Sunday, August 14, 2005

Kay Francis Remembered

Kay Francis was a huge star in her day, commanding a top salary and getting choice roles opposite such leading men as Joel McCrea, Cary Grant, William Powell, Errol Flynn, and Leslie Howard. Unfortunately, she is largely forgotten amongst today's moviegoers. But she remains a favorite of most Pre-Code fans -myself included! I am happy to report there are not one but TWO upcoming biographies devoted to Francis. Northern California writer Scott O'Brien's "Kay Francis: I Can't Wait to Be Forgotten" will soon be published by BearManor Media. Prior to this book, no full-scale biography of Kay existed. Much of what had been written painted a somewhat sad portrait of the actress, with little information beyond her retirement from acting in the early 50s. Scott tells me he had some amazing sources for his book, including one of Kay's dearest friends (still acting today in her 80s!), as well as her two godsons. Scott sheds light on her retirement years, as well as her disillusionment with the movie industry that made her a very wealthy woman. The book contains many rare and never before published photos of this unconventional beauty. Get in line behind me and preorder a copy today!

If you aren't familiar with the work of Kay Francis, TCM shows her Warner Brothers films quite frequently. In fact, TCM host Robert Osborne has contributed the foreword to Scott O'Brien's bio. Check out one of her early pre-code films on 8/23 at 4:30am EST on TCM: 1931's "A Notorious Affair." I can't always put my finger on why Kay is one of my favorites. She has a speech impediment and her acting style could sometimes be overwrought. But you literally can't take your eyes off her when she is on screen. She has star quality and charm that elevates her performances, even in her most humdrum films. If you haven't yet discovered her, you are in for a treat.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cukor's "Girls About Town" (1931)

The Pacific Film Archive closed out its well-attended "Trouble in Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood" series last Sunday with a fabulous example of the genre, George Cukor's cynically hilarious "Girls About Town." This early Cukor film about a pair of gold-digging beauties is in some ways a precursor to his later masterpiece, "The Women." As a big Kay Francis fan, I was anxious to see this comedy. Always the clotheshorse, Kay looks fabulous - but costar Lilyan Tashman steals the picture. Her acid-tongued lines are delivered with a twinkle in her eyes, while Kay's role is the more serious of the two. It's a shame that Tashman died so young - she showed great promise. Joel McCrea delivers in a role that requires little more than to act as eye candy. Cukor's direction is inventive (I especially enjoyed a champagne filled sequence early in the film) and stylish. It was a lot of fun to see Louise Beavers in a minor role.

If you didn't get the chance to see "Girls about Town," don't fret - it may be coming back to the Bay Area in the near future. In comments before the film, a PFA staffer noted that former Castro programmer Anita Monga is working on putting together a Paramount Before the Code series similar to the program at New York's Film Forum earlier this summer. I would bet this series is for the Balboa Theater. I'll keep investigating!