Kay Francis … Tina
William ‘Stage’ Boyd … Dr. Ed Marcy
Conway Tearle … Grant Arnold
John Breeden … Phillip Bellows
Marjorie Gateson … Rose
Charles D. Brown … Peter Angel
Directed by Stuart Walker.
Based on “The Heart is Young” by May Edginton.
Screenplay by Arthur Kober & Ray Harris.
Dialogue by Arthur Kober.
Camera by Henry Sharp.
Still Photography by Bert Lynch.
Music by Hermand Hand, W. Franke Harling & Bernard Kaun.
Song “Roamin’ in the Gloamin'” by Sir Harry Lauder.
Released December 5, 1931.
A Paramount Picture.
The False Madonna, Kay’s last starring film for her Paramount contract, signaled to moviegoers exactly why she had made the switch from Paramount to Warner Bros. after two years of so-so roles. The film was almost good. The keyword in that description is almost.
Kay plays Tina, a hard-edged con woman who’s fed up with her life of crime. Her partners include Dr. Ed Marcy (played by William Boyd), Rose (Marjorie Gateson), and Peter Angel (Charles D. Brown). The film opens up with them on a train heading to their next hideout. Dr. Marcy is not a legitimate doctor. He was forced to give up his practice when he was linked to some shady malpractice.
Despite Tina’s desire to leave them for good, Dr. Marcy comes up with a plot to get a lot of fast cash. There’s a young blind man, Phillip Bellows (John Breeden) who is searching for his mother. Dr. Marcy doesn’t know the boy is blind, but decides Tina would be perfect to pose as her, get some cash, then they can bail and she can leave the racket for good.
A reluctant Tina goes through with it. No one is familiar with the real Mrs. Bellows, since she left her home and husband right after her child was born. Grant Arnold, a father-like figure for Phillip, is immediately suspicious, but doesn’t let anyone else know he’s onto Tina.
Since Phillip is blind (from an airplane accident two years ago), he believes Tina is really Mrs. Bellows. Almost immediately he’s attached to her. They spend time in a beautiful garden together, play games, and enjoy what appears to be the start of a long relationship.
Unfortunately, Phillip is ill, and most likely will die soon. Dr. Marcy begins to press Tina for the cash. She ignores him, as she’s beginning to love Phillip as her own. When he dies, she’s heartbroken.
Dr. Marcy plans a shakedown, not knowing Phillip is dead. Everything comes out, and Grant, who has come to admire Tina for allowing Phillip to die happily, decides she can stay with him.
As I was watching the film, I was aware of how bizarre the plot was. But didn’t realize how absurd it all is until I sat down to write this review. Despite its shortcomings and dated dramatic material, it does come together nicely. There’s only one major flaw with the film: Kay Francis, at 26, was too young for the part.
Seriously. It’s even too ridiculous for the other people around Phillip to be convinced she’s his mother because she’s so young. That, not the weird plot-line, are what dampen the movie. It’s not a bad one, and Kay Francis does great acting with her awkward position, but the role called for someone older.
The only way the producers could have made this more believable would be if the age of Phillip was reduced by 10 years. It’s more believable to have a 26-year-old Kay Francis fake her position as a mother of a seven year old than a 17 year old. Really.
Marjorie Gateson, who appeared with Kay in several films, is almost unrecognizable, as she’s under a cheap platinum blonde wig. William Boyd does great with his part as the corrupt doctor, and Conway Tearle also does well as Grant Arnold.
The acting by the entire cast is excellent. And the part allows Kay great range, but because of the ridiculous plot-line and miscasting of Kay Francis, this one would never be considered a classic or a must see.
There are a few interesting shots of Kay getting herself ready before a mirror. That’s about it in terms of clever camera work. The sets are beautiful, but this definitely was not an expensive picture to make.
Still, it was Kay’s largest role at Paramount to date, and the first film she ever made for the studio which was completely about her character.
Unfortunately, this was also the last.
(From the January 1932 issue of Photoplay):