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The Films of Kay Francis

givemeyourheart11334Kay Francis completed 68 films beginning her debut in 1929’s Gentlemen of the Press, and ending with 1946’s Wife Wanted, which turned out to be her final film. Click on the title of a film in the table below to go to that film’s page where you can find my reviews, vintage reviews, photos from the film, and images from advertising materials as well as background information about the production.

Important Kay Francis films which I feel readers should especially see are highlighted in bold purple text.

Click here to view information regarding box office figures for Kay Francis movies.

The Availability column refers to a film’s status for readers viewing. If the film is shown on Turner Classic Movies, then TCM is written under the column. Films which are on DVD are noted, and reader’s should keep in mind that almost all of the movies of Kay Francis’ which are on DVD are also shown on Turner Classic Movies. The titles marked “unavailable” refer to titles, most of which Francis completed for Paramount, which are not shown on TCM or available for DVD purchase. The only film of Kay Francis’ which is considered lost is Illusion (1929).

If you’re interested in finding out which movies of Kay Francis you can own on DVD, click here. To find out what Kay Francis movies are being shown on Turner Classic Movies, click here.

Lastly, scroll to the bottom of THIS page for general information/trivia about her Hollywood career.

Film Studio Availability
Gentlemen of the Press
(1929)
Paramount Unavailable
The Cocoanuts (1929) Paramount DVD
Dangerous Curves (1929) Paramount Unavailable
Illusion (1929) Paramount Unavailable
The Marriage Playground
(1929)
Paramount Unavailable
Behind the Make-Up (1930) Paramount Unavailable
Street of Chance (1930) Paramount Unavailable
Paramount on Parade (1930) Paramount Unavailable
A Notorious Affair (1930) Paramount TCM
For the Defense (1930) Paramount DVD
Raffles (1930) Goldwyn/
UA
DVD
Let’s Go Native (1930) Paramount Unavailable
The Virtuous Sin (1930) Paramount Unavailable
Passion Flower (1930) MGM TCM
Scandal Sheet (1931) Paramount Unavailable
Ladies’ Man Paramount Unavailable
The Vice Squad (1931) Paramount Unavailable
Transgression (1931) RKO TCM
House That
Shadows Built
(1931)
Paramount Unavailable
Guilty Hands (1931) MGM TCM
24 Hours (1931) Paramount TCM
Girls About Town (1931) Paramount Unavailable
The False Madonna (1931) Paramount Unavailable
Strangers in Love (1932) Paramount Unavailable
Man Wanted (1932) WB DVD
Street of Women (1932) WB DVD
Jewel Robbery (1932) WB TCM
One Way Passage (1932) WB DVD
Trouble in Paradise (1932) Paramount DVD
Cynara (1932) Goldwyn/
UA
TCM
The Keyhole (1933) WB TCM
Storm at Daybreak (1933) MGM TCM
Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933) WB TCM
I Loved a Woman (1933) WB TCM
The House on 56th Street
(1933)
WB DVD
Mandalay (1934) WB DVD
Wonder Bar (1934) WB DVD
Dr. Monica (1934) WB TCM
British Agent (1934) WB DVD
Living on Velvet (1935) WB DVD
Stranded (1935) WB DVD
The Goose and the Gander
(1935)
WB DVD
I Found Stella Parish (1935) WB DVD
The White Angel (1936) WB DVD
Give Me Your Heart (1936) WB DVD
Stolen Holiday (1937) WB DVD
Another Dawn (1937) WB DVD
Confession (1937) WB DVD
First Lady (1937) WB TCM
Women Are Like That (1938) WB TCM
My Bill (1938) WB TCM
Secrets of an Actress (1938) WB TCM
Comet Over Broadway (1938) WB TCM
King of the Underworld (1939) WB DVD
Women in the Wind (1939) WB TCM
In Name Only (1939) RKO DVD
It’s a Date (1940) Universal TCM
When the Daltons Rode (1940) Universal DVD
Little Men (1940) RKO DVD
Play Girl (1941) RKO DVD
The Man Who Lost
Himself (1941)
Universal Unavailable
Charley’s Aunt (1941) 20th
Century
Fox
DVD
The Feminine Touch (1941) MGM DVD
Always in My Heart (1942) WB TCM
Between Us Girls (1942) Universal Unavailable
Four Jills in a Jeep (1944) 20th
Century
Fox
DVD
Divorce (1945) Monogram TCM
Allotment Wives (1945) Monogram TCM
Wife Wanted (1946) Monogram DVD
     

 Film Trivia:

Kay’s Costars:

womenarelikethatposterKay’s most frequent leading men were William Powell, Ian Hunter, George Brent, and Walter Huston. She made a total of 7 films with Powell, 7 with Hunter, 6 with Brent, and 4 with Huston.

But Kay also had some other memorable leading men: Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Fredric March, Pat O’Brien, Basil Rathbone, Edward G. Robinson, Ronald Colman, Claude Rains, Leslie Howard, Lionel Barrymore, Randolph Scott, and Ricardo Cortez.

In terms of memorable female costars, well, Kay also had a few mentionable women she worked with on film too: Carole Lombard, Jeanette MacDonald, Clara Bow, and Rosalind Russell. According to Shirley Temple, she had a bit part in Mandalay, but good luck trying to find her in the film.

It should also be mentioned Kay did have one of her earliest film appearances opposite the Marx Brothers in 1929’s The Cocoanuts.

Kay’s Characters:

Though mostly identified with being a fashion icon, in some of Kay’s most memorable movies she played career women, especially in her early Warner Bros. films. Man Wanted featured Kay as head-honcho in the publishing world. In Street of Women she owns her own salon. She plays doctors in Mary Stevens, M.D. and Doctor Monica. Kay also played Florence Nightingale in The White Angel. In Women Are Like That she takes charge in the advertising industry in a battle of the sexes with onscreen husband Pat O’Brien.

Kay’s Fashion Image:

streetofwomenYes, Kay Francis was a clotheshorse of the first order. There are two of her movies which have a specific tie-in to the fashion world: Street of Women (1932) and Stolen Holiday (1937). In the first, Kay has one of her best roles as the owner of a fashion boutique. In the latter, originally titled Mistress of Fashion, she plays an American model in Paris who begins a business association with a seedy business man who helps her become one of the most important women in the Parisian fashion scene.

In Stolen Holiday, Kay Francis makes perhaps her best entrance at a party in a white-organdy dress complete with a headpiece turban.

Kay’s first notable association with a fashion designer was with Travis Banton in her time at Paramount (1930-1932). But it was at Warner Bros. where she became one of the most important women regarding fashion and film due to her association with Orry-Kelly. Cary Grant recommended Kelly to Warner Bros., and he was told he would be hired only of Ruth Chatterton and Kay approved of his creations (PL).

Orry-Kelly remembered Kay fondly. He said of her, “In the beginning, she was very reserved but well-mannered and knew exactly what she wanted. I designed simple unadorned evening gowns in velvet, chiffon, and crepes for One-Way Passage. And I introduced what was the forerunner of the shirtmaker dress for evening. At first, only those with sensitive taste were impressed. Luckily, Kay was the essence of good taste” (PL).

Kay also worked with notable designers Adrian (when she was on loan-out to MGM) and Vera West.

When Kay worked for Monogram at the very end of her career, her costumes for Divorce and Allotment Wives were designed by Odette Myrtil. The last designer to dress Kay Francis for the screen was Athena, who designed the wardrobe for Wife Wanted, which was Kay’s last film.

Kay’s Star Status & Salary at Warner Bros.

1935kayfrancisblackgownThis is one of the most interesting and widely debated aspects of Kay Francis’ career. Just how popular was she?

When Kay was at Paramount (pre 1932) she was really just playing featured roles. When Warner Bros. hired her, they upped her salary from the $750 she was making per week at Paramount to $2,000 per week with the promises of stardom and more money if she succeeded (this figure quickly went up, 4 years later to $5,250/week, PL). In 1935, Kay’s annual salary was $115,167; in 1936 she earned $227,100 and in 1937 $209,100 (PL). The latter two salaries were reported in the New York Times as having topped the entire Warner Bros. payroll for their respective years. Contrast that with James Cagney who made $150,000 in 1935 and Bette Davis who made a meagerly $18,000 that same year (DV).

Author Ed Sikov wisely wrote in Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, “[Bette Davis] knew she wasn’t being cast in the best of the studio’s productions…The producer Robert Lord suggested Bette for the lead in Give Me Your Heart, a melodrama, but Warners cast Kay Francis instead. Davis was actually announced for the role of Julia in Another Dawn, but again Kay Francis took the role, this time opposite Errol Flynn.”

While most historians make note of Davis’ long waiting period to achieve superstardom between her breakthrough in Of Human Bondage (1934) and Jezebel (1938), which made her a top star, most also leave out Kay’s position at the studio as a factor in all of that. While Davis herself made references to Francis’ popularity causing Warner Bros. to second-guess her own, few writers, until recently, have actually acknowledged the fact that those years Davis spent waiting in the wings were due in part to Kay Francis receiving all of the star treatment herself.

It was in 1934-1937 when Kay Francis was at the peak of her success at the studio. In January 1934 the Motion Picture Herald listed the top money-making stars in 1932-1933. Kay Francis was ranked 42nd, Joan Blondell 44th, Barbara Stanwyck 46th, Ruth Chatterton 55th while Bette Davis wasn’t listed at all (RC). In 1937 when Variety announced the most popular female stars in the entire movie industry, Kay was voted 6th behind Myrna Loy, Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers and Alice Faye (PL).

kayfrancisandbettedavisWhen the year switched over from 1937 to 1938, Kay had two major box office bombs: First Lady and Women Are Like That. The latter, made during her lawsuit with Warner Bros. in the fall of ’37, confirmed in the minds of studio executives it was time to dispose of Francis’ services. Of course, one could wisely point to the fact that the disappointing returns of both films could be due in part to the terrible script quality. However, when Davis (being paid a fraction of what Kay was) began the year with Jezebel, Warner Bros. felt the time had come to end Kay’s employment with them.

Though The Sisters and Dark Victory were purchased for Kay Francis (BF), she was demoted to B-movies. Those projects were handed to Davis. Though Kay’s contract ended in late September 1938, her last film for Warner Bros., Women in the Wind, was not released until the summer of 1939. A month later RKO released In Name Only, with Kay’s name in equal billing, though third billed, to Carole Lombard and Cary Grant’s.

It should be noted that there was no animosity between Kay and Davis. Actually, Bette Davis was one of the people who stuck up for Kay Francis even long after both had left the studio (BF).

Sources:
(BF) Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten, Scott O’Brien, 2006, BearManor Media.
(DV) Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, Ed Sikov, 2007, Holt.
(PL) Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, Lynn Kear and John Rossman, 2006, McFarland.
(RC) Ruth Chatterton: Actress, Aviator, Author, O’Brien, 2013, BearManor Media.