Rosalind Russell … Julie Hathaway
Don Ameche … Prof. John Hathaway
Kay Francis … Nellie Woods
Van Heflin … Elliott Morgan, Publisher
Donald Meek … Captain Makepeace Liveright
Gordon Jones … Rubber-Legs Ryan
Henry Daniell … Shelley Mason, Critic
Sidney Blackmer … Freddie Bond, Elliott’s Lawyer
Grant Mitchell … Dean Hutchinson, Digby College
David Clyde … Brighton, Elliot’s Butler
Directed by Major W.S. Van Dyke
Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay by George Oppenhiermer, Edmund L. Hartmann, Ogden Nash.
Original Music by Franz Waxman.
Gowns by Adrian
Hairstyles by Sidney Guilaroff.
Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons.
Sound Direction by Douglas Shearer.
Cinematography by Ray June.
Special Effects by Warren Newcombe.
Released December 12, 1941.
A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Picture
The Feminine Touch, marketed then as a four-star prized piece of entertainment, provided Kay Francis another opportunity to upstage a cast of well known players, this time, Rosalind Russell, Don Ameche, and Van Heflin. It may not have been because of her personality or acting skills, but probably because she seemed the most comfortable onscreen than anyone else in the headlining cast.
Ironically, by the time Feminine Touch had gone into production, it was Kay who had the years of experience with comedy. Warner Brothers had beautifully showcased her sense of humor as early as Jewel Robbery (1932), and allowed her to amuse audiences with The Goose and the Gander (1935) and First Lady (1937). But such intense emotional dramas like Give Me Your Heart (1936), Confession (1937), and Another Dawn (1937) had solidified Kay’s screen image in the long-suffering category.
On the other hand, 1941 saw Kay in four comedies. She kicked the year off with Play Girl (with Margaret Hamilton) and enjoyed successes with The Man Who Lost Himself (with Brian Aherne) and Charley’s Aunt (with Jack Benny, and the eighth most popular movie of the year).
Rosalind Russell had a different career path. While today she is remembered for her quirky sense of humor, she had given excellent dramatic performances in Craig’s Wife (1936) and Night Must Fall (1937), the latter a brilliant drama starring Robert Montgomery. It wasn’t until The Women (1939) when her true comedic talents were showcased.
The Feminine Touch was based on a screenplay by George Oppenheimer, Edmund L. Hartmann, and Ogden Nash. Directed by Major W.S. Van Dyke, production began July 1, 1941 and was completed on the 29th. Critics noted that the film was neither terrible nor brilliant, but audiences loved the Russell/Francis combination along with Ameche, riding high at 20th Century Fox at the time.
Another bonus to the film was Van Heflin, promoted by MGM as the actor who “played the James Stewart role in the stage production of ‘Philadelphia Story.’” It was this film which kicked off Heflin’s years as an MGM contract player, where he enjoyed successes opposite Lana Turner, Judy Garland, and June Allyson.
Designer Adrian and hairstylist Sidney Guilaroff had the opportunity to costume and make-up Kay for the film. This was Adrian’s fourth time costuming Kay (how strange that Hollywood’s best-dressed woman and most brilliant designer didn’t collaborate more often). Guilaroff openly admitted his affection towards Kay. “I loved Kay Francis,” he wrote, “One of the great movie-going pleasures of the 1930s was Kay. She was exotic, poised, dark, and lovely. I did her hairstyle in a film with my good friend Roz Russell. Kay was a joy to work with. She possessed incredible eyes that were very expressive. She wore hats and turbans with such style and grace. She was very elegant on and off the screen.”
Professor John Hathaway is a writer who has just finished writing his book, Jealousy and All Its Aspects and Universal Applications. Now looking to have it published, he and quirky wife Julie head to New York, where they meet with Elliot Morgan’s publishing firm.
Behind every powerful man is an even more powerful woman, and behind Elliot Morgan is Nellie Woods, who is the glue which holds Elliot’s company together. She likes John’s idea, and takes to him, much to the dismay of Julie, who is insane with jealousy. Nellie insists on having the title of the book changed to The Female of the Species, citing that jealousy is more attributed to the female side of the human race.
Throughout this movie, Julie is determined to prove her wrong.
What Julie lacks in mental stability she makes up for in appearance. Several men take to her, especially Elliot, a notorious womanizer. His philandering is the reason why Nellie has not married him, but, no matter how much he comes on to Julie in front of John, he can not arouse any anger from him, much to Julie’s dismay. John’s philosophy is to live by his book, and not let such catty things bother him.
Julie walks into their apartment one day to see Nellie and John relaxing on the couch, with John’s arm around her. Nellie quickly jumps up, but John doesn’t panic. Watch for the reaction on Julie’s face. He insists that there is nothing going on, and she comes to believe him.
Riding on a subway, John teaches Julie about how to avoid “subway mashers,” men who come onto unsuspecting women. He tells Julie that if any man comes up to her with cheap come-ons, to tell that fellow to beat it or she’ll call the cops. They do a prank of this, only the cop really suspects John is a masher, and he gets arrested.
Going to Elliot’s, Julie tries to get him to have John released, but Elliot has only Julie on his “to-do list.” He fakes a call to his lawyer to have John released, and then has a swarm of guests arrive at his apartment, thinking there is a party. Nellie planned all of this, trying to get back at him for having such feelings for Julie.
“If this is a come-as-you-are party, why don’t you have a phone in one hand and a knife in your teeth,” Elliot asks Nellie.
“Because my knife is in your back,” she replies.
They get alone in a room, where Nellie informs him that she is quitting the firm. Elliot, realizing he would be nothing without her, gets her to change her mind, then proposes to her. She accepts, and they plan to honeymoon at his island, though he has to go there and “burn” his past first.
In a last-ditch attempt to get John jealous, Julie heads to the island to be alone there with Elliot. She wants him to show-up, get into a physical confrontation with Elliot, and then win her affections. Unfortunately for her, the only reason John does show up is because Nellie drags him there in a rage over the idea that Julie was alone with Elliot on the island.
There, John and Elliot get into the fight that Julie has always dreamed of, and, after the two knock each other unconscious, she and Nellie get into a major catfight.
The film ends with the four leaving the city courthouse, presumably after they have had a double wedding ceremony.
This is one of those Metro Goldwyn Mayer movies that, had it been cut down a few minutes, it would have probably been better. The first ten minutes are completely useless, and have nothing to really do with the rest of the movie. It should have just opened with John and Julie entering the publishing office.
Julie Hathaway is the exact character type I love to see Rosalind Russell in. She’s quirky and makes facial expressions that will leave you in stitches. She’ll stop at nothing to get her husband insane with jealousy, which says a lot about her insecurity..
Matching Russell scene for scene is Kay. She’s just as good of a comedienne as Rosalind, and has some pretty snappy dialogue. Take notice of how raspy Kay was beginning to sound. On top of her smoker’s voice, she was also getting a puffiness from years of heavy drinking.
For wardrobe, the two women are costumed interestingly.
Don Ameche and Van Heflin do well in their roles.
Here is the prime example of a movie which isn’t as good as it should have been. Had the pace been picked up a little more, this would have been a stellar hit. Unfortunately, lengthy scenes and unnecessary plot asides plague this fine comedy to the more obsolete films of its headlining cast.
If women are perverse creatures with only the thinnest veneer of civilization, that is precisely the quality that makes them charming—at least if one is to believe “The Feminine Touch,” which arrived at the Capitol yesterday. As for ourselves, we prefer to believe it, especially when the lady in question is Rosalind Russell, as flip and adept a comedienne as is currently reading lines in Hollywood. As a matter of fact, the film has many too many lines, but they do have a sort of dizzy spin to them and Miss Russell knows how to deliver them mischievously. All in all, call it a lightly written conversation piece on the overworked subject of marital mix-up with Miss Russell in top form.
For women, or so the moral goes, insist on cavemen, thus frustrating the male’s attempt to lift himself out of the primordial ooze. When Professor Hathaway, for instance, comes down to New York with a prettily uncomplicated wife and a ponderous tome on the evils of Jealousy, revisions begin at once. He learns quite a lot— that one shouldn’t expose one’s wife to the literary cocktail crowd, that women dream of escorts who swing haymakers instead of polite retorts at rivals, and that a woman “wouldn’t marry a man she could really trust.” Urged by his spouse, the bestial side finally triumphs in the professor, he pops a blow at an over-zealous publisher, and the theories fly out the window. Retrogression, in this case at least, thy name is woman.
Generally, we’re more than a little fatigued at the mere mention of another husband and wife fracas with a lecherous camera always sidling away to a bedroom door. Also it is good to have more action than the authors or Director Van Dyke have caught before the lens. But around a much-used topic Oppenheimer, Hartmann and Nash have dropped some chortling repartee, and Miss Russell swings through it with glee. She receives able assistance from Kay Francis, a lady with a torch, Van Heflin as the will-o’-the-wisp male who is escaping it, and even Don Ameche, who looks remarkably subdued in the role of the high-minded male. In fact, they all make “The Feminine Touch” seem a little more novel than it really is.
Originally published in the New York Times, December 12, 1941.