Kay Francis … Eve Appleton / Eve Wilson
Ian Hunter … Bert Ballin
John Litel … William ‘Bill’ Appleton
Donald Crisp … Joe Grant
Minna Gombell … Tim Adams
Sybil Jason … Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Appleton
Melville Cooper … Mr. Emerson
Ian Keith … Wilton ‘John’ Banks
Leona Maricle … Janet Eaton
Ray Mayer … Pianist Tommy Brogan
Vera Lewis … Mrs. Appleton, Bill’s Mother
Nat Carr … Haines, Burlesque Manager
Chester Clute … Willis
Edward McWade … Mr. Harvey
Clem Bevans … Lem Benson
Directed by Busby Berkeley.
Produced by Brian Foy.
Based on a story by Faith Baldwin.
Screenplay by Mark Hellinger, Robert Buckner.
Musical Direction by Leo F. Forbstein.
Gowns by Orry-Kelly.
Art Direction by Charles Novi.
Editing by James Gibbon.
Released December 16, 1938.
A First National Picture.
Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $278,000
Domestic Gross: $196,000
Foreign Gross: $149,000
Total Gross: $345,000
See the Box Office Page for more info.
Ironically… Comet Over Broadway was originally intended to be Bette Davis’ follow-up film to her Oscar-winning role in Jezebel (1938). No, really…
But, anyway, when Bette turned the part down, Miriam Hopkins took over, but illness caused her to become “unavailable.” Because of this, Kay was slated.
There are many similarities to this film and I Found Stella Parish. Both plots revolve around actresses with shady pasts. Stella Parish’s involves her jealous husband killing a costar in a drunken rage, believing he is trying to seduce his wife. In Comet, Bill Appleton kills John Banks for a similar reason. The only difference is Stella’s husband, Clifton Jeffers, had no reason to be jealous but couldn’t help it. Bill had the right to be concerned about his wife, but only kills Banks when he makes a comment about Eve.
Talk about sticky situations, and in both mixes, a daughter, played in both films by Sybil Jason, was involved. Such matters complicated the lives of nearly ever character Kay Francis ever played onscreen, which is why she was so long-dismissed as a melodramatic glamour queen with little talent.
Fortunately, things have begun to change.
I Found Stella Parish was a major commercial success, doing record business for Warner Brothers in their 1935-1936 season. Comet Over Broadway did not. One critic even wrote that Kay Francis’ career had “reached a sorry state of affairs.”
Fortunately, Kay had only two more movies to complete before her days at Warner Brothers were over. After a year of bitter feelings, humiliation, and despair, finally a light started to appear at the end of the tunnel.
The title credits open with no specific star. In yet another effort to dispose of Kay’s services, Warner Brothers began lowering her billing to stars of lesser rank.
We first see a train pulling into Burnsdale, a small, desolate town with nothing but modest people and lives. Eve Appleton runs a magazine stand at the station, and a delivery man drops off some new orders she’s placed, and makes special note of some theater ones she asked for. Everyone thinks Eve is just wasting her time with focusing all of her attention on the acting world, particularly her mother-in-law.
John Banks is a popular actor who arrives in Burnsdale probably for a rest between train rides. They invite him for their own play that night, and Eve greets her husband, Bill, who warns her not to make a scene about this in front of his mother, who greatly disapproves of Eve’s ideas of the acting world.
“The Golden Era” is the play which Eve is playing in that night, and Banks arrives at the very end, drunk, pretending like he sat through the whole thing. He goes over board blowing smoke to Eve, saying that she’ll one day achieve major stardom.
The following night, Eve heads out to see John, but tells everyone that she was going to a picture show. His mother questions her intentions. “I’m not going to let you talk that way about Eve, if she says she went to a picture show, she did,” Bill insists. He goes out anyway to check on her, but hears that she hasn’t arrived at the movie theater.
He knows she’s gone out to see John Banks, and what neither Bill or Eve know is that John just plans to seduce her and move on out of Burnsdale.
Bill storms into John’s hotel room to find the two in an “uncompromising” position. “Eve, go out to the car,” Bill instructs her. He punches John across the face and knocks him into the lake where he doesn‘t drown, but dies of the severe blow to his head, though Bill doesn‘t appear to be quite that strong to kill a man with one good punch to the jaw. Either way, he gets a life sentence.
Joe Grant, Bill’s lawyer, tells Eve, “Bill Appleton, an innocent man, is going to pay for the life of John Banks. And do you know who is really guilty of the crime? You are. You lied, Eve. Calmly and deliberately you lied to Bill, and that lie killed John Banks.”
Everyone in the film does a good job at making Eve feel like absolute shit for Bill’s sentence.
Eve tells Bill, right before he goes into the prison, that she’s completely sorry, and that, no matter what, she’s going to get him out of there one day. No matter what, she’s going to get him out of prison.
She leaves Burnsdale to follow a theatrical troupe across the country, changing her last name to Wilson. Tim, another actress in the troupe, regrets not having a child herself, and is always suggesting ways for Eve to take care of Jackie, her daughter, but by pretending to not be interested at all. “Get out of the way, you don’t know anything about children,” Tim tells Eve as she pushes her aside to rest Jackie from a crying fit. “You know you’re just dying to put her off onto me.”
For one burlesque act, Kay comes down the stairs in what looks like a dominatrix outfit. She’s dressed in skin-tight leather with a split down the middle of her dress which reveals her legs.
Behind the scenes of that very show, Tim tells Eve that she’s been “nuts” about “that kid” since the very beginning. Eve asks why Tim is so concerned about Jackie, only to learn that Tim was one a mother, too. “She was fine that morning,” Tim remembers. “She was dead that night.”
Eve gives Tim permission to take Jackie with her. “Go home. Take Jackie,” Eve says, teary-eyed.
She goes on an audition for Bert Ballin, who is very impressed with her read with Janet Eaton, who is extremely jealous of Eve’s success. To thank her for her work, Bert takes Eve out to lunch, and it’s a similar set up to a scene in I Found Stella Parish, in which Kay and Ian Hunter go to lunch in a similar looking restaurant.
Janet gets so fed up with Eve, that she insists that she be fired from the Broadway production. She gets her way, and now Eve is out of a job, and sails to London for $135.
Four years later, Tim is showing Joe Grant a scrapbook of Eve’s successes. She’s become one of their most famous stage actresses, and is going to be starring in one of their biggest stage productions. Tim and Jackie, who is now calling Tim “Mommy,” are going to sail out to London to watch her.
Eve greets Jackie and Tim at the station, and is shocked to find out that Tim has raised Jack to think that she is her own daughter, but she realizes how it happened. “How could I tell her one part of the story without telling her the rest?” Tim rightfully points out to Eve. She accepts the situation, and, since Jack would love to grow up to be an actress, Eve sees it as a way to bond the two of them.
In the audience one night is Bert Ballin, who comes to see Eve backstage. He gives her the opportunity to return to America in “Those Who Trespass,” a Broadway production which is a massive hit. Watch for the scene of Kay accepting her audiences applause. It’s a shot of her from I Found Stella Parish, when she accepts her applause after appearing in “This Brief Hour.”
When Bert sees Eve after opening night, she tells him about everything with Bill and John Banks. She admits she never loved her husband, but feels the duty of getting him out of prison. Though she’ll never love him like she loves Bert, she has to not only get Bill free, but bring herself and Jack back to him.
She goes and sees Bill, telling him he’ll be free in a few months. He has no idea of her stage successes. He thinks that she took up a job as a nurse to rich children to pay for his legal fees.
Jack is eventually told the truth; the truth about Eve and Bill, the truth about what happened to split their family up, everything. She’s heartbroken about having to leave Tim, though it makes on wonder why Eve just wouldn’t tell Bill the truth about Tim and everything with the stage. It would benefit Jackie’s happiness, which one would think would be more important to Eve and Bill than anyone else’s.
The two leave New York to return to Burnsdale. Walking towards the prison, Eve is shocked when Jackie gets her attention by calling her “Mommy.”
“What did you say?”
“Yes. Yes, darling? What is it?”
“Keep your head, up Mommy?
The two continue walking, hand in hand, up towards the prison to greet Bill, who will be free at noon.
In the words of Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, “couldn’t someone have given them a ride?”
There is only one person who makes this movie, and it’s not Kay Francis. Minna Gombell, as Tim Adams, is the must-see star of this film. She has the best lines, the most compelling character, and the audience favor throughout most of the movie. Though Kay’s Eve Appleton is clearly the film’s real star, Gombell’s Tim Adams makes for a much more interesting character.
It makes one wish Comet Over Broadway was her movie.
Everyone else in the cast is a little too annoying in that old-fashioned, small-town way, and Kay is just seems too old in the early scenes to be playing a young, naive wife and mother. Not only that, but Comet Over Broadway opens up in 1928, even though Kay is and everybody else is wearing 1938 fashions and hairstyles. It just goes to show the lack of care over the Kay Francis production at this time.
Busby Berkeley’s direction is unimaginative. He always did good at choreographing those numbers in pre-code musicals such as 42nd Street (1932), Footlight Parade (1933), and even Wonder Bar (1934), which starred Kay, but as a dramatic director he had little imagination. It seems as if Kay and the rest of the cast basically just stood in front of the camera and played their lines the way they felt they should have been acted.
It’s almost as if no one was there to even supervise them.