Carole Lombard … Julie Eden
Cary Grant … Alec Walker
Kay Francis … Maida Walker
Charles Coburn … Richard Walker
Helen Vinson … Mrs. Suzanne Ducross
Katharine Alexander … Mrs. Laura Morton
Jonathan Hale … Dr. Ned Gateson
Nella Walker … Mrs. Grace Walker
Alan Baxter … Charley
Maurice Moscovitch … Dr. Muller (as Maurice Moscovich)
Peggy Ann Garner … Ellen Eden
Spencer Charters … Fred, the Gardener
Directed by John Cromwell
Produced by George Haight
Gowns by Edward Stevenson
An RKO Picture.
Released August 4, 1939.
Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $722,000
Domestic Gross: $926,000
Foreign Gross: $395,000
Total Gross: $1,321,000
Before A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), there were few really serious, adult dramas which provoked a concerning thought from moviegoers. In Name Only, like Night Must Fall (1937) and Escape (1940), was one of those few thought-provoking films before the perfection of the serious drama took shape in the 1950s. This time, the drama revolves around a cliché plot: a man, his wife, and the woman he really loves. So far, this sounds like the ideal Kay Francis melodrama, but the assistance of Carole Lombard and Cary Grant both helped and hurt the final project.
RKO had purchased the rights to Bessie Breuer’s Memory of Love with the idea of casting Katharine Hepburn in the role of Julie Eden. Hepburn’s rapid career decline in the late 1930s caused the studio to look onward for their casting (ironically, Kate’s name appearing on the “box office poison” list solidified their position, which is strange considering Kay’s name was also mentioned on that same list). Carole Lombard read Memory of Love and insisted on playing the female lead. She signed a deal with RKO which she would appear in four movies over the next two years at $150,000 a picture, plus a percentage of the final earnings, all to star in the film, retitled In Name Only.
With films like Twentieth Century (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936) and Nothing Sacred (1937) under her belt, Lombard became identified with audiences as the “Queen of the Screwball Comedy.” Cary Grant, her leading man in In Name Only, had also gained such a comic reputation with The Awful Truth (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938). While Grant and Lombard are superb in their roles, audiences expected to see a winning slapstick comedy, not a melodramatic tearjerker manipulated in the favor of Kay Francis by director John Cromwell.
Of the three stars in the film, Kay benefited the most off of the critical hype of In Name Only. After her decline at Warner Brothers, and working for her first film after completing her obligations to the studio, she scored a major comeback which placed her back at the top of her game. Her career with Warner Brothers, which lasted seven years, ended in September, 1938, after which Kay was unemployed until February, 1939.
When Lombard began to gain enthusiasm for the In Name Only project, she urged RKO executives to cast Kay in the role of Maida Walker. The two ladies had played well opposite each other in Ladies’ Man (1931), which also starred William Powell, Lombard’s then husband.
Between Ladies’ Man and In Name Only, Lombard and Francis remained good friends. Myrna Loy later wrote that, although she herself adored Kay, Kay’s “use of four-lettered words” shocked Loy terribly. Lombard and the love of her life, Clark Gable, loved Kay’s company (including her use of swears). Gable and Lombard enjoyed Kay’s honest sense of humor, and appreciation of good liquor. So when Lombard saw her good friend down and out, she intervened, and helped Kay come back to the place she deserved to be.
Gaining more than twenty pounds amidst her Warner headaches, Kay was disgusted by her own wardrobe tests for the film, and dieted her figure back down to her usual 112lb figure. Her hard work paid off, and Kay earned some of the best reviews of her career. In retrospect, her performance as Maida Walker can easily be pointed to as her greatest piece of acting.
Bolstered by the confidence of her stunning comeback, Kay let her friends know that there was no greater victory against Warner Brothers than the sweet smell of success in her first film away from the studio.
In Name Only opens with Julie Eden fishing in a lake in Ridgefield, Connecticut where passer-by Alec Walker informs her has been barren for twenty years that he knows of. Talk about symbolism. Julie plays off his little cute ways of trying to flirt with her, giving him little wise answers to his playful questions like if he can have one of the sandwiches she has made for a lunch.
Julie is a commercial artist who lives with her older sister, Laura, and Julie’s five year old daughter, Ellen. Her husband died recently, which is the reason she is so resistant to Alec’s flirting even before she finds out he’s married. She’s probably devastated with the idea of having her heart broken again, and her sister doesn’t help. Laura’s marriage was ruined by a woman who came in and stole her husband away. Because of this, Laura has absolutely no trust for men whatsoever, and she encourages Julie to think the same way.
Alec Walker is married to Maida, a cold-blooded, manipulative, cunning social climber who married Alec solely for position. She has succeeded in getting even his own parents against him, playing the saint act while Alec goes out and has meaningless affairs with Maida’s friends. Throughout the film, she creates situations in which his parents inform her that she “needn’t lie for Alec any more, darling.”
As Maida is throwing a small dinner party for Alec and his parents, he runs out on them and heads to a sleazy restaurant. There he meets Suzanne, supposedly Maida’s “best friend” who’s more interested in getting Alec in bed than she is having anything to do with Maida. On their way home, Suzanne and Alec go back and forth switching the car radio from music to the sports channel. Distracted, Alec drives off the road to avoid a coming vehicle, the car tumbling down a hill. Suzanne gets up and runs to, ironically, Julie’s house for help. Since she has no injuries, she informs Julie that “Mr. Walker’s wife is my best friend, and if people should discover I’ve been out with him, there might be talk.”
When Maida arrives at the scene of the accident, she discover’s Julie’s sketchbook in the car, and suspects that Julie was out with Alec for a good time. She coldly thanks Julie for her help, running off and confronting Alec about the situation a little later. He tells her that he was really out with Suzanne, but Maida won’t believe it.
In a heated conversation with Maida, Alec reminds her of a man named David. Maida admits that she knew him briefly, but not very well. Alec informs Maida that he learned the truth about David on their honeymoon, which is a direct result of his coldness towards Maida from the start. As it turns out, David and Maida were truly in love with each other, but Maida left him to marry Alec for money and position. A letter from Maida to David, which his mother mailed to Alec shortly after David’s suicide, reveals this entire circumstance.
“All right, it’s true,” she tells Alec. “I did love him. I was mad about him. What of it?”
“How could you do it?”
“I had a choice. I could take David and love and nothing else or I could take you and what went with you. I took you.”
The following week, Maida visits Julie’s home to welcome her to the neighborhood, and invite her to a garden party she is throwing back at her place. Julie suspects nothing, and goes with such confidence. At the party, Maida tells Ned that Alec told her he would see Julie “whenever and wherever he pleases,” prompting Ned to go over and inform Alec’s parents of his “treatment” of Maida. A cold scheme of Maida’s, she tells Julie to come exactly at four, when Alec comes home, so this way they walk into the house together where Julie learns of Maida’s intentions and the kind of person she really is.
Alec leaves after Julie, and when the two are alone they confess their love for each other, which makes Alec go to Maida for a divorce. She tells him sure, she’ll go to Paris and get it, but she really has no intentions of getting it done. She leaves with his parents, and makes Julie and Alec wait six long months before she finally tells both of them to forget about the divorce, and that if Alec dares to try and divorce her, she’ll counter sue both of them, Alec for bigamy and Julie for alienation of affection. With this comes one of my favorite lines I have ever heard Kay Francis speak with such confidence on screen, “You have a daughter Miss Eden, don’t you? How old is she, five or six? You’d better start teaching your daughter how to behave on a witness stand now.”
On Christmas Eve, Julie tells Alec that they might as well end things now—while they still love each other. She’s been offered a job in Paris, a permanent one where she can raise her daughter, and move on with her life. Alec refuses, saying that there will be one day they can really be together. She tells him to leave, and he goes out to a bar where he has several drinks, returning to his hotel room where he turns the heat off and opens the window, positioning himself in front of it. By morning he has pneumonia, and is in a serious condition. It is Julie’s promise that they can one day be together that saves him, one which prompts Maida to confront Julie about the situation. Maida is unaware that Alec’s parents are right behind her when she informs Julie that she can care less about Alec’s money, she’s only interested in what the death of his father will bring them.
Mr. Walker confidently informs Maida that she better get whatever she can out of Alec in their divorce suit, because she will get nothing from him. With this said, Alec’s parents go into his room with Julie, where the four of them can be alone while Maida is kicked to the curb.
This is an incredible movie. It’s a great one for not only fans of Kay Francis, but Cary Grant and Carole Lombard also. For Francis and Lombard, it’s a real departure from the type of roles Hollywood had identified them with. For Francis, there is nothing but a bonus to this. She’s strong, manipulative, and an absolute bitch. She makes no attempts for audience sympathy here. For Lombard, it’s only okay. She does good with portraying her character’s helplessness and vulnerability, but there are times where it just doesn’t seem very Carole Lombard-like to be teary-eyed over a man she can never really call her own. That’s the type of character audiences had strictly identified with Kay.
And as for Cary Grant? Well, Alec Walker was the first of the type of male lead we recognize as a “Cary Grant character.” As Alec, he is unafraid to look foolish or stupid, such as when he first arrives in New York to meet Julie and pretends to be conducting a Census survey, and wins the audience favor in the process. If The Awful Truth (1937) with Irene Dunne started him on this character path, In Name Only progressed it, and My Favorite Wife (1940) confirmed it. He is the only source for comic relief. Not even Lombard does much to lighten up the over-all dramatic mood of the finished product.
Katharine Alexander, as the devastated sister, and Peggy Ann Garner, as Julie’s daughter, are quite good with this parts. Garner doesn’t try to be cute, she just is, though it’s a bit disturbing when she tells Alec that she’s “going to take a bath,” throwing on, “want to come watch?!”
An impressive budget compliments the entire movie. The sets are overly extravagant, but not gaudy like many films of the era. It would be interesting to point out the fact that the credits make a note that Carole Lombard’s gowns were designed by Irene, while the “other” gowns were creations of Edward Stevenson. Lombard is seen mostly in casual slacks and blouses, while Kay parades a striking wardrobe of gowns, hats, and furs just as over the top as any of her Orry-Kelly creations at Warner Brothers. RKO seemed determined to capitalize on her reputation as a clotheshorse, and her lines are peppered with R’s.
As mentioned, director John Cromwell gives most of the attention to Kay Francis, even allowing her to have private moments in which the audience can see her mentally plotting her next move to keep Alec at her side. He was a phenomenal craftsman with the movie camera, and his work has been unjustly overlooked. In Name Only has many plot similarities to earlier films of the sound era, but there is an adult maturity to this one that sets it in a class apart from movies like The Divorcee (1930), Street of Women (1932), and even The Women (1939). The subjects of adultery, divorce, love and loss are displayed in a new light here. That is the reason why so many rave about this film, and the majority of that credit isn’t really owed to Grant, Lombard, or even Francis, but John Cromwell as a director ahead of his time.