Kay Francis … Amy Prentiss Parker
Warren William … Walter ‘Gibraltar’ Pritcham
George Brent … Terrence Clarence ‘Terry’ Parker
Helen Lowell … Aunt Martha Prentiss
Henry O’Neill … Harold Thornton
Russell Hicks … Major at Flying Field
Maude Turner Gordon … Mrs. Parker
Samuel S. Hinds … Henry L. Parker (as Samuel Hinds)
Martha Merrill … Cynthia Parker
Edgar Kennedy … Counterman
Directed by Frank Borzage.
Produced by Edward Chodorov & Frank Borzage.
Original Music by Heinz Roemheld.
Cinematography by Sidney Hickox.
Film Editing by William Holmes.
Art Direction by Robert M. Haas.
Costume Design by Orry-Kelly.
A First National Picture.
Released March 2, 1935
Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $276,000
Domestic Gross: $334,000
Foreign Gross: $170,000
Total Gross: $504,000
See the Box Office Page for more info.
Living on Velvet is one of those ideal Kay Francis films which is a perfect representation of what the “star product” meant back in the Golden Age of Hollywood. The film is fit to her screen personality, forcing her to rely not so much on her acting skills as her beautiful physique in stunning Orry-Kelly creations.
Apparently, Jack Warner had instructed Jerry Wald and Julius Epstein to come up with an ideal story to fit the Kay Francis formula. Wald and Epstein delivered a charming screenplay which may have not been another One-Way Passage (1932) or House on 56th Street (1933), but Living on Velvet was a reasonably entertaining story which didn’t require much from its audience.
Kay was reunited with George Brent for the second time since their first pairing, The Keyhole (1933). It was also her second film with the dashing Warren William, who had worked with Kay in Doctor Monica (1934). Both men played opposite Kay well, but Warner Brothers seemed more interested in Brent’s career than Williams’. By the time Living on Velvet rolled around, Warren William had been reduced to secondary roles, which is a shame considering he had so much acting talent and personality.
Costume designer Orry-Kelly went all out for Kay on this one. He designed a total of seventeen creations, most of which were inspired by samples by fashions which had struck Kay’s eye on a vacation in Europe. Louella Parsons predicted in her review for the film that “[Kay’s] gowns will be copied all over the world.” Obviously Warner Brothers thought so, too, because the theatrical trailer for the film showed a montage of a handful of Kay’s breath-taking wardrobe.
In another promotional effort, Kay, Warren, and George appeared on the radio show Hollywood Hotel on January 4, 1935 to reenact scenes from and promote the film. Released on March 2, 1935, Living on Velvet scored decent reviews but clearly had a more public appeal than critical one. Most reviews for Kay were favorable, but many pointed out that her role didn’t require her to do much.
That fact that she pulled it off is the proof of her magnitude as a star.
It’s February 1933. Terry Clarence Parker, his mother and father and younger sister, Cynthia, are flying with Terry, who is an aviator. He notices that the fuel tank is dangerously low, and they soon run out and crash into the ground. Terry’s family is killed, while he survives with only a couple of scratches and a headache. In the following two years, his name reads across newspaper headlines for his dangerous pranks and stupid actions.
On June 10, 1934 he crashes an aviation derby, and is detained by officers for his dangerous stunts. There his good friend Gibraltar saves him from the felony charges they are attempting to put on him. Back at Gibraltar’s, Terry listens to him talk about Amy Prentiss, the girl Gibraltar is seriously considering settling down with. When Terry asks what she looks like, Gibraltar basically tells him that he’ll find out that night when he meets Amy at a party being thrown by Amy’s Aunt Martha in her Manhattan penthouse.
That evening, Terry receives the could shoulder from all of the snobby guests except for one man, who grabs hold of Terry in a conversation about global warming. Bored by the conversation, Terry looks across the room to see a beautifully dark haired young woman being spoken to about the increase rain levels by an elderly woman. They look goggle-eyed at one another, and Terry makes his way across the room and introduces himself. The two decide to head out and grab some real food.
They have a lovely night on the New York town. In a horse carriage, Terry tells Amy that he loves the sound of her voice, and when he notices her speech impediment, he asks her to repeat after him. “Around the rugged rocks, the ragged rascals ran.“ She repeats his saying, with every R slurred into a W, and he is taken in by her sense of humor about her own flaws. They walk through Central Park and have coffee and doughnuts at a small diner until the early morning hours. When Terry finally takes Amy back to her place, they make plans to spend the next day together.
Briefly Terry disappears. Unbeknownst to Amy until Gibraltar receives a call from the police station, he has gone on a bender. She ignores his stupid actions, and realizes that Terry is the one she really loves, and, against her Aunt’s wishes, she and Terry marry in a small ceremony with Gibraltar as the best man. After the wedding, the three of them sit on the steps of the chapel and wonder what to do next. Since Amy insists on not taking any money from her Aunt, the rely on Gibraltar’s present of a house out on long island that he owns.
Terry and Amy move out there, and have a real rough start with things by Terry’s inability to focus on getting on their feet. He doesn’t find a job or do anything responsible, and if it wasn’t for the money that Gibraltar sent them, they wouldn’t have anything. Amy can’t take anymore when Terry goes out and buys a plane for them. Though she still loves him, she’s come to realize that marrying him wasn’t the best decision.
“I’m leaving you, Terry,” she tells him with tears in her eyes. “But before I go, there’s something I want to say to you. I’ll try to be simple and straightforward. Terry, this attitude of yours towards life, this contempt that you have for people in the world, all the flying about, the happiness, the unrest, mean just one thing. There’s a void in your life, Terry. A distinct and terrible void.”
He words go almost unnoticed by him, though he does tell her that he doesn’t see her as a failure for not being able to succeed in changing his way of life. When he tries to get her back, she tearfully tells him that there is no way of a reconcile until he agrees to move on from what happened in the past.
It is at a party at Aunt Martha’s where Gibraltar receives a call that Terry has been in a Terrible car accident. He and Amy rush to his side, and she tells Terry that he can’t die because she loves him, and he promises that he’s not going to.
The final scene is of Terry and Amy sitting on a bench in Central Park with the snow gently falling around them. They agree to start over together, and Amy tells him that she’ll try to cope with his irrational decisions.
“Amy,” he confidently tells her, “if you love me, you’ll stop talking about a Terry Parker which doesn’t even exist anymore.”
On the official website for Warner Brothers, I was reading a biography on George Brent they had posted for him. In it they went on about his film with their classiest star, Kay Francis, and mentioned their work in Living on Velvet, among other titles. I can’t think of a better term to describe the Kay Francis in the Living on Velvet, Goose and the Gander films she made at Warner Brothers at the height of her popularity. She really defines the whole Park Ave sophistication with her clever hairstyles and outfits which border from the smart to the absurd.
This might not be her best acting, but these are still the types of movies I do enjoy seeing her in. Living on Velvet is a good vehicle for her, which allows her to display her strengths in comedy and drama in a seventy-five minute film which seems to come to a close just as it begins.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I have favored stars and films like Kay Francis and Living on Velvet over ones like Joan Crawford and I Live My Life. Francis’ films at Warner Brothers have everything Crawford’s or Loy’s did at MGM, only they are fitted into shorter timeframes by cutting out all the excess fluff and unimportant asides. This is not to take shots at Crawford or Loy, or to say that Francis is or was better than them. I’m only trying to write that I favor the way Warner Brothers made and produced their films, getting straight to the point rather than going on and on like the Metro Goldwyn Mayer output seemed to do.
George Brent does get a little old in this one. I would have rather seen the role played by Fredric March or Gary Cooper, someone who could have brought more star power to the film than Brent did. Warren William, however, is perfectly cast in a role that’s a departure for him. True, he is a doormat, but he looks incredible in those suits and top hats, giving Kay Francis a run for fashion favor in this one.
The cottage Terry and Amy live in that belongs to Gibraltar is breathtaking, so much so that it makes one wonder why Amy is so persistent on getting it redecorated. Just as I felt when I was watching The Goose and the Gander, I took a look around my own place and realized what a dump I live in. You won’t see any Bette Davis movies at Warner Brothers looking this good. It’s clear how expensive, modestly so, the production was.
Perhaps the funniest part of the film, since it also provided comic relief from Amy’s depression after hearing that Terry spent Gibraltar’s money on a plane, is when George has Kay christen the plane with a bottle of ketchup, since they have no champagne in the house.
Today most would write off Living on Velvet as unimportant Kay Francis fluff, the type of film which made the audiences of the 1930s grow bored with her. Some of that is true, but it’s not a bad picture at all, just a small piece of entertainment made for audiences to enjoy without having to be overwhelmed by million-dollar sets and long running durations.
It is the perfect type of box office formula which becomes addictive to the average moviegoer, and why Francis reached the height of her popularity playing parts like Amy Prentiss.