The Turner Classic Movies Star of the Month this month is Kay Francis.
During the first half of the 30s, she was the biggest female star in Hollywood. Her melodramatic films were guaranteed successes. Yet today, she’s forgotten. Speculation has it that that’s because of the number of bad films on her resume. It seems that, at the peak of her career, her contract had her making more than the studio heads, so in an attempt to get her to break it, they cast her in junk. She refused to be embarrassed and kept doing her job.
It’s also true that many of her movies are early works, in black and white and of a short running length. Her best-remembered film is probably Trouble in Paradise, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and featuring her as a rich woman targeted by a pair of jewel thieves. Their plans are complicated when the male crook falls in love with the victim. It’s sparkling adult comedy, and it airs Thursday, September 11, at 8 PM Eastern.
She was better known for being a clotheshorse than for her acting skills, looking glamorous in outstanding gowns regardless of the plot. Then there’s her speech impediment, which kept her from pronouncing Rs. That’s part of why I enjoy watching her — it’s a charming flaw.
Her diary, kept in code, reveals a wide-ranging taste for a wide diversity of sexual partners, making her also representative of a Hollywood that hid its true self behind closed doors for fear of scandalizing the country. (This part of her life is covered in depth in the “Passionate” book.)
Anyway, TCM is showing many of her films this month, starting tonight at 8 PM Eastern with the premiere of 1930’s Raffles. I recommend the following Jewel Robbery, one of the many movies she made with William Powell. It’s fascinating for its portrayal of a bored rich woman looking for a new lover and the gentleman thief she fixes on. Also watch for the “special” cigarettes smoked in this pre-Code (1932) piece.
Also airing tonight and recommended are One Way Passage, another Powell co-starrer about a doomed shipboard romance (she’s sick, he’s a criminal), and Man Wanted, in which she’s an executive who falls for her male secretary.
Here are more recommendations from the upcoming schedule and here’s a comprehensive overview of her career.