Saturday, February 15, 2003

Two with Kay Francis

The fact that Kay Francis was a bankable star in the 30's is beyond me. She can be pleasant enough, but I don't think she can handle leading parts very well. Even when I can get past her speech impediment, I often find her bland and lacking in energy. I like her TROUBLE IN PARADISE but aside from the minor I FOUND STELLA PARISH and her supporting role in THE FEMININE TOUCH, I'm usually more irritated by her than charmed. Two such irritants follow.

MAN WANTED (1932): A light pre-Code comedy of love and manners. Francis is a workaholic magazine editor (although the spicy opening has her taking time to neck with her husband in her office). David Manners is a salesman trying to sell her a rowing machine. Because Francis has just fired her non-workaholic secretary, Manners winds up in that job. He has a crush on her which he hides until a long night of business being conducted at a resort when they share a sleepy kiss. She laughs it off, but discovers that her husband is carrying on with Claire Dodd (good in an underwritten role) and suddenly Manners seems attractive. He has his own romantic entanglement with Una Merkel which is basically going nowhere. Manners' roommate, Andy Devine, would love to take Merkel off his hands. You see where this is going. Manners is a bit of a lightweight here, but he and Francis are at least likeable. Edward Van Sloan has a small part as Manners' boss. Amiable and well paced, but I kept thinking how much better it would have been with Myrna Loy or Joan Crawford or Norma Shearer.

FIRST LADY (1937): Very funny material totally undone by lame performances from most of the cast, which leads me to lay the blame on the director (Stanley Logan, an supporting actor who directed a handful of movies). Halliwell's Movie Guide gets the plot wrong--despite the title, it's *not* about a president's wife. Francis is the daughter of a former president and wife of Secretary of State Preston Foster. Most of the movie is about her attempts to one-up her nasty society rival, Verree Teasdale. Teasdale and her husband, Supreme Court judge Walter Connolly, are good, as is Louise Fazenda, as a stuffy matron from the Women's League for Peace, Purity, and Patriotism, but no one else stands out (including Victor Jory, Anita Louise, and Harry Davenport). Francis constantly blows good lines with bad timing (the movie was based on a George S. Kauffman play) and Foster is a total zero. The material deserved better.

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