Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In Name Only (1939)

Director: John Cromwell                                 Writer: Richard Sherman
Film Score: Roy Webb                                   Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Starring: Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, Kay Francis and Charles Coburn

I have to say it was quite a shock to see Kay Francis as the villain of a film, even if it’s just the domestic kind. Turns out, she makes a great one, and probably would have been tremendous as a femme fatale in the film noir of the forties. At the beginning of In Name Only I couldn’t believe that Cary Grant would choose Carole Lombard over Francis, but as the plot began to unwind it soon made sense. The film is based on the novel Memory of Love by Bessie Brewer, which had been published in 1935. The story begins deceptively, with Grant riding horseback and coming across Lombard fishing. The scene has a nice romantic comedy element to it, and the next day the two meet at the same place again for a picnic, this time with Lombard’s daughter by her deceased husband. The three of them seem to get along wonderfully and it’s clear that the relationship is heading someplace, that is until Grant is seen at home, and met in the front room by his wife, Kay Francis.

There’s an obvious chill between the two of them, and at first it seems clear that it is Grant who is the unhappy one, but it’s not clear why. Meanwhile, Francis’s best friend keeps hitting on Grant, obviously wanting to have an affair. When he drives her home one night they crash the car in front of Lombard’s house and the friend comes out with the whole thing, which is news to Lombard, especially the part about the wife. It’s only the next day, back at Grant’s house, that the audience is let in on what the problem is. Francis had married him under false circumstances. She was in love with another man, but married Grant for his money. She tries to deny it, but he has a letter that she wrote to the man she loved saying as much. Lombard, even when given the explanation, doesn’t want to hear it. Grant promises he’ll divorce, but Francis won’t agree. Things lose their comedic aspect at that point. Grant continues to be charming, but things keep going back and forth in a way that Lombard simply finds too complicated.

The film was originally conceived for Grant and Kate Hepburn, but she had left RKO by the time the project was ready to film. Pandro Berman hired Lombard for an astronomically high salary as part of a four-picture deal that also guaranteed her percentage of the profits. Grant hesitated until the end, but was finally promised a hundred thousand and signed on for the money. The film came at a low point in Kay Francis’s career. Jack Warner was bitter about having to pay her high salary and stuck her in low budget films with bad parts in the hopes that she would quit. She was ready to do exactly that when the opportunity came for her to work at RKO. Lombard lobbied for her to get the part and she did. It wound up reviving her career, leading to even more work when she went back to Warners. In Name Only wasn’t exactly a hit with fans because of the downbeat nature of the story, but it’s an engaging film nonetheless, and worth seeking out for the performances of its stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment