Kay Francis … Belinda ‘Bill’ ‘Linda’ Warren
George Brent … James ‘Jim’ Baker
Roland Young … Edward ‘Tubbs’ Barron
Patric Knowles … Robert ‘Bob’ Melford
Henry Stephenson … Edward, Lord Farrington
Frieda Inescort … Rosamond Melford
Helen Flint … Dr. Florence ‘Bones’ Cudahy
Halliwell Hobbes … Oliver Warren
Zeffie Tilbury … Aunt Esther Warren
Elspeth Dudgeon … Alice Dodd
Directed by Archie Mayo.
Produced by Jack L. Warner and Hal B. Wallis.
Based on the play “Sweet Aloes” by Jay Mallory.
Cinematography by Sidney Hickox.
Film Editing by James Gibbon.
Art Direction by Charles Novi & Max Parker.
Costume Design by Orry-Kelly.
Music Direction by Leo F. Forbstein.
Music Composition by W. Franke Harling & Heinz Roemheld.
A Cosmopolitan Picture.
A Warner Bros. Release.
Released September 17, 1936.
Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $436,000
Domestic Gross: $633,000
Foreign Gross: 402,000
Total Gross: $1,035,000
(Source: “The William Shaefer Ledger”, USC Cinematic Arts Library.)
Give Me Your Heart can be written off as perhaps the most underestimated movie of Kay’s entire Hollywood career. Along with Trouble in Paradise (1932), One Way Passage (1932), and Confession (1937) it’s one of her top four greatest movies.
Ruth Chatterton had created a sensation in the mother-love dramas such as Madame X (1929), Sarah and Son (1930), and Frisco Jenny (1933). It was Chatterton’s tour de force in such films which had the studios placing stars like Kay in vehicles like The House on 56th Street (1933), a Chatterton reject. Those stories about fallen women forced to give up their children, and the idea of having to love those children from a long distance, was a favorite of subject of those depression-era audiences. Sometimes, when the idea of complete happiness seems unachievable, it’s a little easier to watch those movies of complete fantasy and feel just a little better at the end of the hour and whatever minutes it takes that production to run.
As the mid-1930s progressed, however, and Americans started to finally feel some relief, those harshly dramatic mother-love dramas had begun to decline. The production code also had a lot to do with it, but the clever movie studios began finding ways to cheat around the censorship hypocrites of the day, producing movies such as this excellent Kay Francis melodrama.
Jay Mallory’s “Sweet Aloes” had triumphed on the English stage with Diana Wynyard in 1934. Though the American version was less successful, Warner Brothers felt it had that certain spark which would make it a Hollywood triumph. The production studio William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies owned, Cosmopolitan Pictures, agreed to finance the film on an impressive budget, with Warner Brothers distributing it as a regular attraction. Scripts were sent to a great choice of contenders for the part: Ann Harding, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, and Kay, whose impressive work in I Found Stella Parish (1935) and The White Angel (1936) had Warner Brothers ready to give her an equally dramatic boost.
To ensure the movie’s success, Kay was reunited with her frequent leading man, George Brent. Roland Young, Frieda Inescort, Patric Knowles, Henry Stephenson, Helen Flint, and Zeffie Tilbury were selected for the supporting characters. No part could have been selected better.
Director Archie Mayo and Kay had worked together previously. Strangely, considering how much they disliked each other, he was one of her best directors. Famously, he had gone as far to tell her that she couldn’t act, which, maybe in her determination to prove him wrong, gave way to her excellent work in this picture as well as the others they completed together.
Production began May 4, 1936, and Kay and George Brent appeared on Hollywood Hotel (a radio program) on September 25, 1936 to promote the movie. A few critics noted that it was unusual the Production Code Administration allowed Give Me Your Heart to even be considered, let alone produced, as a major attraction, considering adultery and unwed motherhood violated the code. But Mayo made sure, without going overboard, to let viewers know that the characters in the film were “three nice people who have happened to get themselves involved in a serious ‘mess.’”
With the bonuses of Kay’s beautiful wardrobe by Orry-Kelly, and Leo F. Forbstein’s excellent score, Give Me Your Heart became one of Warner Brothers’ most successful films of the 1936-1937 season. It’s affect on critics and audiences had three more excellent movies of this sort of nature being produced the following year: Stella Dallas (made by Samuel Goldwyn and starring Barbara Stanwyck), Confession (made for Warner Brothers and starring, of course, Kay), and That Certain Woman (made for Warner Brothers, and starring Bette Davis). Fortunately, as Variety noted, this sort of film subject did not become redundant by the major studios, making movies like this one so special among a group of predictable, unimaginative others.
From the July 1936 issue of Photoplay magazine:
The movie was released with the title Sweet Aloes in England (the film was based on the famous English play of the same name).
The director of the film, Archie Mayo, had already directed Kay in Street of Women (1932) and would go on to direct her again in Charley’s Aunt (1941). Mayo hated Kay, and often made rude comments to her about her acting talent, or lack of.
This was the fifth paring of Kay Francis and George Brent. Their other efforts included The Keyhole (1933), Stranded (1935), The Goose and the Gander (1935) and Living on Velvet (1935). After completion of this film, they would team up only one more time for 1938’s Secrets of an Actress.
Roland Young made his second and last movie with Kay in Give Me Your Heart. Their other pairing was Street of Women (1932).
Henry Stephenson was a popular character actor in classic films such as Marie Antoinette (1938) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Give Me Your Heart was his second of four pairings with Kay. Their previous film together was Cynara (1932) and their others would include It’s A Date (1940) and The Man Who Lost Himself (1941).
Patric Knowles appeared in 1938’s The Sisters, a vehicle originally slated as a second paring between Kay and Errol Flynn. Give Me Your Heart was the only time he appeared in a Kay Francis film.
The beautiful Frieda Inescort would appear in Another Dawn (1937).
While Ann Harding and Claudette Colbert were considered for the lead, Bette Davis unsuccessfully fought for the part. Kay got it, largely because she was still a bigger star than Davis. But her reign over Bette would not last much longer.
This is a wonderful film. Give Me Your Heart (1936) has many similarities to Stella Dallas, Confession, and That Certain Woman (all made and released in 1937). But Give Me Your Heart, however, has the distinction of being the first of the streak of four well-executed and lavish productions.
The movie opens in the English countryside (probably the Warner Brothers back lot in real life, but the effect is convincing Hollywood magic). Tubbs, a smart but slightly annoying know-it-all, finds women’s gloves lying inside of an automobile he recognizes. It is the car of Bob Melford, a lonely man with an invalid wife incapable of having children. He and Linda (a neighbor) are taking a romantic walk in the woods. They don’t seems as in love with each other as they are with the idea of being in love with each other. While Bob’s invalid wife is warm and loving, he’s lonely. Linda lives with her miserable Aunt Esther, who has one nasty attitude towards Linda. As a result, Bob and Linda seek escapism with each other.
One of my favorite shots of Kay is when she returns home from the walk, sits on the windowsill, and gazes out at the beautiful night sky. The music is touching, too. Not to all-over-the-place as the score of Stella Dallas is, but the score for Give Me Your Heart has a simple, touching sincerity to it.
Unfortunately for Linda, she realizes she is pregnant with Bob’s child. Obviously because of the code, there is a lot of implying to her pregnancy, and lecturing of her actions, especially when Tubbs (who is a good friend of Linda’s) brings Lord Farrington, Bob’s father, to her house for an emergency talk about the situation. Bob makes Linda an offer she can’t refuse: to take the child as his grandson, and send Linda away to America where she can be financially supported by Lord Farrington until she is married. Unfortunately, she must give up her child to Rosamond, Bob’s invalid wife.
On her way back to America, Linda meets James Baker, a wealthy man who she comes to know and marries. Years pass, and Linda is haunted by memories of the past. She can’t eat or sleep. She lashes out at Jim constantly. And seems to only be able to smoke countless cigarettes, drink martinis, and wear gorgeous costumes (typical of a Kay Francis movie!). She consults her doctor, Florence, but nothing seems to cure her.
Finally, Tubbs tracks Linda down out of curiosity, but does it in a sneaky, annoying way. He’s in America to get “help with his taxes” from Jim. When he runs into Linda at Jim’s apartment, the two get a moment alone and talk of the past. Linda learns that Lord Farrington has died, Bob has taken over his father’s name, Rosamond’s health has taken a serious upturn, and that Linda’s son is named Edward, and looks like her “in the eyes a little.”
Tubbs takes Linda, Jim, and Dr. Florence out to dinner. Unknowingly to Linda, Tubbs has arranged for Bob and Rosamond to be the other guests. Since Linda has not mentioned a word of her past to anyone, Jim doesn’t suspect a thing because he was well aware Linda was emotionally damaged when he married her. They’re all “introduced” to each other, although Rosamond doesn’t know that Linda is the real mother of her child. Well, at least not yet.
Sitting at the bar, the subject of little Edward (named after Bob’s father) comes up. Rosamond shows Jim a mirror which has Edward’s picture pasted onto it. Jim brings the mirror to Linda, and one of the most heartbreaking shots in any film follows. Through the mirror, we see a teary-eyed Linda caress the photograph with her index finger. The others move to the table where their dinner is served, and Bob walks over to Linda at the bar. “Linda, I…I’m most frightfully sorry. I… I mean I…”
“Will you take this back to your wife please,” she interrupts, looking away from him (right past the camera) with tears in her eyes. As she says this, she hands Bob the mirror with the picture of little Edward inside.
“Has it been retched misery for you?”
“What do you think?”
During dinner, Linda can’t take any more of the heartache, and grabs her coat and heads for the door. Rosamond gets up and follows her into the hallway. They being to talk, and Rosamond pieces together that Linda is the mother of Edward. “You don’t like me very well, do you?” she asks Linda.
“Like you?” she responds. “I hate you.”
They discuss the topic more, and Rosamond decides to bring Linda upstairs to her hotel room where little Edward is asleep. Linda kisses his cheek, cries, then caresses his arm. When she walks back to Rosamond, they come to an understanding that little Edward has been given a position that Linda could have never afforded to give him.
“Oh, I do wish that we could be friends,” says Rosamond. “See a lot of each other, I mean. Funny that our greatest bond makes that impossible, isn’t it?”
Linda and Jim and Rosamond and Bob say good night to each other. Tubbs and Florence decide to get married. All couples disperse, and Linda and Jim walk home and discuss the “strange” evening. Jim, who still has no idea of Linda’s past, is slightly surprised when she implies that she’s ready to have his children. But he agrees with her, and the two walk off into the New York City night.
This movie was based on the 1934 English play “Sweet Aloes,” by Jay Mallory. Diana Wynyard played Kay’s part on the stage. The American adaptation for the stage was less popular. Sweet Aloes was the film’s release title in England. Movie posters and advertisements can still be found with that title.
Give Me Your Heart was an enormous success for Kay. Along with Stolen Holiday (1937), Give Me Your Heart marked Kay’s peak at Warner Brothers. Both films have solid production values, good scripts, beautiful lighting, and a great supporting cast. Another Dawn (1937) had everything but a good script, and was perhaps the movie in which Kay’s public appeal began to wane. Confession (1937) was successful, but not as much as it should have been. First Lady (1937) tanked, and brought down the end of Kay Francis’ reign as the Queen of Warner Brothers.
In the early 1930s, Ruth Chatterton has a series of successful roles as suffering mothers. Madame X (1929) and Sarah and Son (1930) are her best examples. In the mid-1930s, the popularity of such films came back because of Give Me Your Heart. Barbara Stanwyck’s Stella Dallas (1937) followed. Confession (1937, with Kay and Basil Rathbone) and That Certain Woman (1937, with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda), didn’t prove to be as stellar as their predecessors. As a result, these types of films went into the shade again. It was not until perhaps Mildred Pierce (1945) where these mother/love dramas proved to be so valuable to Hollywood.
Kay’s performance is strong, sincere, and one of the best of her career. From the naïve American girl living in an English village, to the nerve-struck socialite on the verge of a nervous breakdown in New York City, to finally getting relief with the satisfaction of being reunited with her son again, she dominates the film with her acting and personality. Belinda Warren was one of the more complicated characters of Kay Francis’ career, and her ability to pull it off is a true example of her power as an actress. However, she is thrown into a typical Kay Francis situation, which is where her beautiful screen personality is able to shine through and satisfy her fans.
Aside from Kay, the other real spark to Give Me York Heart is Roland Young, who does a pretty good job at almost stealing the film. Some point to his performance as “annoying,” but he just plays a busybody whose actions are slightly deceptive, yes, but his intentions are anything but. He rescues Linda from insanity, her marriage to James Baker, and gives Rosamond the satisfaction of knowing the real mother of her husband’s son whom she must call her own.
Speaking of Rosamond, Frieda Inescort is breathtakingly beautiful as well as talented. A wonderful Scottish actress whose career was hampered by her battle with multiple sclerosis, she is able to make herself believably delicate in the first half of the film, only to physically save herself with the love of her son she didn’t even bare. I don’t know when exactly she was diagnosed with MS, but if it was before Give Me Your Heart was filmed, she does a great job at recreating her own physical limitations during relapses. As her husband, Patric Knowles nearly rivals Kay and Frieda for the title of the most beautiful performer in this weepy.
Henry Stephenson is good as Lord Farrington, the only one with the right solution to the problem at hand. Also good in their roles are Helen Flint as Dr Florence “Bones” Cudahy, Zeffie Tilbury as Aunt Esther Warren, and George Brent as Jim Baker.
One could easily go on. Give Me Your Heart is one of those films with an incredible cast. There is not one part which is worth a reconsideration of its player.
Considering how much they didn’t get along, Archie Mayo was one of Kay’s best directors. One would never think there were any problems between the two, but perhaps his underestimation of Kay’s talents caused her to get up and prove him wrong. Don’t have an answer for that one, all I know is that he does an excellent job.
With all of that said, this film and its cast are worth a major reconsideration and discovery by today’s critics. Until then, all remains underestimated perfection.
Screenland Fashion Spread:
Modern Screen Fashion Feature:
Into the New Criterion—with its Chinese red seats, fluted ceiling, indirect lighting, fawn and huntress murals and general atmosphere of air-conditioned comfort—has come the Warners’ film version of last season’s “Sweet Aloes.” On the behest of the nation’s showmen, who feared every one would confuse it with “Sweet Alice,” the Brothers obligingly changed its name to “Give Me Your Heart,” which has definitely a musical comedy ring and may not prepare you, unless you are familiar with the play, for an affecting, mature and sophisticated drama of mother love and applied psychiatry.
It is Kay Francis this time, not Diana Wynyard or Evelyn Laye, who is the Belinda Watkins of the tortured memories and agonizing self-reproach. She has had a child by a married man, Lord Farrington’s son, whose wife is a semi-invalid and childless. She has yielded that child to its father, on the familiar appeal of Lord Farrington and her friend and confidant, Tubbs Barrow, that he will receive advantages which she could not give him. She has fled to America and married prosperously and well, but she is neurotic, tense, consumed by fears and uncertainty for her child; stifled with thoughts which she is trying to force back into the dead-letter chamber of her mind.
This is, if you will, a trite and patterned beginning, but the picture comes electrically to life when the irrepressible Tubbs—splendidly played, we might mention, by Roland Young—follows her to New York to prove the author’s theory that ghosts exist only because we keep them in dark corners. It is a crackling scene they have contrived where Belinda and her husband meet the new Lord Farrington and his wife, now recovered and intuitively aware that she is facing her boy’s real mother. Out of the meeting, out of the touching womanly talk of the child and his pony cart and fear of loud noises, Belinda wins release and surcease from anguish.
Tripping lightly through the heavier theme and wisely balancing its tragedy is a genial elf of comedy in the increasingly stocky form of the aforementioned Mr. Young. He has one moment in particular which ranks with the trial scene in “Mr. Deeds,” with the feeding-machine bit in Chaplin’s “Modern Times” and the stork episode in “The Country Doctor.” It comes when Mr. Young meets the picture’s Florence Cudahy (played by Hazel Flint) and we shall say no more about it, so as not to deprive you of discovering it for yourself, except that never has Mr. Young been more abashed, timid, self-effacing and altogether delightful. Miss Flint, of course, had to be admirable too, or the effect would have been spoiled. Let them share the bow.
The cast, in other respects, is thoroughly up to the task of bringing a basically exaggerated story to a convincing measure of credibility. Miss Francis, still amazingly gowned and handicapped by that distressing difficulty with her “r’s,” plays Belinda with pathos and reticence. Frieda Inescort is charming, understanding and tender as the hapless Lady Farrington. George Brent gives to the role of Belinda’s baffled husband a blunt, masculine incomprehension of his wife’s turmoil, which is precisely what the part required. There are valuable minor bits by Henry Stephenson, Zeffie Tilbury and Patric Knowles. In sum, a promising première for Broadway’s newest theatre. We bid them both welcome.
By Frank S. Nugent. Published in the New York Times, September 17, 1936.
From the September 1936 issue of Photoplay:
From the September 1936 issue of Modern Screen: