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

Mad Men Heyday

Matthew Weiner, the creator of AMC’s popular Mad Men franchise, has often pointed to specific films that influenced the look and feel of that popular TV series. Among them are obvious choices like Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) and Fielder Cook’s Patterns (1956), based on Rod Serling’s teleplay, and less obvious influences such as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Claude Chabrol’s Les Bonnes Femmes (1960). One has to wonder though if Weiner ever saw the Jack Lemmon comedy Good Neighbor Sam (1964) because the art direction, production design and even the corporate politics on display seem to prefigure major aspects of Mad Men, albeit on a much lighter note. Continue reading