Wife Wanted (1946)

Kay Francis … Carole Raymond
Paul Cavanagh … Jeffrey Caldwell
Robert Shayne … Bill Tyler
Veda Ann Borg … Nola Reed
Teala Loring … Mildred Kayes
John Gallaudet … Lee Kirby
Jonathan Hale … Philip Conway
Tim Ryan … Bartender
Barton Yarborough … Walter Desmond

Produced by Jeffrey Bernerd and Kay Francis.
Directed by Phil Karlson.
Based on the novel by Robert E. Callahan.
Screenplay by Caryl Coleman & Sidney Sutherland.
Musical Direction by Edward J. Kay.
Sound by Tom Lambert.
“There Wasn’t a Moon” by Edgar Hayes.
Camera by Harry Neumann.
Editing by Ace Herman.
Miss Francis’ gowns by Athena.

Released November 2, 1946.
A Monogram Picture.

When Kay Francis finished her obligations for Monogram, she had no idea that her Hollywood career would be over. Monogram’s parent company, the newly founded Allied-Artists, had offered her a couple of deals.

She politely turned them down. At this point she was interested in returning to the stage.

Kay was only considered for two major projects after this. The first was the role of Judy Garland’s mother in The Helen Morgan Story, which was supposed to be made in the early 1950’s at Warner Bros. but never materialized. The second was to play Lana Turner’s mother in the outdated Madame X (1966). By then she was dying of the cancer that would indeed end her life two years later.

Even from the beginning of her freelancing days there was trouble with Kay’s career. She wisely chose to play in In Name Only (1939) and It’s a Date (1940). But she lost good parts in The Rains Came (1939) and My Son, My Son! (1940) to Myrna Loy and Madeleine Carroll, respectively.

Instead she made two stinkers: Little Men (1940) and When the Daltons Rode (1940), which could have been played by any young starlet.

The box office polls were arranged into three categories: the top 10, the 15 honor stars (both for sensational favorites, few had durability up there), group one, group two, and group three. Western stars were in a category all their own. In 1937 Kay placed in the first group (other names were Norma Shearer and Bette Davis). In 1938 she fell into group two (Judy Garland, Jean Arthur, Charles Boyer placed in this category). By 1939, 1940 and 1941 she slumped into the third listing (with Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn, whose careers had also slumped).

It was probably a lack of enthusiasm and laziness which caused Kay’s freelancing career decline. She had always been carefree about her career until Warner Bros. aggravated her with taking Tovarich (1937) away from her. But her freelancing parts weren’t any better than the stuff Warner Bros. had offered her in 1938, honestly.

After she took time off to help out with World War II, she was virtually unemployable. (Of course, one can not fault her for; what she did was extremely generous and patriotic.) When Monogram employed her, she was likely humiliated by having fallen so far from grace.

As with Divorce and Allotment Wives (both 1945), Kay worked with Jeffrey Bernerd. Jonathan Hale had a small part in the film [he also worked with Kay in In Name Only (1939)]. But Wife Wanted was less creditable than either film. It fell into the campy category of “so bad, it’s good.”

Released to second-rate theaters and not reviewed in the major publications (New York Times, Variety), Wife Wanted turned out to be the final film Kay Francis ever made.

It should be mentioned, that same year Joan Crawford (the same age as Kay) had two successful films: Possessed, for which she received an Oscar nomination, and Daisy Kenyon. Katharine Hepburn appeared in Sea of Grass with Spencer Tracy. Both stars had appeared with Kay on the “box office poison” list in 1938.

Unfortunately, Kay Francis didn’t have the determination or motivation to succeed from the failure she shared with her one-time contemporaries.

Webmaster’s Review:

As Carole Raymond, Kay Francis is a girl in all sorts of trouble these days (wasn’t Kay ALWAYS in trouble during her screen roles?). Here, as Ms. Raymond, she plays a fading movie queen. Her shady agent has turned down two parts within the past week because they weren’t “right” for her. But he has a plan: real-estate. “Lots of picture people have made a lot of money in real-estate ventures,” he tells her.

She agrees, but admits, “I’d hate to give up pictures entirely…”

Unfortunately, the shady real-estate business is connected with the shady “friendship club.” This friendship club serves the purpose to falsely link lonely people together (not mentioned outright in the film, but made quite clear by the players: it’s a club for sexually repressed individuals to meet others looking for some passion).

The real-life one time Queen of Warner Bros. wants no part in the friendship club when she learns of it, she tells her new real-estate partner. So he has her take Mr. Desmond out to a beautiful home on the palisades. For a B-movie, the house is gorgeous. There Mr. Desmond produces a check for $40,000, telling Carole that was really what she just wanted from him.

“I don’t believe I know what you’re talking about, Mr. Desmond.”

He tells her she’s a “come-on” for Jeff Caldwell. He tells her how he’s been basically robbed by someone through Caldwell’s friendship club, and blackmailed. She still denies any involvement and goes to the phone to call Caldwell to the home. While she’s trying to get him on the phone, a shady, shadowy figure emerges and throws him from the balcony off the cliff and into the waters below.

Carole emerges from the home and finds him dead. Her place at the beach home that night is covered by Caldwell. When she tells him she still wants out, he tells her it’s too late. If she opens her mouth about anything Desmond said, he will spread the word so that movie producers won’t be so keen on signing her for a new movie.

Like Kay would do in real life, Carole goes to a bar and gets drunk. The next morning she wakes up with Mildred in her home, and doesn’t know how she got there (just like some mornings for real-life Kay!). Here, Mildred was a bit player who Carole got a good part in a good film for. Unfortunately, it’s been downhill from here ever since. And Mildred has been in trouble ever since she got met up with a man she met at the friendship club, the man we later found out was Mr. Desmond. Carole agrees to hide Mildred out while she lands back on her feet.

Carole meets Bill Tyler through the club. She’s trying to get him to buy some real estate, since he is quite wealthy.

Jeff Caldwell and his secretary Nola find out that Carole is plotting to expose them, that she is hiding Mildred in her home. Caldwell goes there to kill Mildred, but she stumbles down the stairs. Thinking she’s dead, he walks away and leaves her there. Then we see a shot of doctors saying “she’ll be alright.” That’s the last we see of Mildred.

Bill confronts Carole and tells her she’s a shady soul, tied up in phony scams with Caldwell. Carole is beside herself, since she was, of course, finally starting to fall in love with Bill. “There’s only one night I was at that beach house,” she tells Bill. “That was the night Mr. Desmond was killed.”

He calls the police after she leaves.

At the beach house, Carole meets Caldwell. He presents the check, which she says “…wait…that check was here the night I was here with Mr. Desmond…that means…you were here, too. You pushed him from that balcony!”

Caldwell presents a gun, and walks Carole over to the balcony. Before he can push her off, Bill and a police officer arrive, arrest him and save Carole.

Bill and Carole embrace and all is well for Carole Raymond again.

I like this movie. Like Kay’s other two Monogram movies, it’s fast-paced, compelling, and the production values are surprisingly strong. It’s no Stolen Holiday, of course, but nonetheless still a must-see.

Kay does an excellent job with this script. It’s fun seeing her play drunk at the bar. What must be said is that even at 42-years-old she still has that irresistible Kay Francis charm. That warm smile, the sweetness, it’s all still there. Still just as fresh from the I Found Stella Parish days.

It’s bitter-sweet, though. It shows she still could have worked as a top-star at lucrative studios such as Warner Bros. MGM, Paramount, and RKO. Unfortunately, a long, long movie career just wasn’t in the cards for her.

Still, her final three Monogram movies are most interesting than any of the B-movies she made during her final Warner Bros. years, her early Paramount years, and her early free-lance years. Her performances in these final three are still amazing to watch.

The other players do fine. Veda Ann Borg is memorable as the nasty secretary for Caldwell. Teala Loring, as usual, is beautiful but has an exceptionally annoying character to play. As usual, she’s the sweet, innocent dimwit of the film.

Robert Shayne does well in his small screen time as Kay’s love interest. Paul Cavanagh, a long-time player opposite Kay since the days of Virtuous Sin and Transgression.

The lighting and sets are superb for a “poverty row” studio.

Kay’s gowns are breathtaking; just as stunning as anything Orry-Kelly or Adrian made for her.


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