Year: 1938

Director: John Farrow

Cast: Kay Francis, Dickie Moore, Bonita Granville, John Litel, Anita Louise, Bobby Jordan, Maurice Murphy, Elisabeth Risdon,  and Helena Phillips Evans

Okay, okay, so it is rather predictable.
Okay, okay, so it is rather hard to swallow at times
Okay, okay, perhaps it is a little sentimental and perhaps the plot all unfolds a little too conveniently, but it is touching.
That’s right.  My Bill with Kay Francis and Dickie Moore, is heart-warming and fun, despite some weaknesses.  It won’t particularly stand out as the ultimate example of film making at its finest, but it is carried by very competent performances, universal dramatic themes and a scandalous subtext that it dances around but lends some meat and depth to what comes across as a pretty fluffy film on the surface.
It follows the life of a family that has recently lost their father.  The widow (played by Kay Francis) has done the best she can with the money she was left by her successful husband but due to some unfortunate investments she is rapidly running low and the family is in danger of loosing everything.  She has four kids to look after ranging in age from approximately seven to approximately eighteen or nineteen.  As mentioned before, the performances in the film are all very impressive, especially from the children.  Amongst the children shines a more then competent actor, Dickie Moore who plays the youngest son, a precocious young man who is as loyal to his mother as he is cute.  Of all the performances Dickie Moore’s portrayal of Bill really steals the show and elevates the film from mediocre at best to not only charming and enjoyable but touching and quite emotionally engaging at times.
Kay Francis is as charming as ever.  She had a lot of range and it is fun to see how much her many characters varied from one another yet a certain screen presence always bleeds through and Kay is always there, whether she is playing a whore, a business woman, a doctor or a nurturing and loving homemaker like she is in in this film.  You can’t help but sympathize with her as she struggles through difficult financial times but all the while keeps chipper and shields the family from the trouble.
Soon she is on the brink of loosing everything and worst of all a relative of her recently deceased husband materializes with some nasty accusations and even nastier intentions for this struggling mother and her emotionally fragile young family. 
Kay Francis often faced hardships in her films, she was like the soap queen of the time, long before there were soap operas obviously, and while there is very real drama in the film, it is all rather light-hearted and fun, not melodramatic like some of her rolls in some of her films.  You never doubt she will prevail and you never doubt her son will play a part in it and while it is somewhat predictable, it is still a great little film about persisting even when you hit rock bottom and about the importance of family and loved ones, espeically during hard times.
One last thought on Dickie Moore.  As I watched the film I felt like Dickie Moore was familiar.  I knew his face was a face I had seen before many times and clearly in something I knew well but couldn’t recall.   I couldn’t place him however and even after finishing the movie I still couldn’t figure out where I had seen him before.  I knew he must have grown up to be an adult and perhaps played a part as an adult that I was very familiar with, but yet I couldn’t come up with a title to save my life.  Now, if you plan to watch it and you are familiar with classic films and you want to see if you can place him, don’t finish this paragraph.  For the rest of you, I’ll tell you what he was in, and I kicked myself for not being able to come up with it.  It turns out he had a key part in one of the best known film noirs of the 40s.  None other then Out of the Past.  He plays the deaf boy working at the service station.  For those familiar with Out of the Past, you know exactly who I mean, and you can understand why I kicked myself for not placing him.  He does have a distinct look, and he is someone a film noir fan should recognize, but in those 9 years from 1938 to 1947 he was completely transformed from a round-faced little child into a slender, even lanky young man, with a thin face.  It is the same face though.  He was great in both movies, and both are movies worth seeing if you haven’t seen them already.

In the first of these movies Janet Gaynor plays the role she was so good at, the simple, sweet, slightly naive, but very adorable small town girl (she even starred in a movie called Small Town Girl). She’s Nancy, from a small town down south, who’s engaged to marry her longtime love George, who’s supposed to be arriving by train. When he fails to show up for the wedding,  Nancy heads to New York to find him and takes up with author Mal Niles (Robert Montgomery), who finds her small town sweetness and wisdom to be irritating, but can’t bring himself to throw her out on the street because he’s the only person she knows, so he decides to use her as the inspiration for a new character.

Nancy also meets Mal’s publisher, Bob Hanson (Franchot Tone), a troubled drunk who takes to Nancy immediately, hires her as his cook without really asking her, and falls in love with her. Nancy, while trying to find George, finds herself falling in love with Mal, while Mal is basically a big child who is completely unable to express or even understand his feelings.

I really love Three Loves Has Nancy, but I love it more for its leading men than for its leading lady. Gaynor is a wonderful actress, and is so charismatic and likable. But Nancy sometimes comes off as a bit irritating, and you can see where Mal is coming from earlier in the film. Most of the time she’s great, but there are moments, like where she’s freaking out on the train because she thinks someone has stolen her bag, that you get irritated at the country bumpkin-ness of it. She adds a rural charm to the urban world the men live in, but while she helps change this world, or at least the men in it, the world doesn’t really change her. Really, Nancy as a character doesn’t do much growing. She mostly acts as a catalyst for the growth of Mal and Bob, who turn out to be rather fascinating characters.

Bob is a lonely man who really just needs someone to care about him. So when Nancy comes along, despite the fact that she isn’t in love with him, she does care enough about him to give him the confidence boost he needs. At the same time, however, we see that he still needs to grow because he does view Nancy as more of an object than as a human. He moves her things into his apartment and hires her as his cook without asking, when he decides to marry her, he calls both his family and hers to announce it without even telling her. Perhaps he needs Nancy more than Mal does, but while he does show character growth, he still doesn’t deserve her in the end.

Mal, as the lead character, is much more complicated, and even entertaining. We see early on how he mostly views life as nothing but a silly story from the way he turns everything into a story narration in his head. He both minimizes the importance of certain things in his life while at the same time. He treats everything, from his girlfriend (played by Claire Dodd) to his career as nothing more than silly diversions. When he starts to feel smothered by his girlfriend’s marriage talk, he takes off on a book signing tour to get away from her, and then ditches the tour as soon as he discovers that she’s gone on the road with her theater company. He’s initially extremely annoyed with Nancy, and were he not to base a character on her, he probably would go on continuing to be. It’s because he’s made this decision to make her into a character that forces him to really look at her and understand her. And even then it’s not until he discovers Bob’s intentions, and he’s faced with losing her, that he finally grows up, and the narration in his head tells him to get things together.

George is the third love, and is actually of very little consequence. While Nancy serves as a catalyst for the men to grow up, George is little more than the catalyst for getting Nancy out of the small town and into the big city. You almost forget George even exists until he shows up at the end, pretty much just to show the difference between the romantic ideals Nancy once had and the ones she has now.

And the best part about the movie is that it’s never quite clear who Nancy might end up with until the end. It just a question of who’s going to grow up enough to deserve her.

Ginger Rogers is my favorite actress. She’s mostly remembered today for being Fred Astaire’s dance partner throughout the 1930s. But Rogers had an acting talent that went beyond that. She was a fantastic and graceful dancer, but she should be remembered as so much more. Her range was unbelievable. She could make a fantastic screwball comedy, and then turn around and make a melodrama, giving great performances in both. Rogers stopped dancing with Astaire in 1939 with The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (they’d re-team just once more, ten years later, for The Barkleys of Broadway) to focus on a career in non-musical films. Almost immediately her talent was recognized and she won an Academy Award for her performance in the 1940 film Kitty Foyle. Unfortunately, though, so many of her sans-Fred films aren’t remembered today. Here are some of the best.

Primrose Path (Gregory La Cava, 1940)

The same year she gave her award winning performance in Kitty Foyle, she gave an even better performance in Primrose Path, as the daughter of a prostitute who tries to escape her life by marrying Joel McCrea. This is one of the most beautiful love stories put out by the studio system. It’s about the importance of honesty in a marriage. It’s surprising that this film got past the Production Code, not just because it featured characters who were clearly prostitutes, but because these characters were sympathetic. Marjorie Rambeau (who received an Oscar nomination for the role) played Rogers’ mother and a basically good woman simply doing what she was taught in order to support her family. Her relationship with Rogers is gentle. She only wants the best for her children. Primrose Path is a really brave film for the time it was made, and it’s just one of the best romance films I’ve ever seen.

Rafter Romance (William A. Seiter, 1933)

Rafter Romance is actually a pre-Fred film. It’s a simple but incredible sweet and pretty funny romance. Rogers and Norman Foster play two people who share an apartment – he lives there during the day, she lives there at night. They never meet, but they still can’t stand each other. Of course, they meet outside of the apartment, not realizing the other is the person they believe they can’t stand, and they fall in love. This is definitely one of the most original romantic comedies of the early 1930s. Rogers is completely charming, and Norman Foster is a good match for her. They’re both just so endlessly cute.

Romance In Manhattan (Stephen Roberts, 1935)

It’s amazing that such a simple romantic dramady can be so moving. Francis Lederer plays an immigrant who is in the country illegally. He’s taken in by Rogers and her kid brother. It’s really as simple as that. The three just try to make a living and stay afloat while Lederer and Rogers fall in love. But it’s such a sincere and genuine romance. It’s made with so much heart from all involved. And it has one of the funniest finales ever.

Star of Midnight (Stephen Roberts, 1935)

Star of Midnight is my favorite Thin Man knockoff. It’s central mystery is really very interesting, and it has a certain “strange” feeling that I think sets it apart from other screwball mysteries. Powell stars in this (and he’s great, as always) with Rogers as his much younger and very eager love interest. She goes after everything with determination and vigor, whether it’s trying to solve the case or trying to get Powell to marry her. I really wish these two had made more movies together. They were a perfect fit.

Vivacious Lady (George Stevens, 1938)

Vivacious Lady is a sweet romantic comedy made great by the brilliant pairing of Ginger Rogers and James Stewart. They both had an “everyman” feel to them, which made them an incredibly relatable couple. You want so badly for them to be happy together because they’re so normal and remind you of yourself. I also like that it’s not really a movie about two people falling in love. They get married early on in the film. The movie is about them trying to break the news to his family, and staying together while they do it. It’s just an adorable movie.

Bachelor Mother (Garson Kanin, 1939)

This is one of Rogers’ very best performances. She plays a woman who has to raise an orphaned baby she finds on her own because nobody believes it’s not hers. In the meantime, she begins to fall in love with David Niven, her boss’s son who takes an interest in caring for the baby as well. This movie is so great because, in addition to the great romance between Rogers and Niven, it’s wonderful to watch Rogers’ love for the baby, that’s not even hers, grow. It’s one of the most interesting and beautiful relationships in film.

5th Avenue Girl (Gregory La Cava, 1939)

5th Avenue Girl is such a good movie because it has so much going for it. First would be the relationship between Rogers and Walter Connolly. Connolly plays a wealthy man who is ignored by his family, she when he meets Rogers on a park bench he takes her in and the two pretend they’re having an affair in the hopes that the family will finally pay attention to what he’s doing. Rogers and Connolly bond and form a really nice father/daughter relationship that’s the heart of the movie. But the movie has three love stories going on. Throughout the film, Connolly and his wife eventually find their way back to each other. Connolly’s daughter is in love with the chauffer, who seems to be something of a communist. The best love story, though, you don’t realize is there until about halfway through the movie. Rogers and Connolly’s son, Tim Holt, fall in love. It’s a strangely done romance, I’m not even sure I can really describe it, but it’s a really strong film all together.

Tom, Dick, and Harry (Garson Kanin, 1941)

Rogers played a character in Tom, Dick, and Harry who was a little… simpler than most of her other characters. She dreams of romance and love, but can’t choose between three different guys: the regular guy who’s working his way up to management at a local store, the millionaire, and the poor guy. The best part about this movie is that each of the guys has their pros and their cons, and you really have no idea who she’ll choose in the end. She gives a really adorable performance, and this movie is just cute.

Tales of Manhattan (Julian Duvivier, 1942)

In this series of loosely connected vignettes, Ginger Rogers has one of the best stories. It’s a little, short, self contained story about Rogers finding out her fiancee is a cad and realizing his pal, Henry Fonda, is perfect for her. It’s short, sweet, and funny. And Rogers and Fonda are SO good together. Watching this, it’s hard to believe they never made any other films together. They were such a good pairing.

I’ll Be Seeing You (William Dieterle, 1944)

This movie is SO amazing. While there were a lot of movies being made to show how awesome soldiers were and to spread patriotic propaganda during the war, I’ll Be Seeing You was one of the first films to really take a look at the negative effects the war was having on the soldiers. This movie gives us two incredibly flawed, complicated, and damaged characters and allows them to fall in love. It’s just such a beautiful movie. You really didn’t see movies and characters like this too much in classic film.

By Katie Richardson

Today is the wonderful, charming, and completely lovable James Stewart’s 100th Birthday!

Sure, we’ve all seen the big James Stewart classics. It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, Rear Window, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and so on. But Stewart also made a lot of really great movies that don’t get a lot of love nowadays. So, with this place being all about obscure classics, here are some of my favorite James Stewart movies that deserve more love.

The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, 1940)

One of the best films from the master Frank Borzage. The Mortal Storm is a really fantastic movie about pre-war Germany and the rise of Nazism. Sure, Stewart, Robert Young, and Margaret Sullavan might be a little hard to believe as Germans, but they all put in very strong performances (especially Young, in a role that really breaks type) in this heartbreaking film. Definitely a brave movie for 1940.

Come Live With Me (George Cukor, 1941)

Come Live With Me is a really simple, subtle love story. That subtlety really makes the film a beautiful romance. Stewart had great chemistry with Hedy Lamarr. I’m not entirely sure what it is about this movie that I adore so much, but it just feels genuine. It feels very real.

Vivacious Lady (George Stevens, 1938)

Ginger Rogers and James Stewart were a fantastic pairing. I wish they had made more films together. The story is very cute, but Rogers and Stewart together make is a truly great romance.

Made For Each Other (John Cromwell, 1939)

Stewart and Carole Lombard had an excellent chemistry, and I wish they had the chance to make a comedy together before Lombard’s death. Made for Each Other is a very strong romance about the struggles of marriage which comes across as very realistic and honest. One of the best films from the golden year of 1939.