title for the picturization of Lajos Zilahy’s play “The General,” which was at the Paramount, is a clever comedy with a splendid performance by Walter Huston, who appears as a Russian General-Gregori Platoff. This high officer is a strict disciplinarian, whose uniforms fit him to perfection. He is not a philanderer. He might never have noticed Marya Ivanova, played by Kay Francis, had she not accosted him one day when he is with his officers.

Marya’s intention in addressing the General is to prevail upon him to pardon her husband, who at that moment is in jail, sentenced to be shot within less than a week. Marya thought that by flirting with the General and flattering him she might wheedle a signature out of him that would set free her husband, Lieutenant Victor Sablin, a medical student who found himself unfit for the fighting branch of the army. Marya, after having elicited admiration and affection from the General, finds that she has fallen in love with him.

This talking picture was directed by George Cukor and Louis Gasnier, who have sensed the many opportunities afforded for levity—restrained, natural comedy. When the General, who knows no superior on earth in his district, stalks into a night club presided over by Alexandra Stroganoff the whole atmosphere of the place changes. Young officers flushed by wine control themselves and where there was revelry and boisterous laughter there is sudden quiet. The General takes a seat beside Marya. Where drinks and bottles of wine were being ordered a moment before, the gilded youths content themselves with subdued conversation and smiles at pretty girls. As for Alexandra, who is impersonated by Jobyna Howland, she is more than slightly disappointed in the falling off in receipts. In fact, it is with a decided sigh of relief that Alexandra observes the General and Marya leave the place.

There is a constant fund of interest in this picture’s action. It is one of those rare offerings in which youth takes a back seat and the General wins the bright-eyed Marya, the excuse being that Marya, although willing to do her utmost to obtain a pardon for her husband, is not really in love with him and never was. Marya, one understands, would be just as devoted to the haughty General if he wore a lounge suit as she is when he is arrayed in his stunning Cossack regalia.

Originally appeared in Photoplay, March 1931:



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Between Us Girls (1942)


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.

IMDb Info.
TCM Overview.


Webmaster’s Review:

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.

Vintage Reviews:

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.



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British Agent (1934)

Leslie Howard … Stephen ‘Steve’ Locke
Kay Francis … Elena Moura
William Gargan … Bob Medill
Phillip Reed … Gaston LeFarge
Irving Pichel … Sergei Pavlov
Ivan F. Simpson … ‘Poohbah’ Evans
Halliwell Hobbes … Sir Walter Carrister
J. Carrol Naish … Commissioner of War Trotsky
Walter Byron … Under Secretary Stanley
Cesar Romero … Tito Del Val
Arthur Aylesworth … Mr. Henry Farmer
Alphonse Ethier … Paul DeVigney
Frank Reicher … Mr. X
Tenen Holtz … Lenin
Doris Lloyd … Lady Carrister

Directed by Michael Curtiz.
Based on the novel by R.H. Bruce Lockhart.
Screenplay by Laird Doyle.
Art Direction by Anton Grot.
Musical Direction by Leo F. Forbstein.
Music by Bernhard Haun & Heinz Roemheld.
Camera by Al Roberts.
Editing by Thomas Richards.
Gowns by Orry-Kelly.
Still Photography by Homer Van Pelt.

Released September 20, 1934.
A Warner Bros. Picture.

Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $475,000
Domestic Gross: $532,000
Foreign Gross: $390,000
Total Gross: $922,000

See the Box Office Page for more info.

Background Information:

Aside from what was really a cameo appearance in Wonder Bar,1934 proved to be one of Kay Francis’ most successful years in Hollywood. As a star of the first magnitude, her first film of that year was Mandalay, one of her most famous projects, costarring Ricardo Cortez and directed by Michael Curtiz. She followed Mandalay with her much useless appearance in Wonder Bar, a movie which she shouldn’t have had to make, and then Dr. Monica, a good soapy drama with Warren William which mirrored the ideal type of bizarre scenario which Kay became most identified with.

British Agent brought Kay back into the real world. Well, sort of…

R.H. Lockhart was a real-life man sent to Russia in 1917 to prevent the new Soviet (at the time, Bolshevik) from coming into agreement on a peace deal with Germany. Lockhart published his experiences in Russia into his very popular autobiography, Memoirs of a British Agent, in 1932. Warner Bros. purchased the movie rights shortly afterward with Barbara Stanwyck in mind for the female lead. She turned the property down.

Leslie Howard, one-time lover of Kay’s, was selected to portray Lockhart. A perfect choice, and Warner Bros. chose Kay for the female lead and hyped the film as “two great Warner Bros. stars teamed together for the first time!” The production values were generous by all means, and Jack Warner was rumored to have wanted to even go as far to send a crew to Russia to film authentic scenes.

But don’t be mistaken, despite billing and advertising, this is Leslie Howard’s movie. Kay was likely thrown in the mix for box office attraction, though she was probably the most believable of any of the top female stars of the time as a Russian spy. It was still a very good dramatic picture for her to appear in, especially since another part she was up for that year was the box office bomb and critically dismissed failure Madame Du Barry, which went to Dolores Del Rio.

On a darker note, Kay attempted suicide during the production of the film, and had to wear gloves in certain scenes to hide the deep scars on her wrists. The reason for her attempt still remains a mystery among biographers Lynn Kear, Scott O’Brien and John Rossman.

British Agent was released to positive reviews and seemed to be popular enough with audiences to be mentioned over ten years later in one of Kay’s post-Hollywood theater ads as “one of her most memorable films.”

More information on Lockhart.

Webmaster’s Review:

In 1917 Russia was on the break of a political revolution. Steven Locke, an unknown British diplomat, is at a party at the British embassy as tension fills the streets. During the party, shots are fired through the glass windows and a large gathering of Russian protesters take to the streets, fighting the soldiers who were against the German services in the First World War. American and English servicemen are stationed in Moscow and St. Petersburg to keep an eye on the situation. If the Russian revolt should overthrow the government, it could mean that the Germans could have an enormous boost in man power against the allies fighting in Europe.

As the party at the embassy is shot up during the protest, Elena, a young Russian woman fighting with the Red army, fires a shot at an officer who’s beating a young mother with her child in her arms. As he turns and makes his way to kill Elena, she runs onto the embassy property, where she is saved by Locke. The two exchange brief words, and she thanks him for saving her life, but that she is opposed to the current conditions of Russia and is firm on being a part in a help to overthrow the government.

Steven and Elena meet up again at a Russian tavern. She attends with Pavlov, one of the higher ups in the resistance. That night, Steven and Elena leave for his residence where they make love. During the course of the night they come to terms that they are on two very different political grounds. He is working to keep the White Army in power while she’s working to overthrow it, believing that it will better Russia and its people in return.

Everything comes to a head when Lenin, one of the most important men in the revolution, has been shot and remains in critical condition. The revolutionists want to frame Locke as the shooter.

As the story goes on, Elena begins to break Steven’s trust. While she’s honest, straightforward and he agrees she’s never lied to him, certain pieces of information which he has told her in confidence have been used to build a case against him. As a result, the revolutionists want Locke to be arrested and either deported or executed.

As gunfire ensues between both parties, several of Locke’s assistants are murdered and his home is raided. Hiding in an attic, his friend Bob Mendill is arrested and tortured for information leading to Locke’s arrest. Using Elena, they find out the location of Locke, and plan to execute him by firing up the building, which Elena has told them contains enough ammunition to blow the entire thing to pieces.

Still in love with Steven, Elena goes to the flat to die with him. While waiting for the final moments of her life to take place, there is a big demonstration in the streets. Lenin has survived and the people arrested and jailed as possible suspects have been released.

Steven and Elena are free to leave for England to begin a new life together

This is one of the realest films Kay Francis ever appeared in. While Lothar Mendes and John Cromwell coached her how to act in movies during her years at Paramount, it can easily be argued that it was under Warner Bros. directors William Dieterlie and Michael Curtiz (who directed this film) that she gave her greatest performances and established herself as the actress and star most remember her as.

The film has a very real Russian feel to it. Not only because there is so much of the language being spoken in the film and by the rioters, but it just doesn’t feel like it was filmed on a Hollywood studio soundstage. Everything about it is realistic. The sets are not extravagant (except for the opening party at the British embassy), but the production values are still solid by the amount of people and action in the film.

While this is a great showcase for Kay Francis, this is really a Leslie Howard film. As the title character, he gets nearly all of the attention, but Kay is still showcased to a great advantage. She does hold much of the attention of the audience. With the exception of the opening ten minutes or so of the film, and the time period in which Locke is in hiding, Kay has one of her best roles as a woman torn between what her heart is telling her to do for herself and her love for Steven, and what she has to do for her country. It’s one of her best characters up until this point. She’s convincing and subtle throughout, and in her many teary-eyed scenes she conveys so much emotion without overdoing anything. Her sensitivity and dilemma garner much sympathy from viewers.

Curtiz, who had just directed her beautifully in Mandalay, would go on to direct her in equally good performances in Stolen Holiday and Another Dawn. But it’s easy to see why some of Kay’s fans don’t like British Agent. This isn’t the standard “woman’s film” that most would associate Kay with. It’s decidedly a picture geared towards male moviegoers of the mid-1930s, and clearly it didn’t miss its goal. The film was one of the more successful films for Warner Bros. of that year.

Kay doesn’t have elaborate makeup, hair, or fancy Orry-Kelly gowns. While she’s still beautifully photographed and has several great camera shots (and looks great in her leather coats), the glamour here is virtually nonexistent.

British Agent was the only film Kay made with Leslie Howard. Personally, I have never really been a big fan of his, finding him an odd combination of overly intelligent and stern yet wimpy and flamboyant at the same time. Still, this is one of the best films I have ever seen him in. Other roles I have seen him in include A Free Soul, Smilin’ Through, Of Human Bondage, the Petrified Forest, Romeo and Juliet, and Gone with the Wind. Honestly, I think British Agent was his best performance out of the entire bunch.

William Gargan, Cesar Romero, and Irving Pichel are also good.

In regards the to the story and the plot, British Agent is definitely a film which requires more than one viewing to fully understand everything that’s going on. Some of the characters appear briefly, but are referenced extensively in later scenes.

A good action and suspense film, British Agent definitely offers Kay Francis fans a major departure for her usual glamour assignments in one of her best performances.

Vintage Reviews:

By Arnold Sennwald. Published September 20, 1934 in the New York Times.

A situation richly veined with striking dramatic values has been utilized with considerable vitality in “British Agent,” which was presented at the Strand yesterday. Against the lurid backdrop of the Russian upheaval and collapse during the war, the Brothers Warner dramatize an episode from R. H. Bruce Lockhart’s autobiographical chronicle of last year. As Britain’s unofficial emissary to the revolutionary government, Leslie Howard is enormously helpful to the drama, while the momentous and delicate climaxes which crowd the story come to life on the screen in vigorous melodramatic style.

There is an unfortunate irony implicit in the structure of the photoplay which (it seems to this corner) prevents “British Agent” from conveying to its audiences the full impact of its material. Although the love of the young Briton and the fascinating Russian spy has been described with the proper tenderness and urbanity, it still fails to escape a rather furiously unimportant appearance alongside of the really great events with which the new film is concerned. The unofficial ambassador, in Mr. Howard’s excellent performance, is so passionately chauvinistic in his blind devotion to Great Britain that when his country betrays him and jeopardizes his life for the sake of diplomatic appearances, the tragedy is infinitely touching. When, thereafter, Mr. Howard and his passionate Russian begin to suffer over their personal difficulties, with an epoch-making revolution for a background, their romantic woes have a tendency to seem less than important to the spectator. In addition it is the misfortune of “British Agent” to contain in its dialogue a line in which Kay Francis boldly announces to her lover that she is a woman first and a Cheka spy second, or words to that effect.

In any event, “British Agent” immerses its hero in a first-rate dramatic situation. This is 1917, and the war-weary Russians, with Lenin at their head, are on the point of negotiating a separate peace with Germany. The situation is of the gravest importance to the Allies because such a settlement would permit the Central Powers to release new divisions from the Eastern front and hurl them against the exhausted Allied armies in the west. Great Britain, helpless to deal directly with the new government because of her failure to recognize the Bolshevist régime, commissions Stephen Locke to represent her unofficially. Unable to call upon his own country for help, in constant fear of having his unofficial promises to Russia officially rejected, the young man attempts to persuade the Russians to withhold the peace agreement. When Downing Street betrays him he finds himself alone and in disrepute. Finally he joins the counter-revolutionaries, fails in an attempted coup d’état, and in the Cheka’s reign of terror narrowly escapes with his life.

Michael Curtiz has staged the drama capably, painting in the scenes of revolution and violence with swift and convincing strokes. Mr. Howard’s performance, played in a key of high nervous tension and desperate courage, is all the more impressive after his totally different and equally fine performance in “Of Human Bondage.” He has the best of assistance from William Gargan, Ivan Simpson, Halliwell Hobbes and J. Carroll Naish, while the dark-eyed and vibrant Miss Francis makes a handsome undercover agent for the Cheka.

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Scandal Sheet (1931)


George Bancroft … Mark Flint
Kay Francis … Edith Flint
Clive Brook … Noel Adams
Regis Toomey … Regan
Lucien Littlefield … Charles McCloskey
Gilbert Emery … Franklin
Harry Beresford … Egbert Bertram Arnold
Mary Foy … Mrs. Wilson
Jackie Searl … Little Wilson Boy
Fred Kelsey … Detective Sgt. Vincent Molloy

Directed by John Cromwell.
Story by Oliver H.P. Garrett.
Screenplay by Vincent Lawrence & Max Marcin.
Sound by J.A. Goodrich.
Original Music by Karl Hajos & W. Frank Harling.
Camera by Davis Abel.
Editing by George Nichols Jr.

Released February 6, 1931.
A Paramount Picture.

IMDb Info.
TCMDb Info.

Background Information:

Scandal Sheet marked the first release for Kay Francis in the year of 1931. It not only provided her a second opportunity to work with George Bancroft, but it was also her first film with debonair English actor Clive Brook.

The story was based on the life of Charles Chapin, a former editor for the New York Evening World. Chapin had murdered his wife and tried to make it look as if she had committed suicide. During the filming of Scandal Sheet, Chapin died in prison on December 12, 1930.

John Cromwell, one of Kay’s best directors, was the director of this film.

Francis was not exactly riding high at Paramount during this time. In January of 1931, she signed a lucrative contract offer with Warner Bros., though her employment with Paramount was not to end for another year. There was some tension between Francis and the studio, as evident in the change of assignments in which she received.

When Kay first arrived at Paramount in 1929, she seemed destined for overnight stardom. To an extent, she achieved it. But it was not long after her completion of a few projects at Paramount where it became obvious that the studio really didn’t know what to do with her.

If Francis was going to achieve any notoriety at all for the studio, it would be as a well-known featured player. Nothing more.

While her assignments for the remainder of the year were mostly mediocre, critics praised her performances. Of Scandal Sheet, the New York Times wrote, “Kay Francis gives a steady performance as Mrs. Flint.”

A year later, Francis would find herself at a new studio as a prestige star in her own right. The only difference would be as her films became more developed as starring vehicles, the kind remarks from critics became fewer and farther between.

1932kaymirrorjanphotoplayAbove: From the January 1932 issue
of Photoplay.

Vintage Reviews:

By Mordaunt Hall. Published February 9, 1931 in the New York Times.

In “Scandal Sheet,” the current pictorial offerings at the Paramount, George Bancroft portrays Mark Flint, a tyrannical and relentless managing editor of a tabloid paper, whose mad eagerness to print the news, no matter who it harms, ends, as one might surmise, in his being hoist with his own petard.

Parts of the story have evidently been inspired by the life of an unfortunate newspaper city editor who died in Sing Sing. Flint is last seen in prison, editing a convict newspaper, still hungry for news.

The scenes in the newspaper office are much better done than usual, but the actions of Flint and others are invariably melodramatic. Flint’s elderly secretary is a nonchalant specimen of humanity who never gets excited no matter what he has to take down on his typewriter. The last bit of precious news chances to be Flint’s confession of having murdered Noel Adams, a banker, with whom Mrs. Flint is in love.

Flint discovers his wife’s infatuation for Adams through a photograph snapped by a man sent to watch Adams, whose bank is on the brink of disaster. This picture reveals Adams with his arm around Mrs. Flint as they stand at a window wondering what an “extra” is about. This photographer must have had a long-distance lens to get such a picture, but, be that as it may, the photograph eventually finds its way to Flint’s desk. It is news and, no matter who it hurts, it must be printed!

Clive Brook acts the part of Adams with coolness and ease. The shooting of Adams is left to the imagination, but Flint is perceived on his way to the banker’s apartment and a little later he is seen returning in a taxicab after having slain his wife’s lover.

Mr. Bancroft does quite well with his rôle. He is a trifle melodramatic at times, but in the closing scenes his work is impressive. Kay Francis gives a steady performance as Mrs. Flint, and Gilbert Emery is excellent as the publisher of the tabloid.

Irene Bordoni appears in person on the stage, and sings several songs and mimics Maurice Chevalier singing one of his songs.

Originally appeared in the
February 1931 issue of Photoplay:



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Let’s Go Native (1930)


Jack Oakie … Voltaire McGinnis
Jeanette MacDonald … Joan Wood
Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher … Jerry, King of the Island
James Hall … Wally Wendell
William Austin … Basil Pistol
Kay Francis … Constance Cook
David Newell … Chief Officer Williams
Charles Sellon … Wallace Wendell Sr.
Eugene Pallette … Deputy Sheriff Cuthbert

Produced by Adolph Zukor.
Directed by Leo McCarey.
Screenplay by George Marion & Percy Health.
Songs by Richard A. Whiting & George F. Marion.
Dance Direction by David Bennett.
Sound by Harry D. Mills.
Camera by Victor Milner.

A Paramount Picture.
Released August 20, 1930.

Background Information:

Coming off of her work opposite Ronald Colman in Raffles (1930), Kay Francis was undoubtedly hard-pressed to find out that her next film assignment from her home studio of Paramount would be the sixth-billed part in the bizarre musical comedy Let’s Go Native, with the even weirder pairing of Jackie Oakie and Jeanette MacDonald in the leading roles.

By mid-1930 Francis had been a star on the rise for a year and a half, definitely in the “overnight sensation” category. But in her new-found fame there was already a major problem which seemed to plague Francis’ overall career: while her popularity with fans was growing with each role, interest in her from her employer seemed to wane.

At Paramount, Francis ranked more among the featured players crop of stars on the studio lot. She watched on as plum roles in good films were given to actresses like Claudette Colbert, Tallulah Bankhead, and Marlene Dietrich. Today, a lot of the work from Paramount remains fairly obscure due to a lack of distribution from its catalog, now owned by Universal. In its day, Paramount was one of the best studios to work for, with its stars and films widely popular with critics and audiences at the time. But a lack of knowledge on what exactly to do with Francis hampered her success with the organization.

This was a fact of Francis’ career which would follow her around like a black cloud throughout her time in Hollywood. Five years later, then at the height of her career, in a review published in the New York Sun for the 1935 film I Found Stella Parish, a writer commented, “The ceaseless search of Warner Brothers for a worthy Kay Francis vehicle has not ended.”

Fortunately for Francis, she was not the star of Let’s Go Native. Jeanette MacDonald was its big leading lady. MacDonald, already popular due to a series of lavishly produced musicals (some filmed in the two-strip Technicolor process), was riding high at Paramount and would continue to do so opposite several films with Maurice Chevalier, whom Kay dated four years later.

Jack Oakie, the leading man of Let’s Go Native, seems to the only one not out of place in this tawdry effort. His goofy appeal fit the bizarre situation perfectly about a group of people who end up shipwrecked on an island and have to resort to wearing stage costumes.

Kay Francis was given the opportunity to sing in this one, and she does fairly well. The song is, “I’ve Got a Yen For You.” In her follow-up film for Let’s Go Native, The Virtuous Sin (1930), Francis again sang briefly.

Two years later, Francis was a star in her own right at her new studio, Warner Bros. But, despite the privileges associated with stardom, Francis found herself again miscast in a series of mediocre films from the studio before she was reduced in popularity altogether.

Vintage Reviews:

By Mordaunt Hall. Published August 30, 1930 in the New York Times.

Jack Oakie and Jeanette MacDonald are the principals in “Let’s Go Native,” a ludicrous audible film hodge-podge now on exhibition at the Paramount. Whatever may be the final opinion of this mile or so of merry tomfoolery, it should be set forth that not a few of its hectic adventures were greeted with shrieks of laughter from an audience yesterday afternoon. Hence, whether it strikes one as an exciting dream bordering on a nightmare, or whether it seems more or less polished slapstick, it is an offering with a certain entertainment value.

The joking is often silly, but at times it is quite funny. George Marion Jr., the punning subtitle writer, and Percy Heath are responsible for the story, or what might be referred to as one. It is a production with occasional songs, which cause the affair as a whole to remind one of a musical comedy with some real land and water, a real sky, a real ship or two and a studio island that in the end is supposed to be submerged during an earthquake.

One of the laughable incidents is where the boomeranging of one hat ends in the hats of most of a steamship’s passengers and also that of the Captain being tossed overboard. Mr. Oakie as Voltaire McGinnis, an inexpert chauffeur who has been promoted from the stoke-hold to deck steward, realizes the grave error of throwing the Captain’s cap overboard. He therefore looks up in the crow’s nest, or where it might be, and shouts:

“Say driver, you had better put on the brakes. The Captain has lost his cap.”

There is a shipwreck, with a giddy time aboard two rafts that eventually find the shores of an island in the South Seas, a place ruled by Jerry, a Brooklyn-born individual, who wears a crown of native pearls. His subjects are all girls who astonish the survivors of the rafts by answering in fluent English, with a suggestion of the Kings County dialect, presumed to have been acquired through conversing with King Jerry.

In the early stages of this utterly irrational work, the furniture movers succeed in smashing several vases, other objects of art, tables and chairs. Eugene Pallette, the slow-witted sleuth of the Van Dine murder films, does most of the damage and one can’t say that there is much in the way of suspense, for Mr. Pallette invariably lets the audience know what is going to happen. This same criticism applies to other parts of the picture, but breaking chinaware and furniture is something spectators cannot witness without roaring with laughter, so long as it does not happen in their own homes.

Several of the players, including Miss MacDonald and Mr. Oakie, have an opportunity to ease their feelings in song. Miss MacDonald gives as pleasing a performance as is possible in such a mélange. Mr. Oakie, William Austin, James Hall, Kay Francis and others add to the wild gayety.



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Sheet Music:lesgo30

Wonder Bar (1934)


Al Jolson … Al Wonder
Kay Francis … Liane
Dolores del Rio … Inez
Ricardo Cortez … Harry
Dick Powell … Tommy
Guy Kibbee … Simpson
Ruth Donnelly … Mrs. Simpson
Hugh Herbert … Pratt
Louise Fazenda … Mrs. Pratt
Hal Le Roy … Himself
Fifi D’Orsay … Mitzi
Merna Kennedy … Claire
Henry O’Neill … Richard – the Maitre’d
Robert Barrat … Captain Hugo Von Ferring
Henry Kolker … Mr. R.H. Renaud

Produced by Robert Lord.
Directed by Lloyd Bacon.
Based on the Play by Karl Farkas, Robert Katscher & Geza Herczeg.
Screenplay by Earl Baldwin.
Songs by Harry Warren & Al Dubin.
Musical Direction by Leo F. Forbstein.
Musical Numbers Created by Busby Berkeley.
Camera by Sol Polito.
Editing by George Amy.
Art Direction by Jack Okey & William Pogany.
Gowns by Orry-Kelly.
Still Photography by B. Longsworth.

Released February 28, 1943.
A Warner Bros. Picture.

Note: Kay Francis was top-billed on nearly all movie posters and advertisements, but received second billing to Jolson in the film, an attempt from Warner Bros. to revive his faded career. Kay was not happy about being used to promote him and another faded icon, Dolores Del Rio. She later said:

“Frankly, I did not want to take part in that picture. I made no secret of my dissatisfaction with my role. It was a small, inconsequential part, and I believe (and I still believe) that I should not have been forced, by my contract, to play it.” ‘Spiking the Rumors,’ article written by James M. Fidler for Silver Screen, August 1934.


Webmaster’s Review:

Honestly, I had avoided watching Wonder Bar for many years. As a Kay Francis fan, I didn’t see any importance in watching this movie, because I was under the impression that, since her role was tiny, I didn’t have much to witness here. I think I was wrong. Aside from all of Wonder Bar’s notorious flaws (I’ll elaborate later on), the film actually does hold up as interesting entertainment some 80-plus years later.

The main attraction of the film is Al Jolson as Al Wonder, the owner of the Paris nightclub in which the majority of the movie takes place. (There are a few additional outside scenes in the very beginning of the movie, but, after the first five minutes or so, the rest of the film, including the final scenes, take place at the club.) Ricardo Cortez and Dolores Del Rio, as Harry & Inez, are the main attractions. Dick Powell has VERY limited camera time in which he is not singing. We see him early in the film, working on a song for Inez, and a few love scenes with her. Once the night gets rolling, he’s basically positioned on the stage singing throughout the entire movie.

One can see why he was so infuriated with this production.

Starting off the actual plot is a missing necklace. Liane, played by Kay Francis, has given it to Harry to pay for “dancing lessons”—which we come to realize is a code word for a love affair they’ve been having behind her husband’s back. Kay’s husband, played by Henry Kolker (again), doesn’t want to believe his wife is straying. The basis of this plot is chasing something that isn’t achievable. Inez loves Harry. Harry loves Liane (or her money). Al AND Tommy (Dick Powell) are in love with Inez.

It’s a bizarre situation that unfolds surprisingly well over the course of one night at the Wonder Bar.

The first major musical number, “When This Lovely Dance is Over,” is stunning; though completely unreal for a Paris nightclub. Filled with hundreds of dancers and a massive set of rotating dance floors and moving columns, it was a standard, over-the-top Busby Berkeley achievement through camera tricks and oddly positioned angles. It takes place in-between a dance performed by Harry and Inez. (A stand-in was used at least for Del Rio, I couldn’t tell if that was Cortez or not.)

Drama begins to unfold. We have a man who wants to commit suicide (apparently just sitting at a bar is a great place to slit your wrist). Inez stabs Harry when she learns he wants to leave her for Liane. Liane is busted by Al trying to leave the country with Harry. Liane’s necklace gets returned to her by Al when he purchases it from Harry just to humiliate her; to make her feel so stupid for leaving her devoted husband for a sleazy user like Harry. Harry’s body is disposed of with that suicidal man who Al convinces to take Harry’s car and have a fatal automobile accident with (like an autopsy wouldn’t reveal a stab wound?). Very odd…

It’s more interesting on film than summarized in written from. There’s a lot of great humor from two older couples played by Guy Kibbee & Ruth Donnelly and Hugh Herbert & Louise Fazenda. They play American tourists in Paris. The husbands want to ditch their wives for other women, and the women want to ditch their husbands for other men. It’s done with surprisingly good, humorous taste for such a deliciously trashy film.

The final musical number, “Going to Heaven on a Mule,” is indescribable. Not only because of the overtly racist surface of a musical blackface number, but the overall production of it is just…bizarre.

In regards to performances. Al Jolson is, as described by other writers, an acquired taste. He was very famous for his blackface numbers in many of his films, beginning with The Jazz Singer (1927). By the time Wonder Bar went into production, he needed a hit; his career was on the downside. Warner Bros. picked their top talent and positioned them around him like props to draw in moviegoers. As a result, all but Del Rio were furious with him. Still, Jolson is interesting to watch; he’s not nearly as obnoxious as he appears to be on the surface.

Del Rio, whose career was also fading fast at the time, gets the second-most amount of attention from the camera. It can be said subtly was not one of her strongpoints…

Ricardo Cortez is deliciously sleazy in this one. It’s clear by this point he’d given up any attempts for audience sympathy. But, strangely, he did win my favor of “I hate him so much I really like him.” He’s just so good at playing “scoundrels” (what they referred to those types back then), it’s hard not to like him for it.

Poor Dick Powell doesn’t stand a chance. He gets buried in the film, but at least gets Del Rio at the end of the picture. But it’s Kay Francis who has the best part. She is a cold one here. Do not expect anything of the typical charming ‘Kay Francis at Warner Bros.’ actress you’re most familiar with. She is just as icy, vicious, and selfish as she was in her vamp days at Paramount. I love when Al finds her in Harry’s car, and she just cuts him off with “I beg your pardon?” She says it with so must disgust towards him, I had to rewind and watch it again.

She was great in this one, and really makes the film worthwhile for today’s audiences. While her role is small, she’s seen throughout the movie here and there, so you don’t forget about her.

Just expect this film to be in the “so bad it’s good” category.


Vintage Reviews:
 By Mordaunt Hall. Published March 1, 1934 in the New York Times.
Al Jolson’s latest film is an adaptation of “Wonder Bar,” which, in its stage form, was described by its producers as a “Continental novelty of European night life.” The picture, which is now at the Warners’ Strand, tells of the frolics, romances and the tragedies of one night in a Montmartre cabaret known as the Wonder Bar. It is set forth in much the same manner as “Grand Hotel,” but the studio experts see fit to emphasize here the cabaret show, touching, when it suits them, on the mirthful or melodramatic phases of the narrative.

“Wonder Bar” thus depends more upon melody and elaborate staging than it does on its story. Busby Berkeley gives several striking dance groupings and besides this angle of the film there is a series of settings that serve as the background for Mr. Jolson’s song, “Goin’ to Heaven on a Mule,” which is rendered by the popular entertainer in black-face. There is a conception of Heaven, with a black St. Peter, a black Archangel Gabriel and black angels. There are several amusing features to this section of the film, including the idea of having a “Chute to Hell,” a board on which is registered the number of persons in the Celestial regions and in Hades, and wings on both Mr. Jolson and his mule. Heaven, as viewed from the outside, is a jumble of modernistic structures leaning in all directions, with a tremendously high and exceptionally narrow entrance.

It is scarcely fair to make comparisons between this production and other musical pictures. Suffice it to say that those who are partial to this type of entertainment will probably relish “Wonder Bar,” especially during those interludes where Mr. Jolson lifts his voice to vehement singing.

This offering can also boast of its string of players. Besides the zealous Mr. Jolson, there is Ricardo Cortez, as the villain; Dolores Del Rio, as Mr. Cortez’s dancing partner and inamorata; Kay Francis as the faithless wife of a banker; Dick Powell, as a popular crooner, whose heart palpitates at the sight of Miss Del Rio; Guy Kibbee and Hugh Herbert, as two Americans who finally decide that it ought to be a capital offence for husbands to bring their wives to Paris; Robert Barrat, who is having his last fling at life, and several others. As for Mr. Jolson he is the well known Al Wonder, owner and entertainer of the renowned Wonder Bar. And he is also infatuated with Miss Del Rio.

Among the songs are “Don’t Say Good Night” and “Why Do I Dream Those Dreams?” which are sung by Dick Powell, and Mr. Jolson sings “Vive La France” and “Wonder Bar” as well as “Goin’ to Heaven on a Mule.”

Several of the characters are introduced before they reach the Wonder Bar. Then the doorman of the famous Montmartre resort rolls out the sidewalk carpet for the arrivals and in a closing flash this same man, in the wee small hours, rolls up the carpet and the Wonder Bar’s lights are switched off. Day has almost begun.



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Behind the Make-Up (1930)


Hal Skelly … Hap Brown
William Powell … Gardoni
Fay Wray … Marie Gardoni
Kay Francis … Kitty Parker
E.H. Calvert … Dawson
Paul Lukas … Boris
Agostino Borgato … Chef
Jacques Vanaire … Valet
Jean De Briac … Sculptor

Directed by Robert Milton and Dorothy Arzner.
Based on “The Feeder” by Mildred Cram.
Dialogue by George Manker Watters & Howard Estabrook.
Songs by Leo Robin, Sam Coslow, & Newell Chase.
Music score by W. Franke Harling & John Leipold.
Camera by Charles Lang.
Editing by Doris Drought.

A Paramount Picture.
Released January 6, 1930.

Background Information:

Behind the Make-Up was based on “The Feeder”, a story by Mildred Cram. This was the second screen adaptation of work by Cram, who later wrote the stories “Girls Together” (which became a movie for Joan Crawford in 1931 titled This Modern Age), “Tinfoil” (a film for Tallulah Bankead in 1932 titled Faithless), and “Love Affair” (a classic 1939 film with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer).

But it is the direction by Robert Milton which really is the star of the film.

Behind the Make-Up was the first film released in 1930 to feature Kay Francis. Fresh off of using her vamp powers to seduce Walter Huston, Richard Arlen, Buddy Rogers and Fredric March, she found herself again typecast as the seductress “Kitty Parker.” For those who only know Kay Francis for her long-suffering glamour roles in films such as I Found Stella Parish (1935), Give Me Your Heart (1936) and Stolen Holiday (1937), there is a big surprise waiting in her early films. There are no attempts at sympathy, Francis is ice cold in the vamp roles that first got her noticed. She would later emulate the acting powers she used in these early films when she made In Name Only (1939), her major comeback after leaving Warner Bros. where she was a top star for five years between 1932 and 1937.

“Kay Francis was also a real, live actress,” wrote Mick LaSalle in Complicated Women. Indeed she was. She was believable playing both the devoted, loving mother as well as the sexy siren seducing married men until she grew bored with them and tossed them away like trash into a garbage can.

A decade after her sexual powers forced William Powell’s character to commit suicide in this film, she was playing Deanna Durbin’s mother in It’s A Date (1940), a great example of her range as an actress.

Hal Skelly, the true star of the film, was an accomplished Broadway star as well as having established roots in actual vaudeville theater. Behind the Make-Up, specifically about vaudeville, was a star vehicle for him. Fresh after staring in Woman Trap (1929), with Evelyn Brent and Chester Morris, Skelly only had a handful of more film roles before his life was cut short after his car was struck by a train, tragically ending his life on June 16, 1934.

Behind the Make-Up was the first pairing of William Powell and Kay Francis, who went on to make 6 more notable films together, including One Way Passage (1932). The Powell/Francis teaming predated the onscreen films he later made with Myrna Loy at MGM. Powell and Francis both played villainous roles at Paramount, left the studio for more money at Warner Bros. where they took on sympathetic roles. But Kay stayed on with Warner Bros. and became a major star, as Powell’s career dipped quickly. After switching to MGM in 1934 he found himself becoming one of the most popular stars in the world.

And little Fay Wray? A bit hard to recognize in Behind the Make-Up because she has her natural brunette roots. She is most famous today for being the platinum blonde love interest of King Kong (1933).


From Picture Play, December 1929.



Webmaster’s Review:

This film opens with credits which appear over a vaudeville act. The performance is by a clown on a bicycle. The clown is Hap Brown. This sort sets up the idea of his character for the rest of the film.

We see a fade out from his clown appearance to behind his makeup, where he is just another man in New Orleans struggling to get by. After his performance he stops at a small dine-in where he sees Marie, a waitress who knows him well as a frequent customer.

After Hap leaves the diner he sees a dark man leaning against a post in the middle of the night. As he approaches the man, he walks away from Hap and falls as he goes to take a step up onto the walkway. Hap goes to help him and brings him back to his place. The weak individual is Gardoni, an Italian immigrant who is an artists and absolutely failing to become something in the States.

In Haps’s run-down apartment the two decide to take on a partnership. To show Gardoni some of his stuff, Hap has him sit through his show. Gardoni isn’t really impressed, believing Hap tries too hard for laughs.

Hap comes up with an act for the two of them. Gardoni can impersonate one of the “fine dames walking up 5th Ave” and Hap can follow him around like a poodle. Gardoni is skeptical, but they decide to try it out.

It’s a disaster and soon after Gardoni disappears altogether.

Hap takes a job as a dishwasher in the stop where Marie works. The two become an item and have plans to be married. One night they go to a vaudeville show, where Gardoni appears, having stolen the idea of Hap’s act.

Backstage there is a serious talk between Hap and Gardoni regarding what has happened. Marie comes backstage and is smitten with Gardoni and soon leaves Hap for him. Besides this love triangle, Gardoni and Hap decide to go on together as an act, with Gardoni clearly the star and Hap playing in the background behind the real star.

Their team is a major success and they find themselves in New York where Gardoni becomes smitten with Kitty Parker, a society vamp who’s “after” him.

Gardoni finds himself head-over-heels in love with Kitty, who soon becomes annoyed that he cannot repay his gambling losses to her. When she announces that she has plans to leave the United States with Borris, Gardoni kills himself.

Marie is heartbroken. Hap has accepted an offer in Dayton to perform, and she decides to leave with him.

This is a frustrating film, but the subject is dark and interesting.  Unfortunately, the limitations of the early sound technology severely diminish the chances for this movie to really be something. There is no background music outside of the stage scenes, so there are a lot of talky scenes with just the crackling of the static from the early microphones. It’s frustrating because this has the potential to be a really good film.

Still, it does deliver. There are several well shot (very interesting) scenes, the direction overall is exceptional, but the lighting throughout the entire film is poor. Hal Skelly is a very interesting presence. A vaudevillian himself, he is in incredible physical shape. He sort of reminds one of a less goofy Red Skelton type. Unfortunately his chances at success were ruined when his car was struck at a train crossing 4 years after Behind the Makeup was released.

Fay Wray does OK with a bad, bad part. At first she’s a little annoying as the wide-eyed ingénue, then sometimes she seems to be a bit of a brat. It’s just not a good character and she clearly was unsure of how to play the role of Marie. They should have cut her scenes away in Francis’ favor.

William Powell is excellent as Gardoni with the exception being that his Italian accent sounds more like a cross between Polish and Russian. It just misses where it’s supposed to be. If you can focus beyond that, you’ll appreciate his work in the movie.

Who makes this film for me was obviously Kay, even though her screen time is brief. This really isn’t a Kay Francis film, but it’s one of her best vamp roles. What I didn’t like was the odd way her final scene with Powell was lit. As she’s telling him she’s leaving with Borris, she’s almost completely covered by shadow. Then as she and Powell stand up, the camera doesn’t at first shift to show their faces so you just see their chests facing each other! It was an attempt to showcase Powell grabbing her wrist, indicating he can’t live without her. But the way it’s set up it just comes across as bad camerawork.

The scene is poorly edited, too. At one point they completely switch sides when the camera moves and Kay, who was on the camera left all of a sudden is on camera right…

It’s an oddly edited scene.

Overall Behind the Makeup is definitely worthy of attention from today’s critics, as much of the camera angles and use of shadows in the film mirror the later way movies were lit for the famous film noirs in the 1940s. There is a very big manipulation of dark/light photography to set the mood for the film.

It’s a fair programmer. Deserves a DVD release.

Screenshots from the film:

Vintage Reviews:

An ably directed and cleverly acted audible pictorial story of a stage lout, a pretty girl and a brilliant performer is now on view at the Paramount. It was directed by Robert Milton and Dorothy Arzner, who share alternately in screen credit for their dual direction. In the case of this present production, known as “Behind the Makeup,” Mr. Milton enjoys the distinction of having his name appended to it.

The characters are quite well delineated, but the story is rather limp and disappointing. Hal Skelly, William Powell and Fay Wray are the principals in this film, which opens promisingly and continues to hold the interest until Hap Brown becomes a trifle too eager to shield Gardoni, his colleague, who steals Marie, the girl he loves, and who also makes capital out of Hap’s ideas.

Hap is a dolt, a comedian without imagination. His doctrine is hokum. He finds Gardoni faint through lack of food. He befriends the foreign performer, who has failed on the stage because his efforts are over the heads of his audiences. Hap and Gardoni come to the conclusion that if they team together they may strike a happy medium and be successful. They try out their scheme. It fails.

The partnership is severed and Hap girls to work as a dishwasher in the little New Orleans restaurant where he was in the habit of taking his meals and chatting with Marie.

Hap and Marie go to the theatre together and Hap is amazed to see Gardoni on the stage entertaining the audience with a suggestion he (Hap) had made to the foreigner. Marie and Hap go backstage to see Gardoni and quite abruptly Marie becomes fascinated by the glib foreigner. It isn’t long before they are married and Hap, downhearted, consents to team up again with Gardoni. This time the act proves to be successful, more so that when Gardoni was acting alone.

The morose Hap worships Marie, but when he discovers Gardoni’s infidelity, he keeps the matter to himself. Gardoni supplies funds to an adventuress, who has a jolly time gambling.

Mr. Milton finally gets rid of Gardoni by letting it be known that he has committed suicide by jumping in the river. Still the hapless Hap considers it his duty to whitewash Gardoni’s character, but all’s well that ends well, for in the end there is an appreciative smile on Marie’s charming countenance as she sits in a theatre gazing upon Hap’s successful performance.

The lighting of the scenes and the movements of the players are effectively done. The voices are especially well recorded. William Powell as Gardoni speaks with an Italian accent. Sometimes he utters whole sentences in Italian, and his performance throughout is excellent. Miss Wray is pleasing as Marie. Mr. Skelly goes about his part with earnestness and intelligence. Kay Francis does nicely as the adventuress.

Harry Richman appears in the stage offering, “Jazz Preferred.”
Mordaunt Hall, January 18, 1930 in the New York Times


1930 Motion Picture Herald pre-production ad before Fay Wray, Kay, and William Powell were cast in the film.behindthemakeupherald


Illusion (1929)

Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers … Carlee Thorpe
Nancy Carroll … Claire Jernigan
June Collyer … Hilda Schmittlap
Kay Francis … Zelda Paxton
Regis Toomey … Eric
Knute Erickson … Mr. Jacob Schmittlap
Eugenie Besserer … Mrs. Jacob Schmittlap
Maude Turner Gordon … Queen of Dalmatia

Directed by Lothar Mendes.
Produced by B.P. Schulberg.
Based on the play by Arthur Cheney Train.
Dialogue by Lloyd Sheldon.
Camerawork by Harry Fischbeck.
Edited by George Nichols, Jr.

A Paramount Picture.
Released September 27, 1929.

About the film: Illusion seems to be the only film of Kay’s to have bitten the dust,” writes Scott O’Brien, “and not circulating among collectors. The film, with Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll, had a circus-vaudeville theme.”

Kay was originally announced to play a society vamp in The Genius, which seems to have mirrored the plot of her later film, A Notorious Affair (1930), with Basil Rathbone. Another project was Youth Has its Fling. Neither project materialized.

Paramount ads hyped Illusion as a lavish musical spectacle. Reviewers felt the film was less than stellar. Notable New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall described the film as “a dull offering…sadly lacking in imaginative direction.” Photoplay offered to mail the reader who could figure out Kay’s purpose in the film a prize.

According to Lynn Kear and John Rossman, Kay sounds “theatrical in her delivery.” Different sources claim different statuses of the film. Apparently the UCLA Film and Television Archive has a partial copy. Illusion was one of many 1929 films made in both silent and sound movies to allow viewings in theaters which had yet to cross over. Some writers have claimed the soundtrack exists, with some of the actual footage, but not the entire film. This makes sense since Kear and Rossman only commented on Kay’s vocal performance, which implies they might not have been able to view surviving scenes which contain Kay Francis.

Of her abilities in the film, Buddy Rogers later said in an interview, “Kay Francis was stunning. Tall, dark, lovely and very bright. She was an utterly charming lady. It’s a shame they didn’t give her a bigger role in Illusion. She was very capable and appealing, even if her part was a bit. She eventually showed Paramount and Hollywood what she could do—and how!”

Illusion was the first movie Kay made with Paul Lukas, who later worked with her in The Vice Squad (1931) and her mega-hit I Found Stella Parish (1935). Director Lothar Mendes worked with Kay on The Marriage Playground (1929), Paramount on Parade (1930), Ladies’ Man (1931), and Strangers in Love (1932).

Addendum: A print of Illusion turned up and was screen in the summer of 2015 in Rome, New York.


Vintage Reviews: 

By Mordaunt Hall.
Published: September 28, 1929 in the New York Times

Charles Rogers, that popular young screen performer, is to be seen at the Paramount in an audible pictorial transcription of Arthur Train’s story, “Illusion,” a production sadly lacking in imaginative direction and in which the dialogue is more often than not open to derision.

Lothar Mendes, the director, does not reveal much skill in the filming of his scenes, and as for the lines, they are more distressing than diverting. There is little that is convincing in the episodes, whether they are concerned with the stage act of Carlee Thorpe, who doesn’t do much of anything, or in the sight of four men taking aim at a girl with army rifles, loaded, as they suppose, with regulation ammunition.

Nancy Carroll gives quite a good performance, nevertheless one wonders in what theatre they could get four men to fire at a girl, even though one of the screen theatre’s spectators explains, after the act, that the illusionist is supposed to replace the real cartridges with graphite missiles. And, also, it might seem somewhat dangerous for anybody to stand up against such missiles, considering the short distance the girl is from the rifles.

Carlee Thorpe, the conjurer, fascinates a would-be society girl named Hilda Schmittlap, whose family is hindered in its social aspirations through the fact that Jacob Schmittlapp, the father, began life as a truck driver.

Carlee, impersonated by Mr. Rogers, plays bridge with the winsome Hilda Schmittlap, and becomes so charmed by her that he neglects the partner in his act. Then comes the hardly inspired idea of the Schmittlaps not knowing that Carlee is on the stage, or that he has a queer act. Claire Jernigan, Carlee’s partner, decides to leave him, understanding that the young man is in love with the Schmittlap girl. It seems at first that Claire is much better off, but to lend a bitter touch to her life with another similar performer, this individual browbeats the girl.

The dénouement is worked out with all the finesse with which a village blacksmith might accomplish it. A real bullet is in one of the rifles being fired at Claire, and the warning from a woman is too late to stop the pulling of the trigger. But fear not for Claire, for she is only slightly hurt in the arm, and soon the benighted Carlee tells her in the hospital the old, old story and Hilda is cast aside.

Another angle to this clumsy piece of fiction is that of having Hilda’s wayward brother quite interested in Claire. This idea, of course, helps to bring the silly Carlee to his senses.

Mr. Rogers is probably acceptable in the rôle. June Collyer and Nancy Carroll, however, do the best work. Regis Toomey, who portrays Hilda’s bibulous brother, gives a performance which reveals that under more natural circumstances he might do highly creditable work.

This picture was adapted by E. Lloyd Sheldon, a Harvard graduate, who obviously stoops to conquer his audiences. Whether he succeeds or not depends upon the type of spectators who happen to witness this dull offering.

Queer Happenings.

ILLUSION, with Charles Rogers, Nancy Carroll, June Collyer, Kay Francis, Regis Toomey, Knute Erickson, Eugenie Beaserer, Maude Turner Gordon, William Austin, Emelie Melville, Frances Raymond, Katherine Wallace, John E. Nash, Eddie Kane and others, based on a story by Arthur Train, directed by Lothar Mendes; Abe Lyman and his “Californians” in “Believe It or Not.” At the Paramount Theatre.




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Trouble in Paradise (1932)


Miriam Hopkins … Lily
Kay Francis … Madame Mariette Colet
Herbert Marshall … Gaston Monescu
Charles Ruggles … The Major
Edward Everett Horton … François Filiba
C. Aubrey Smith … Adolph J. Giron
Robert Greig … Jacques, Mariette’s Butler
Leonid Kinskey … The Communist
George Humbert … Waiter

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
Based on the play by Aladar Laszlo.

Adaptation by Grover Jones.
Written by Samson Raphaelson.
Cinematography by Victor Milner.
Art Direction by Hans Dreier.
Costume Design by Travis Banton.

Released October 21, 1932.
A Paramount Picture.

Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $519,706
Domestic Gross: $475,000
Forgein Gross: (?)
Profit/Loss: (?)

See the Box Office Page for more info.

Kay Francis: $4,000/week
Herbert Marshall: $3,500/week
Miriam Hopkins: $1,750/week


Aladar Laszlo’s A Becsuletes Megtalalo, American title reading The Honest Finder, opened in Budapest in December, 1931. The play possessed a certain spark, probably because it had been based off of the life of a real criminal, George Manolescu, who had published his autobiography in 1907. His story was filmed as Manolescus Memoiren (1920), a German silent film directed by Richard Oswald and starring Conrad Veidt.

By the time Paramount acquired the rights to Laszlo’s play, America was in the worst stages of The Great Depression. With millions out of work, movie audiences needed comic relief to get through the tough times. Production began in July, 1932, with Kay Francis even cancelling her planned vacation to even appear in the film. She had just wed Kenneth MacKenna about a year or so ago, and they had finally found the time to really get away. Then Kay reconsidered, “I weighed my honeymoon against the honor of this meant, against the things I would learn under his direction—well, Lubitsch won.”

Though she was the highest paid actor in the film, she was disgruntled over Miriam Hopkins top-billing. This was Kay’s only film for Paramount after completing her contract for them and moving to Warner Brothers. Perhaps they were bitter over her new-found success at a new studio. Perhaps they wanted their own actress to get to the honors because of Kay’s leaving. Whatever the case, they were forced to bill Kay equally in all movie posters and advertisements, and she was billed over Herbert Marshall.

Both Hopkins and Marshall began their film careers around the same year Kay did. And like Kay, they had proved themselves valuable Hollywood assets, due in a large credit to their work on the stage. By the time Trouble in Paradise was made, Hopkins was already the favorite actress of Lubitsch and Rouben Mamoulian. She would progress at the studio to such works as Design for Living (1933) and The Story of Temple Drake (1933), the latter being one of the most notorious films ever produced.

When Kay’s work in Jewel Robbery (1932) was released on August 13 to great reviews and a warm box office welcoming, Paramount began to anticipate capitalizing off of her success in the film with this one, originally titled The Golden Window. Reviews for Trouble in Paradise were highly favorable, but the film was a financial disappointment. While audiences wanted comedy, they preferred Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery to Lubitsch’s “touch,” and spent their dimes watching Norma Shearer and Fredric March in the classic tearjerker, Smilin’ Through (1932).

A popular vehicle or not, the censors had a fit. Trouble in Paradise was pulled from the screen altogether by 1934, and would not be seen again until the late sixties. Never released on VHS and made only available on DVD as of 2003, the fact that Trouble in Paradise remained so popular for so long without being viewed for decades proves the power of great movie making.

Webmaster’s Review:

Crook Gaston Monescu feels like he has found his true love in pickpocket Lily. Both know what the other is, but feel that the other is oblivious to their own intentions. Over dinner, Lily tells Monescu that he is a crook. To which he responds that she is a thief, and that she has picked his wallet right out of his pocket. He pulls back the curtains, and shakes it out of her. She asks him for the time, and when he reaches for his watch, it’s not there. She smiles, and pulls it out of her bag and hands it to him.

He smiles as he pulls out her garter. She blushes as he kisses it, throwing it into the air behind him. They collaborate to work as a team, targeting one of the richest women in Europe, Madame Mariette Colet.

Madame Colet oversees a product line of perfumes and fragrances which has been well-established for decades. Since she knows little about the business, and can really care less as long as she receives a pretty penny to play around with, Adolph J. Giron keeps a sharp eye on the company. He has known her family for forty years, in which a secret about his connection to the family isn’t revealed until the end of the picture.

Attending an opera, Mariette looses an expensive handbag. She posts a reward in the local paper, to which everyone and his brother arrives at her doorstep claiming to have found her bag. It isn’t until Gaston walks in and reveals it when she can finally tell Jacques, her butler, to send everyone home.

While she looks all throughout her maid’s room for the checkbook to give Monescu the reward, he takes notice of everything about where she keeps her most important assets. He memorizes the combination to her safe, where she keeps one-hundred thousand francs. When he seems surprised at the amount she keeps in her own house, she asks if he believes she is keeping too much money in the safe. He insists not. If anything, he persuades her, she should put as much more of her money into the safe because of the unstable economic status of the world.

She charmingly smiles and agrees.

Within two weeks, Monescu is working as her secretary, with Lily serving almost as an assistant to him. Monescu handles the bookwork. He gets involved in Mariette’s financial status, fixing out flaws and putting all of her money into one place where he and Lily can seemingly walk away with it.

During all of this robbery, Mariette suspects nothing. She finds herself being more and more tempted to get intimate with Monescu, much to the dismay of Francois Filiba and The Major, both of whom are admirers of Mariette.

At an outdoor party, Mariette flaunts Monescu to all of her guests. They speculate and gossip abour her relationship with him, to which Giron requests Monescu’s private permission. Alone, Giron insists on knowing everything about Monescu’s intentions, and whether or not he should be trusted by Mariette. Monescu insists that there is nothing to hide.

Monescu approaches jealous Filiba and asks where they have met before. Filiba rudely insists that they have never met before, and comments to a guest at how pathetic of a conversation starter that was.

The relationship between Monescu and Mariette begins to seriously ruffle the feathers of Lily, who insists on leaving the house immediately. Monescu comes to agree, but gets distracted before Mariette leaves for a party one night. Things are about to get very serious for them, and Monescu insists that she leave for her party before anything happens that might altar the relationship between them.

She reluctantly agrees.

While half attending the party and half day-dreaming about Monescu, the Major and Filiba talk of their skepticism of Monescu. The Major says that he doesn’t seem to be the secretary type, that Gaston struck him as more of a doctor. Filiba realizes that he has indeed met Monescu before; that Monescu posed as a dentist and robbed him blind just a few weeks earlier.

The accusations of Monescu’s true intentions are enough to have Mariette leave the party.

Meanwhile, Giron is at the house and tells Gaston that he knows about everything. Monescu concurs with the accusations, but insists that if Giron call the police on him, that he will return the favor. There’s no one better than a crook to uncover the work of another, and, while going over the finances, Monescu realizes that Giron has conned millions away from the Colet family for the forty years he has known them.

Mariette returns home. Lily and Monescu have a major argument, to which she insists that she is leaving right away with all of the money that Mariette has hidden in the safe. When Mariette comes to realize that Lily and Monescu have been planning to con her out of everything, she’s dumbfounded, though more disappointed that she couldn’t have to opportunity to be with Gaston.

They leave immediately.

In the cab, Lily and Monescu reveal two handbags, pearl necklaces, and the one hundred thousand francs they have stolen from Mariette. They laugh and reconcile, planning to stay with each other.

While this is a good movie, I guess I will never understand what everyone has to say about it. I think it’s alright, but I’m more of a fan of the direction and dialogue than of the actual situation. The constant use of thievery for comedy gets a little old after a while, and I don’t like the ending with Kay being left alone. But my opinion differs from that of the rest of the world, for everyone else recognizes Trouble In Paradise as brilliant movie-making, and that is a conclusion I must respect.

This movie is very well directed. There are really great set ups, such as the use of a clock to show the drastic change of time while we only hear the voices of the characters. And the silhouette of Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall about to kiss being shown over a bed. And who can forget the comedy of Miriam Hopkins telling Kay that she can have her lousy one-hundred thousand francs before she finishes giving Kay a piece of her mind, then rushes over to the bed to grab it and storm out of the room.

Of the three leading stars, Herbert Marshall gets the most attention from the camera. He is the real star of the film, is given control from all of the other characters in the story, and dominates this movie with his debonair persona, acting talent, and ability to love a beautiful silver-screen lady of the Kay Francis and Miriam Hopkins mold.

He is intelligent. One can not think less of him for his criminal activities, but rather admire him for his work. His assistance by Miriam Hopkins is phenomenal. She was always a great physical comedienne, making the most of her body movements and, best of all, facial expressions which are enough to make one laugh out loud.

So many of her comedy scenes remain as fresh as the day they were filmed. Her work has greatly withstood the test of time, which is difficult to achieve for most comics.

Kay Francis does well with stealing a lot of the movie for herself, but her approach to the comedy is dated, though it seems to work here. She smiles knowingly, says all of her lines overly ditzy with a smirk on her face, all while throwing her hands about in the air as she makes her point. But whatever she does it pays off by the final reel. She is beautifully photographed, and her gowns are almost as memorable as the movie itself.

Look at the fur she wears to the dinner party. Consisting of two foxes, they hook together at the mouths. It’s so bizarre, making one wonder if that was designed purposely for comedy or not. There were so many outrageous movie costumes back then, and Kay wore many of them herself, but this is one of her most memorable to me.

What greatly helps Marshall, Hopkins, and Francis is their dialogue, which is brilliant. After watching so many Warner Brothers movies, listening to the soundtrack of a first-rate Paramount production is like finding an entire new medium. The lines are so clever, so snappy yet intelligent, and the delivery of them by the headlining cast deserves accolades for all of them.

Almost as strong as the movie dialogue is the soundtrack. After five years of perfecting the technology, sound recorders were making movie soundtracks more and more important to the finished films. In Trouble In Paradise, the music is plays equally as big a role as the headlining actors do. Giving a correct atmosphere to the film, it defines several scenes.

Also a character in this movie is the use of overt sexual innuendos.

My personal misunderstanding of Lubitsch comedies aside, this is a film masterpiece, and considered worthy enough to be in the National Film Registry. And if this is the most known Kay Francis film, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As other authors have pointed out, had she made only this movie people would still talk about her.


Vintage Reviews:

Surely “Trouble in Paradise,” a picture which was presented at the Rivoli yesterday, points no moral and the tale it tells is scant and innocuous, yet, because it was fashioned by the alert-minded Ernst Lubitsch, it is a shimmering, engaging piece of work. In virtually every scene the lively imagination of the German producer shines forth and it seems as though he were the only person in Hollywood who could have turned out such an effective entertainment from such a feathery story.

Mr. Lubitsch has drawn heavily upon Paramount’s resources for his scenic designs, which are an important adjunct to this flippant film. Here the director has a flair for beautiful clocks of various types and in one sequence, while the voices of two players are heard carrying on their bantering, all one sees is a clock on a table. When the characters pass into another room, there is still another clock. Upstairs there is a modernistic, grandfather clock and outside a window there is the tower from which chimes tell the hour. The settings are lovely and spacious with meticuluous attention to furnishings. No more inviting example of 1932 decorations has been offered on the screen.

This merry trifle, which was first spun as a play by Laszlo Aladar and arranged for a motion picture by Grover Jones and Samson Raphaelson, deals, if you please, with those light-fingered gentry who rob and pick pockets. Imagine the charming Miriam Hopkins impersonating an ingratiating, capable thief! Then try to visualize Herbert Marshall as a delightful scoundrel who might look upon Alias Jimmy Valentine as a posing blunderer! They are such an interesting pair of crooks that it is not altogether astonishing that the other characters find them companionable.

First one has a glimpse of Venice with a refuse collector singing “O Sole Mio” as he steers his craft through the canals. The camera then introduces Gaston Monescu posing as a baron, and later Lily, whom Gaston calls his “little shoplifter” and “sweet little pickpocket.”

This pair eventually turn their attention to Paris and Mme. Marianne Colet, the widow of a wealthy perfumery manufacturer. Marianne, impersonated by Kay Francis, has two suitors, neither of whom finds much favor with her. One is the Major, played by Charles Ruggles, who stays quite sober throughout the proceedings, and the other is Francois, who has been an easy victim for Gaston in the City of the Doges.

Through returning Mme. Colet’s precious bag, which he had stolen, Gaston, after accepting the 20,000 francs’ reward and explaining that he is one of the new poor, soon is ensconced in Marianne Colet’s mansion as her secretary, and Lily, not long afterward, is employed as a typist. She has to sit on her hands when talking to Marianne Colet, for fear she might hurt the chances of stealing 100,000 francs in cash—cash being always better than jewelry—by pilfering one of the pieces of jewelry in a box.

As for Marianne Colet, one might say that her interest in Gaston is keener than most women, who employ secretaries, and it prompts the fair but reprehensible Lily to tell Gaston that she admires him as a burglar and a thief, but she warns him not to sink to the low level of a gigolo.

After their fashion, they have a romantic and busy time at Marianne Colet’s. There are moments when it looks as though Mr. Lubitsch were going to let fly a few ideas like René Clair’s, but he stops himself and never for an instant can it be said that Lubitsch ever copies another director. Time and again in this feature he offers ideas which will undoubtedly be well imitated in Hollywood. He does not take this fable seriously at all, but he leaves nothing undone to make it the sort of thing that will keep audiences in a constant state of chuckles.

Mr. Marshall is as smooth and easy as ever. He looks more the baron than the thief Gaston. It is not surprising that Marianne thinks of promoting him from secretary to husband. Miss Hopkins makes Lily a very interesting person, who steals as another girl might sing. Lily even steals her way out of the last scene in the film. Kay Francis is attractive and able as Marianne, whose sins consist of being too credulous and in being very fond of romantic adventures.
Written by Mordaunt Hall. Published in the New York Times, November 9, 1932.

Despite the Lubitsch artistry, much of which is technically apparent, it’s not good cinema in toto. For one thing, it’s predicated on a totally meretricious premise. Herbert Marshall is the gentleman crook. Miriam Hopkins is a light-fingered lady. Kay Francis is a rich young widow who owns the largest parfumerie in Paris. She’s decidedly on the make for Marshall, and his appointment as her ‘secretary’ inspires beaucoup gossip.

Rest becomes a proposition of cheating cheaters as the well-mannered rogue exposes C. Aubrey Smith, the parfumerie’s general manager, at the same time climaxing into a triangle among the two attractive femmes and Marshall.

The dialog is bright [from the play The Honest Finder by Laszlo Aladar] and the Lubitsch montage is per usually tres artistique, but somehow the whole thing misses.

There’s some good trouping by all concerned, plus the intriguing Continental atmosphere of the Grand Hotel on the Grand Canal, Venice, plus ultra-modern social deportment in smart Parisian society.
Published in Variety in November, 1932.

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When the Daltons Rode (1940)

Randolph Scott … Tod Jackson
Kay Francis … Julie King
Brian Donlevy … Grat Dalton
George Bancroft … Caleb Winters
Broderick Crawford … Bob Dalton
Stuart Erwin … Ben Dalton
Andy Devine … Ozark Jones
Frank Albertson … Emmett Dalton
Mary Gordon … Ma Dalton
Harvey Stephens … Rigby
Edgar Dearing … Sheriff
Quen Ramsey … Clem Wilson
Dorothy Granger … Nancy
Robert McKenzie … Photographer
Fay McKenzie … Hannah

Directed by George Marshall
Based on the novel by Emmett Dalton and Jack Jungmeyer.

Screenplay by Harold Shumate.
Original Music by Frank Skinner.
Cinematography by Hal Mohr.
Film Editing by Edward Curtiss.
Art Direction by Jack Otterson.
Set Decoration by Russell A. Gausman.
Costume Design by Vera West.
Assistant Direction by Vernon Keays.
Stunts Yakima Canutt by Cliff Lyons.
Musical Direction by Charles Previn.

Released August 23, 1940.
A Universal Picture.

After the block-buster successes of Stage Coach, Union Pacific, Destry Rides Again, and Jesse James, all produced and released in 1939, Hollywood became aware of a major fact: Westerns were back in vogue.

The genre had really taken shape in the silent cinema, where directors like John Ford and William Wellman perfected their craft by making cheaply produced cowboy stories made for the sole purpose of getting a fast buck for the movie studios.

But the genre died with sound movies, where lavish musicals became the new big thing—as well as other techniques which couldn’t be achieved in silent film.

During the 1930s, the majority of Westerns being produced were of the B stamp. To the big studios, Westerns were for the small-town entertainment only. The real profits were to be made in the big cities, where audiences preferred to see Joan Crawford in Sadie McKee (1934), Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in Rose Marie (1936), and Kay Francis in Stolen Holiday (1937).

Only after the successes of Stage Coach, Union Pacific, and Destry Rides Again did they come to realize that a lavish Western could bring in the big bucks, also.

When Daltons Rode was based off of the legend created by the real-life circumstances surrounding the gang and of course the book by Emmett Dalton and Jack Jungmeyer, which was the basis for this excellent piece of Western material.

Randolph Scott had proved himself capable of handling this genre with notable works in The Texans (1938), Jesse James (1939), and Virginia City (1940). Unfortunately, When the Daltons Rode wouldn’t showcase him riding high with the Dalton Brothers, holding up stagecoaches and being in the middle with shoot-outs with officers. Filling in for a role which was originated for Walter Pidgeon, who became ill prior to production, in When the Daltons Rode he wound up sitting on the sidelines, loving Kay Francis instead of shooting a pistol.

By the time she appeared as Julie King, Kay Francis’ career had basically covered all of the basics but the Western. She proved she could do light comedy, musicals, and melodrama. The West was the last frontier for her to arrive, and she grabbed on to this project with more enthusiasm that she had since playing the villainous bitch of In Name Only (1939).

Her excitement is showcased with a stellar performance, more alive than she had been for some time. And for a woman so identified with fashion and glamour, she was perfectly fitted into this movie, unlike her other costume films where she tended to stand out like a soar thumb.

Director George Marshall began his career with Across the Rio Grande (1916). He was one of the directors of the silent cinema to make the Western genre one of the most popular. He had directed Destry Rides Again to a major box office success, and repeated his triumph with When the Daltons Rode.

The film was released to favorable reviews and a potent box office success to make Universal Pictures produce a follow-up, The Daltons Ride Again (1945), which featured none of the headlining actors in this film.

As with so many sequels, it didn’t prove a fair follow-up to its predecessor.


Webmaster’s Review:
Todd Jackson arrives in a Kansas town looking for his old friends, the Daltons, but all he seems to find is trouble. Peering into a photo studio, he laughs at a man who falls backwards, collapsing the entire setup. The man rushes outside to tell Todd off, who responds with an apology, but admits it was pretty funny.

A gun fires, and out comes Ozark Jones and his girlfriend Nancy, who has caught him cheating on her. Ozark grabs the back of Todd’s arms and uses him as a shield. Everyone laughs at the situation, and the man from the photo session responds by having his brother do the same thing while he pretends to fire. Todd’s bag opens up and his clothes go everywhere, and when the gag is all over he looks at Todd and sarcastically apologizes but says that was funny also.

Todd says “Yeah, so is this,” as he pushes the man into a crate of water, which causes a fight.

The mother of the two young men runs out with her other two sons. She asks what’s the matter with them, and, when Todd recognizes one of their first names, and the brogue of the mother, he comes to realize he has met his old friends.

They laugh about the situation, and insist that Todd come back to the farm with them for their mother’s birthday part. He agrees, but needs to send out a telegram first.

Todd meets Julie, the telegram writer, as she is counting the number of cows in a nearby stable. He is smitten with her, though she resists him, and when he says he will be attending a part later on, she insists that she is also, but doubts they would be seen together at the same place.

Of course they are.

At the party, Todd goes on to Bob Dalton about the girl he met. Bob appears to be interested, and when Julie shows up and Todd gets all excited Bob goes over to her and welcomes her. Unfortunately for Todd, Bob and Julie are engaged to be married, but there are no hard feelings on Bob’s part.

The Dalton ranch is being eyed up by a Kansas Development Company. The family has owned the land for ten years, but the corrupt business is doing their best to have it taken away, even having Ben Dalton wrongfully accused of murdering one of their workers just to get it.

Since Todd is a lawyer, he must do his best to help his friends, though he and Julie are falling more and more in love with each other as the days pass.

At the trial, Todd stages a major argument between the jurors over a stolen horse. Gunfire soon follows, and the judge calls for a recess, but before the trial can go any further, the Daltons whip out pistols of their own and cause a major shoot-up to get Ben out of the courtroom.

Succeeding in their escape, now they are on the run.

The local newspapers do their best to tarnish the boys’ image, blaming them for every robbery and hold-up in the nearby counties when, in reality, they are starving in a barn they are using to hide in. Fed up with being blamed for everything, they decide to make the rumors come true, and feed their stomachs, by holding up a few trains and banks of their own.

Ben Dalton makes his way back to town during a train hold up, and runs into Julie’s office, though the local deputies quickly find him and wrestle with her to get into the room where he is being hidden. Once he is captured, his brothers come back to save him.

The boys do their last major hold up of a train ironically filled with deputies protecting a large amount of money being carried. A chase leads them back into town, where they hide out until the final reel.

Ma sends for Julie, thinking she will be glad to see Bob. He insists that the boys are done; they’re going to South America to get married while everyone else heads out to California. Julie refuses, basically giving him the reason that she loves Todd now, and has forgotten about him.

Furious, Bob rushes over to Todd’s over where a fight breaks out. Julie and Ma run in trying to stop it, and Bob comes to his senses when he goes to strike his own mother. Since Todd is on the floor unconscious, Bob tells Julie to tell Todd he’s sorry about the while thing.

She agrees.

Meanwhile, outside the rest of the boys are going to hold up First National Bank even after Bob told them not to. The deputies have been tipped off, and the final big shoot out occurs, with all of the Dalton Brothers being killed except for Bob, who saves Todd’s life before a gunman can kill him, after which he is gunned down himself.

Todd and Julie are married, and the film ends with their preparation to leave town and start a life together.

This is a really good movie, perhaps the second best one Kay made as a freelance actress, the first being In Name Only (1939). There’s tons of action to keep this one moving, so don’t expect any dead moments for a bathroom break or popcorn.

Work from the stuntmen is phenomenal, especially when one falls off a stagecoach, grabs on underneath and works his way up the back and takes the driver by gunpoint.

The acting is uniformly excellent, particularly on the parts of Randolph Scott, Broderick Crawford, Brian Donlevy, and Kay Francis. Though top billed, Scott does loose audience attention for a good thirty minutes of this movie while the Daltons are out on their criminal runs. Here he doesn’t get the opportunity to play with the action, as he had done in the majority of his Westerns. In When the Daltons Rode his action is limited strictly to suits and the courtroom.

I don’t even recall seeing him with a gun.

Kay plays the typical love interest, but she has some really good scenes. Her best is when the officers break into her office to get Ben Dalton. The extras, who are extremely rough in a very convincing manner, manhandle her in a way which tops her entering the crooked union deal at the end of Stranded (1935) with George Brent.

She allows herself to get pushed around by the best of them.

Her second best is at the end, when she’s over Randolph Scott’s unconscious body yelling at Bob, telling his mother that he has changed; that her son would never be to selfish and irrational. Here Broderick Crawford also does great with his realization of how much life has changed him.

And for fans of Kay Francis, director George Marshall does a good job at checking back with her current situations while the Daltons are away. The only actor we loose contact for a while with is Randolph Scott, but everyone shares the action and honors here, which is something remarkable in the middle of all that gunfire.

Also good enough for a mention of praise is Mary Gordon as the mother and George Bancroft as Caleb Winters.

On the down note is Andy Devine, who gets annoying quickly.

Many point to When the Daltons Rode as following the cliché Western plot, but it still works. A very entertaining piece of work, it is fortunate that this title is available on a major DVD release for anyone to watch and enjoy.



Vintage Reviews:

Of one thing you may be sure: Universal will never make a sequel to “When the Daltons Rode.” No, sir, friends, you’ll never see a “Return of Bob Dalton,” for coincidence, or “The Daltons Ride Again”—not within the realm of reason, anyhow. For the climax of this titanic Western, which blasted its way into Loew’s State and eleven other theatres in the metropolitan area yesterday, results in such wholesale tribal slaughter, such a complete patrilineal blackout of the clan, that “When the Daltons Rode” is decisively the last of the Daltons. We have long wanted to see one of these shootin’ pictures in which the final scene is a smoking ruin with everybody dead. This one comes mighty close to being it. At the fade-out there are only a few pious and inconsequential folk, like Randolph Scott and Kay Francis, standing around. The Dalton gang is no more.

But, boy, while those buckos are living, they certinly do put on a show! Like the James brothers before them—or, at least, like the Twentieth Century-Fox Jameses—they start out a law-abiding family of Kansas farmers, back about 1891. But when the inevitable railroad “land grabbers” try to move in on them, when one of the boys accidentally kills a villain and it looks like the end of a rope for him, though the brothers automatically constitute themselves a fraternity of fighting fiends, go marauding around the country robbing banks and sticking up trains and eventually go down in a furious battle with their backs against the walls of Coffeyville, Kan.

We wouldn’t like to suggest that this is the true saga of the famous Dalton gang. Neither would we highly recommend the romantic by-play of Miss Francis nor the ineffectual intervention of Mr. Scott in the plot. But we will say that Brian Donlevy, Broderick Crawford, Andy Devine and others of the gang make some fine desperados; the picture itself is straight, fast Western fare, and for folks who like plenty of shootin’, here is your gunpowder.
Written by Bosley Crowther. Published August 23, 1940 in the New York Times.

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