Kay Francis … Lois Ames
David Manners … Thomas ‘Tom’ / ‘Tommy’ Sherman
Una Merkel … Ruth ‘Ruthie’ Holman
Andy Devine … Andy Doyle
Kenneth Thomson … Fred ‘Freddie’ Ames
Claire Dodd … Ann Le Maire
Elizabeth Patterson … Miss Harper, Lois’ Secretary
Edward Van Sloan … Mr. Walters, French & Sprague Manager
Directed by William Dieterle
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Original Music by Bernhard Kaun
Cinematography by Gregg Toland
Film Editing by James Gibbon
Art Direction by Anton Grot
Costume Design by Earl Luick
A Warner Bros. Picture
Released April 15, 1932.
Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $171,000
Domestic Gross: $258,000
Foreign Gross: $59,000
Total Gross: $317,000
See the Box Office Page for more info.
Of all the most significant years in Warner Brothers history, perhaps 1932 was one of the greatest. That year alone, the studio inherited Ruth Chatterton, William Powell, Kay Francis, Bette Davis, Dick Powell, Paul Muni, and Ruby Keeler–all of whom had a notable career in the entertainment industry in one form or another. But three of those stars, Chatterton, Powell, and Francis, came to Warner Brothers as major film stars. Others like Bette Davis and Paul Muni had done work in front of the camera, but nothing to really make them stand apart from their contemporaries.
In January, 1932, Darryl Zanuck purchased the rights to Faith Baldwin’s Week-End Marriage with the idea of starring either Kay, Ruth, or Barbara Stanwyck in the feminine lead. Since Chatterton was the most established star at the studio—being paid $8,000 weekly—she was cast in the film, retitled The Rich Are Always With Us (1932).
To satisfy Kay, Zanuck purchased Robert Lord’s Dangerous Brunette—retitled Man Wanted—with only Kay in mind. The great William Dieterle, who directed Kay in The White Angel (1936) four years later, directed Kay, David Manners, Andy Devine, and Una Merkel in this sixty-minute programmer which is really a promotion for Kay. Even the theatrical trailer is all about hyping a new Kay Francis in her first film for her new studio, Warner Brothers.
Cameraman Gregg Toland, designer Earl Luick, and still photographer Homer Van Pelt all attributed to the creation of the new, polished Kay Francis, whom Warner Brothers felt was best suited in urban, modern dramas about the “new woman” of the 1930s. In Man Wanted she plays the chief editor of one of the most influential magazines in the country. She’s married to a playboy husband, but falls for a male secretary to answer her every beck and call.
Unlike her Paramount features, which featured Kay in either supporting roles or second leads, Man Wanted is all about Kay Francis. This gesture from Warner Brothers (their turning of Kay Francis into a major household name) was something she never forgot, even long after completion of her final film, Wife Wanted (1947), for Monogram Pictures. Quotes from Kay years later still pay tribute to the studio that believed in her, while everybody else considered her unworthy of attention.
Man Wanted was released on April 15, 1932, and credited by the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News as “good, light material which has the benefit of luxurious settings, pleasing dialogue, rather clever situations, and some good performances.”
With a successful film debut for her new studio, Warner Brothers began the idea of a long-term association with Kay Francis in which she would emerge as their most important asset. No female star employed by the studio during the 1930s would surpass her fame in that decade, until Bette Davis in 1938.
Lois Ames is married to Fred Ames. She’s the professional in the marriage, being the editor and chief of the 400 Magazine while Fred enjoys his polo and affairs with easy tramps. She has difficulty finding a secretary to work for her; being completely involved in her work, she needs someone who has as much drive and dedication as she does.
Meanwhile, Tommy Sherman and Andy Doyle work in a sports goods shop. Their boss instructs Tommy, who is involved with Ruthie, some cheap, annoying bimbo, to go to the offices of the 400 Magazine and demonstrate a rowing machine to Lois Ames. He does so, and is taken in by her loyalty to her work.
When she and her secretary have a disagreement over the working hours, she employs Tommy to work for her, where his pay steadily but rapidly increases as she is increasingly impressed with his dedication working for her. Of course they begin to feel attracted towards each other, but Lois is insistent that this is a serious, professional relationship. Nothing more.
Ruthie becomes enraged that Tommy is spending so much time working, and begins seeing Andy, who is Tommy’s roommate, out of spite. Tommy pays no attention to this, Lois is the one he wants, but, unfortunately, she is a married woman.
Luckily for Tommy, the marriage between Lois and Fred is dissolving. While they do not become bitter towards each other, they come to a mutual agreement that their marriage has ended, and they do agree to a divorce after Lois becomes fully aware of her husband’s infidelity when she discovers the key to a mutual friend’s room in his pants pocket.
Before Tommy can know all of this, he makes plans to marry Ruthie, quit the office, and work for her father. On his last night working for Lois, he learns of her divorce, and Ruthie, enraged after being stood up for a date by Tommy, barges into the office to see the two dining intimately.
“You’ve humiliated me for the last time!” she exclaims.
Indeed she has, because now with Fred and Ruthie out of the picture, Lois and Tommy can go on together as a husband and wife team of the 400 Magazine.
To many Kay Francis fans, Man Wanted is one of her best films. It’s easy to see why. Not only does she complete her characterization as Lois Ames with an intelligent, knowing performance in a film which doesn’t give her much to do, but she’s refreshingly cheerful and overly flirty with her leading men.
Watch her in her opening scene with Kenneth Thomas in the office. As they make their plans for lunch, she flashes a huge smile and gently rubs her nose against his. Then when she and David Manners are taking their notes, she dangles her shoe off of the tip of her toes.
Also mentionable is her stunning photography. Look how cinematographer Gregg Toland has her steadily approach the camera reading a note only to look up and smile as she firsts meets David Manners in the office.
It’s a million-dollar shot.
Interestingly, many pointed to David Manners as being a perfect choice for Kay’s leading man because of his youthful persona opposite her mature professional. Four years older than Kay in real life, he is one of her best costars. The two have unusually good chemistry. All of their scenes have them looking at each other with emotions becoming visible from within the eye.
What makes this even more mentionable is the fact that they really didn’t click during the production. In Kay’s mind, David played around too much, while he considered her uptight and not easy to worth with.
Andy Devine is the comedian as usual, which is how it should be. On the opposite side of the fence this time, Una Merkel really goes all out with her performance as Ruth. She makes no attempts for audience sympathy, and shrieks her way through the film, making one want to hop on the other side of the camera and smack her.
William Dieterle, who directed Kay in The White Angel (1936), among other films, does great with the thin material. He makes this enjoyable fluff easy to watch by wasting no time with unimportant asides and silly, unnecessary scenes. His ability to succeed with this material is that he doesn’t make the drama too over the top, and the comedy is done with a hesitance and subtlety which makes it unlike the other films of that era which were either going completely in one direction or another.
Kay Francis radiates so much charm throughout “Man Wanted” at Warners’ Strand this week that the familiar theme somehow does not matter. She is ably assisted by David Manners and a well-balanced cast. The screen play, originally called “A Dangerous Brunette,” is the very thing for Miss Francis, who dresses with such good taste.
As for the story, it is that of two ill-matched persons, an ambitious woman and an indolent husband, who become bored with each other. She finds the ideal secretary in the person of David Manners and harmony in work leads to dangerous intimacy. And thus the theme unfurls itself in a manner to be expected. The husband, instead of the familiar boorish person, is quite likable; the secretary’s fiancée is not quite as refined as she ought to be, and Una Merkel does very well with this thankless rôle. As a picture “Man Wanted” is plausible and quite free from any jarring notes, and while it is neither original nor outstanding in any other way, it is somehow quite satisfactory.
The comic relief is injected in well-measured doses by Andy Devine. The directing work of Wilhelm Dieterle seems to be another feather in his cap.
Originally published in the New York Times, April 16, 1932.
From Photoplay, June 1932: