The Working Woman’s Dilemma

Kay Francis was the most glamorous and popular actress on the Warner Bros. lot in the early 1930s.

By 1935 Kay Francis was at the peak of her film career and the highest paid actress on the Warner Bros. lot. While her image as a chic and stylishly dressed sophisticate eventually worked against her, obscuring her genuine talent as an actress, Francis was amazingly prolific in the early sound era, averaging four to five movies a year opposite such dashing leading men as Ronald Colman (Raffles, 1930), William Powell (Ladies’ Man, 1931), Joel McCrea (Girls About Town, 1931), Fredric March (Strangers in Love, 1932), and Herbert Marshall (Trouble in Paradise, 1932).   Despite the often clichéd and formulaic scripts she was given by the studio, which were mostly soap operas, tearjerkers and romantic dramas, Francis still managed to display her versatility in a variety of films that deserve to be better known today such as the delightful caper comedy Jewel Robbery (1932), the exotic Pre-Code melodrama Mandalay (1934) and the offbeat espionage thriller British Agent (1934). But there are plenty of lesser known efforts in her filmography that deserve rediscovery and one of the most intriguing is Stranded (1935), a curious blend of romance, New Deal optimism, and crime drama directed by Frank Borzage and pairing Francis with George Brent, who first appeared with the actress in The Keyhole (1931). (Brent would soon become Bette Davis’s leading man of choice at Warner with that actress replacing Francis as the queen of the lot).   Continue reading

Kay Francis as the Notorious ‘Spot White’

Kay Francis has that come-hither look in Mandalay (1934), an often overlooked Pre-Code drama

Kay Francis has that come-hither look in Mandalay (1934), an often overlooked Pre-Code drama

Today her place in film history rates little more than a footnote in the ascendancy of Warner Bros. as a major Hollywood studio, but Kay Francis was their first major female star whom they had lured away from Paramount in 1931. During her peak years for the studio between 1932 and 1935, she specialized in melodramas, soap operas and lightweight comedies which accented her elegance and chic fashion sense but also stereotyped her in increasingly inferior films.

She was dethroned by Bette Davis as Warners’ top star in 1936 and, by 1938, she was labeled “box office poison” in an article by The Hollywood Reporter. Still, there are several essential must-see titles among the more than sixty-five movies that she made (Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise [1932], Jewel Robbery [1932], Wonder Bar [1934], for example) and Mandalay (1934) is one of her best dramatic showcases as well as an enormously entertaining, eyebrow-raising Pre-Code wonder. (It was made before the Code was officially enforced but released after the fact.)    Continue reading