Friday, May 24, 2013

Kitty Foyle (1940)

Director: Sam Wood                                   Writer: Dalton Trumbo
Film Score: Roy Webb                                Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Starring: Ginger Rogers, Dennis Morgan, James Craig and Ernest Cossart

Best known today as the film that won Ginger Rogers an Academy Award for best actress, Kitty Foyle hasn’t really held up through the years. The film is what was known in the trade as a “women’s picture,” something RKO specialized in. Rogers plays a woman who has to decide whether to turn down a proposal from a doctor in order to be with the man she has loved for years, a rich society man. Problem is, he’s already married and has no intention of getting a divorce. But before she can run away with him to South America her conscience, in the form of her reflection in a mirror, reminds her of how she got into this position in the first place.

The film has kind of a corny beginning, going back to 1900 to take a look at courtship--and by that, of course, we mean Hollywood courtship. How little this prolog has to do with reality unfortunately mirrors the rest of the picture as well. The flashbacks that attempt to portray her at fifteen and twenty are a little corny as well. And then there is the attempt at comedy when she goes to New York that causes more winces than chuckles. The later part of the story revolves around the fact that Rogers is from a poor family in Philadelphia and Dennis Morgan’s rich family wants to change her into something she isn’t. James Craig is the hapless doctor who pursues her even though she makes it clear her heart belongs to Morgan.

The direction by Sam Wood is fine, and there is some impressive camera work during the dancing scenes. But the transitions using a snow globe are rather obvious, a device used later in Cary Grant’s Penny Serenade. There’s not really anyone of note in the rest of the picture, except for a bit part by the great Fay Helm in the very beginning. Roy Webb’s score is rather generic, but that’s probably to be expected given the soap opera nature of the story. Based on a popular novel of the time, the film is rather insulting to women today, implying that being a “white collar” woman--their euphemism for working woman--is something to be pitied, and that marriage and family is the only worthwhile desire. Rogers makes an attempt at being a strong woman, but pining after Morgan the entire picture rather undermines her character. As a vehicle for Rogers, Kitty Foyle is a major part for her, and she did win the Oscar for her performance, but as a classic film it is decidedly lacking.

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