Kay Francis

Recasting “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” (2008)

After being fired from her job as a governess, a very straight-laced Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) finds herself deemed unemployable by her employment agency.  But when she hears about a job for a woman named Delysia LaFosse (Amy Adams), she jumps at the chance to get it.  When she arrives at Delysia’s apartment, she expects she will be taking care of children.  Instead, she finds herself taking care of an aspiring actress tangled up in a love triangle.  First there’s the young theater producer, Phil Goldman (Tom Payne), who is putting on a play that Delysia desperately wants the lead in.  She’s trying to keep him interested in her and not her rival Charlotte Warren.  Then there’s Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong), who owns the nightclub Delysia sings at.  He’s the one footing the bill for her lavish apartment and expensive clothes.  And last but not least, there’s Michael (Lee Pace), the piano player who just got out of jail.  He isn’t rich and doesn’t have the influence Nick and Phil do, but he does genuinely love her.

Over the course of one day, Guinevere helps Delysia get out of various messes and Delysia, in turn, helps Guinevere learn to embrace life.  Delysia takes Guinevere to her friend Edythe’s (Shirley Henderson) salon and gives her a makeover.  It turns out that Edythe and Guinevere have a little dirt on each other.  They had bumped into each other on the street the night before Guinevere came to Delysia’s, so Edythe knows Guinevere isn’t really the social secretary Delysia thinks she is.  But Guinevere saw Edythe out with a man who isn’t her lingerie designer boyfriend Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds).  When Delysia takes Guinevere with her to a lingerie show, Guinevere meets Joe for herself and the two of them are instantly attracted to each other.

Although released in 2008, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was actually intended to be made as a movie in 1941.  Originally, it was a novel by Winifred Watson released in 1937, and she later sold the film rights to Universal Studios in 1939.  Universal held on to it for a little while and by 1941, had plans to turn it into a musical starring Billie Burke as Miss Pettigrew.  Watson was very eager to see “Miss Pettigrew…” turned into a movie, but unfortunately, the project was shelved after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  In 1954, Universal renewed the rights to the story, but again, nothing ever became of it.  Watson died in 2002 believing her story would never make it to the silver screen.

The novel was released in 1937, but I wish it had been released just a few years earlier because I think “Miss Pettigrew” would have made a great pre-code had it been around in 1934.  Delysia’s bed-hopping to further her career is hardly a secret, there’s lots of lingerie, and the book contains drug references.  I’m very curious about how Universal planned to get around some of these issues in 1941.  The drug references were gone in the 2008 movie, so those could easily been cut out in 1941, but whitewashing Delysia’s bed-hopping would have definitely been a challenge.  I also would have pegged this for an MGM movie rather than a Universal.

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What’s on TCM: April 2012

Happy April, everybody!  TCM has a pretty fun schedule this month, but it’s organized a little differently than usual.  Usually things like the Star of the Month nights get one night each week.  But this month, those nights are all in one week from Monday to Friday.  Doris Day is the April Star of the Month so her movies will be on every night from April 2-6.  TCM will also be doing a spring break week this month from April 16-20, so every night will be fun, beachy movies like Gidget and Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies.  Now, onto the schedule:

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Trouble In Paradise (1932)

If you want to steal from wealthy people, you have to get close to wealthy people.  And what’s the best way to get close to wealthy people?  Pretend to be a fellow wealthy person!  That’s just what Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) does when he goes to Venice.  While pretending to be a Baron, he steals from plenty of prominent guests, including a countess named Lily (Miriam Hopkins).  Only Lily isn’t really a countess, she’s also a thief so she recognizes what Gaston is really there for.  He had her pegged, too, after she swiped his wallet.  The two of them are so impressed with each other’s thieving skills that they fall madly in love with each other on the spot.

Lily and Gaston are quite the crooks and they steal their way across Europe.  While in Paris, they steal a diamond-studded handbag belonging to Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), the owner of a very famous perfume company.  But when Mariette puts out an ad offering a 20,000 Franc reward for the bag’s return, they realize they’d make more by turning it in than by selling it and Gaston goes to turn it in.  But when Gaston gets there and realizes that Mariette is awfully careless with her money, he convinces her to hire him as her secretary, planning to embezzle money from her company.  The plan works and Lily even gets hired on as Gaston’s assistant.  The only thing that doesn’t go according to plan is that Gaston and Mariette fall in love with each other.

Eventually, Mariette starts bringing Gaston along with her to social gatherings, but some of Mariette’s wealthy friends recognize Gaston.  Plus people in the company are starting to suspect that Gaston has been stealing money for them.  Even though her friends warn her about him, Mariette doesn’t want to give up on Gaston.  Meanwhile, Gaston and Lily are planning to skip town, but Gaston is torn between staying with Mariette or leaving with Lily.  The last thing they had planned to steal was 100,000 Francs from her safe, but before they leave, Gaston decides to come clean to Mariette about who he is and what he was really there to do.  Lily interrupts his confession to announce that she is the one who has stolen the 100,000 Francs and that Mariette is welcome to have Gaston for that price and leaves Gaston to decide who he wants to be with.

I positively adore Trouble in Paradise.  It’s sharp, witty, got plenty of lavish sets, and a top-notch cast.  There’s no going wrong with Miriam Hopkins in an Ernst Lubitsch comedy, but when you add in Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall, plus Charlie Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton in some supporting roles, you’ve got cinematic gold.  I just love everything about it.  Trouble in Paradise is total pre-code and pure Ernst Lubitsch.

The House on 56th Street (1933)

So many showgirls dream of meeting a wealthy man and giving up the stage to marry them.  But Peggy Stone (Kay Francis) is one of the few who actually sees that dream come true.  When we first meet her, she’s working as a showgirl and even though she is seeing Lyndon Fiske (John Halliday), she is also seeing Monte Van Tyle (Gene Raymond).  Although she’s enjoyed her time with Lyndon, Monte is the one she loves and when he proposes, she gladly accepts.  When she breaks the news to Lyndon, he appears to take it in stride.  Monte and Peggy get married, head off to Europe for their honeymoon, and when they return, they move into a home on 56th Street that Monte had built for them.  Married life is wonderful for the Van Tyles.  They couldn’t be happier and they soon welcome a daughter, Eleanor.

But that all changes one day when Peggy runs into Lyndon again by accident.  He tells Peggy that he is dying and wants to spend the rest of his time with her.  Peggy wants nothing to do with him, but eventually goes to see him one last time to say goodbye.  Not willing to take “no” for an answer, Lyndon pulls a gun out and threatens to kill himself.  Peggy tries to wrestle the gun away from him, but in the struggle, he accidentally shoots himself and dies.  Even though Peggy is innocent, she is sentenced to twenty years in prison.  In the time that she’s gone, Monte is killed in World War I and Eleanor is told that her mother died in prison.

When Peggy gets out of prison, she finds out that she’s been left $5,000, so she gets herself made over and goes on a cruise.  On the ship, she meets card sharp Bill Blaine (Ricardo Cortez) and plays poker with him one night.  Luckily for her, her father had also been a big gambler so she saw through all his tricks and managed to win.  The two of them fall in love and with their gambling skills combined, they become an unstoppable duo.  When they return to New York, Bill gets them both jobs in a new gambling house, which happens to be in the house Peggy used to live in with Monte.  Peggy earns quite a reputation for being an unbeatable blackjack dealer, but she momentarily loses her touch one night when her now grown up and married daughter Eleanor (Margaret Lindsay) comes to her table.  When the night is over, Eleanor has gambled herself $15,000 into debt.  Peggy wants the casino to let the debt go, but the owner insists and when Eleanor comes to see him the next day, she shoots him.  Not willing to put her motherly instincts aside, she tries to cover for Eleanor and offers to take the fall for it.

The House on 56th Street was an okay movie.  It’s enjoyable enough, but the story wasn’t really anything special.  The basic premise has been done before in movies like Frisco Jenny and Madame X.  But even if the story wasn’t particularly original, at least Kay Francis was pretty good in it.  But ultimately, even Kay’s performance doesn’t really save the movie.  It’s not a bad movie, but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see it.

In Name Only (1939)

Julie Eden (Carole Lombard) and Alec Walker (Cary Grant) are both lonely for two different reasons.  Alec is married to Maida (Kay Francis), but neither of them actually loves the other.  Maida only married him because of his money.  Julie is a widowed illustrator who lives with her young daughter and divorced sister.  The two meet when Julie rents a house in the town where Alec lives and naturally, they end up falling in love.  When they first meet, they hit it off right away and it starts off innocently enough.  Julie doesn’t know he’s married and Alec sees that Julie is everything Maida isn’t.  But complications arise one night when Alec and Maida’s friend Suzanne get into a car accident near Julie’s house.  Suzanne asks Julie to call Alec’s wife and a doctor for him and before Julie knows it, she’s face to face with Maida.  But Maida immediately knows there’s something between Alec and Julie when she notices Julie’s sketchbook sitting in Alec’s wrecked car.

When Julie finds out about Maida, she’s heartbroken.  After her sister’s marriage ended because of another woman, she absolutely does not want to be the other woman.  But Alec is more determined than ever to get out of his loveless marriage and demands that Maida give him a divorce.  The only way he can get her to give him a divorce is if he lets her take a trip to Paris with his parents to get it.  Desperate to be rid of her, he gladly agrees to this plan and as soon as Maida and his parents are on the boat, Alec and Julie’s relationship moves very quickly.  When Julie goes to New York for work, Alec goes with her and proposes.

The only thing standing in their way of happiness is Maida.  Their marriage plans keep being pushed back because Maida keeps running into delays with the divorce.  Or so they think.  The truth is that Maida never had any intention of giving him a divorce and she makes that point quite clear to them when she and Alec’s parents return to New York on Christmas Eve.  When Alec threatens to go to Reno himself, Maida vows to make the whole legal affair as ugly as possible.  Tired of all the frustrations, Julie breaks it off with Alec, who then heads out to a bar to drown his sorrows.  Alec stumbles into a cheap motel for the night and passes out in front of an open window.  The motel staff finds him the next morning seriously ill and Julie is called to take care of him.  At first they only think he has the flu, but it turns out to be a much more serious bout of pneumonia and he is rushed to the hospital.  The hospital won’t let Julie in to see Alec since they’re not married, but when the doctor tells Alec’s father (Charles Coburn) that Alec needs a reason to want to get well again, he lets Julie see him so he’d have that reason.  But the movie wouldn’t be complete without one last showdown between Julie and Maida.  Not only does Maida get told off by Julie, Maida accidentally reveals her true motives to Alec’s parents.  Now that Alec’s parents have finally seen the real Maida, they fully support the idea of Alec getting that divorce.

I must say, it was a pretty bold move to take Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, Kay Francis, and Charles Coburn, what would have been one of the most brilliant comedic casts ever assembled, and put them in a drama.  But the good news is that none of their talents are wasted here.  Actually, I think this is a completely underrated movie for both Cary Grant and Carole Lombard.  Even though this gets a 7.0 on IMDB, for some reason, I didn’t go into it expecting anything special.  But I was very pleasantly surprised.  It may be pretty melodramatic, but at least it’s well acted melodrama.  Kay Francis was definitely somebody I loved to hate and I liked the chemistry between Carole and Cary.  I really wish Carole and Cary had made another movie together, perhaps they would have if Carole hadn’t died so young.  They were wonderful in a drama together, but in a comedy, they would have been absolutely unstoppable.

Be sure to visit Carole & Co. for more of her 103rd birthday celebration!

King of the Underworld (1939)

Dr. Carol Nelson (Kay Francis) and her husband Niles are both doctors with bright careers ahead of them.  However, Niles has a hobby of betting on horse races so he could use a little extra cash.  An opportunity for extra money comes his way when he treats a guy working for gangster Joe Gurney (Humphrey Bogart).  Joe liked Niles’ work so much that he decides that he’s going to send all of his guys to Niles when they need treatment.  Carol thinks Niles is getting all this extra money from betting on horses.  One night, he’s called to take care of someone at Joe’s hideout and has Carol wait in the car for him.  While Niles is inside, the police come and raid the joint and Niles is killed in the ensuing shootout.  Not only is Niles dead, but authorities assume Carol has also been working with Joe and her medical license is on the verge of being revoked.

Determined to prove her innocence, she moves to Wayne Center, where some of Joe’s men have just been put in jail, hoping that Joe will come to town and she’ll have a chance to infiltrate the gang.  She sets up shop and doesn’t get much business, but she’s willing to sit back and wait for Joe to show up.  Meanwhile, Joe has become quite the notorious criminal and he reckons himself to be the Napoleon of the underworld.  He is indeed on his way to Wayne Center and along the way, he meets writer Bill Stevens on the side of the road.  When Joe starts talking to Bill, he takes a shine to him when he realizes that Bill knows a lot about Napoleon.  Bill doesn’t realize who Joe is and accepts a ride from them.  When they get to town, Bill finally finds out who Joe is, but not before Joe starts trying to break his guys out of jail.  Bill tries to escape and is shot, but Joe also takes a bullet.

Bill is arrested because they think he’s part of the gang and Carol volunteers to give him medical attention.  After talking to him, she finds out that he’s really innocent and the two of them bond over being falsely accused of working with Joe.  Later that night, Joe drops by Carol’s place so she can stitch him up, too.  The next day, Bill is released from jail and is invited to stay at Carol’s place.  But then some of Joe’s guys capture him because Joe wants him to ghostwrite his autobiography.  When Joe’s gunshot wound starts giving him problems again, he has Carol brought over to his place to take care of it.  But when she returns home, she finds out the cops are after her because now they’ve been able to connect her to Joe.  In a last-ditch attempt to prove her innocence once and for all, she hurries back to Joe’s place and convinces him that he’s got a contagious infection that could cause him and the rest of the gang to go blind.  There isn’t really an infection, but she uses the story to give Joe and his gang some eye drops to temporarily blind them.  When the police arrive, most of the gang quickly surrenders, but Joe isn’t willing to give up so easily.  He tries to shoot it out with the cops, but he doesn’t make it out alive.  Carol is cleared of all charges and she and Bill are able to start a life together.

King of the Underworld is a Bogart movie that is very rarely discussed, which is why I was pleased to see it turn up in this year’s Summer Under the Stars line-up.  Not that it’s a particularly outstanding movie, it’s hardly one of the greatest movies that Bogart or Kay Francis ever made.  But it is a decent little movie (and I do mean little, it’s only just over an hour long) and I like seeing movies that are largely forgotten get some attention.  It’s sort of like Mary Stevens, M.D. meets a standard Warner Brothers gangster flick.  Bogart gets to show off his gangster persona but with a little humorous twist.  His character thinks he’s a very smart guy, but it’s pretty funny when he proves that he isn’t so smart after all.  And even though Kay Francis was only given this movie as a way to try to force her out of her contract, she kept her chin up and gave a nice performance anyway.  Like I said, it’s not a particularly outstanding movie, but it kept me entertained well enough.

What’s on TCM: January 2011

Welcome to 2011!  This is a little bit of a slow month for me, but there’s still plenty of great stuff to be seen.  Every Tuesday night and Wednesday daytime is a salute to Hal Roach studios so that means tons of Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy shorts, plus lots of other various short films and some features, too.  Peter Sellers is the star of the month, so lots of fun movies come along with that.  Even though there are always quite a few birthday tributes on TCM every month, but they’re not usually as notable as Luise Rainer’s.  She’ll be turning 101 on January 12 so there’s a whole night of her movies to look forward to.  Now, onto my picks for the month:

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Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)

Mary Stevens M.D. 1933 Kay FrancisIn a time when it was rare for women to hold any job more advanced than a secretary, Mary Stevens (Kay Francis) manages to buck the odds and become a doctor.  She and her boyfriend Don Andrews (Lyle Talbot) both become doctors at the same time and even start their own offices together.  Even though many people are reluctant to be treated by a female doctor, Mary builds a good reputation for herself as a pediatrician.  Don, on the other hand, becomes only interested in climbing the social ladder.  He starts dating Lois (Thelma Todd), daughter of the prominent political figure Walter Rising.  With Lois in his life, Don becomes more and more neglectful of his practice and even begins to steal money from his practice.  After Lois and Don are married, he’s given a pretty nice political job, but he manages to blow that when he shows up to perform an operation completely drunk.  Don and Mary go their separate ways and they don’t see each other again until two years later when they run into each other on vacation.  Mary has become quite a renowned pediatrician, but Don is hiding from the law.  They begin having an affair again and decide they want to get married, but Lois’s father won’t let them get a divorce for at least another six months.  Once Don’s father-in-law has cleared Don’s name, the two of them return to New York to wait for the six months to pass.  But after returning home, Mary finds out she’s pregnant.  Thrilled, she’s dying to tell Don, but then he announces that Lois is pregnant so the divorce is off.

Mary heads off to Paris with her loyal friend and nurse Glenda (Glenda Farrell) to have her baby.  She had a healthy baby boy and is quite happy as a mother until she hears from Don that Lois wasn’t really pregnant after all so he’s able to marry her now.  She gets on the next boat back to New York, but on the trip back, she has to take care of two young girls with Polio.  Unfortunately, Mary’s baby also catches Polio.  She’s able to save the two girls, but her baby dies.  Mary is absolutely devastated by the fact that she couldn’t save her own baby and vows to never practice medicine again.  She’s on the verge of suicide when she finds out about a child who has swallowed a pin and is choking on it.  Not willing to let the child die, she dives right in and saves the child using her own hairpin.  With her confidence restored and Don still wanting to marry her, Mary is eager to start her life over again.

I thought Mary Stevens, M.D. was a pretty interesting movie.  It offered up a rich role for Kay Francis and gave Glenda Farrell the chance to play an awesome sidekick.  And it’s definitely interesting to see a movie about a woman doctor, because they were most decidedly a real rarity in the 1930s.  The ending gets pretty melodramatic and far-fetched, but it’s otherwise enjoyable.