Saturday, September 13, 2008

Atttention Must be Paid

Commenting on an earlier post, the estimable Ayem8y has brought to our attention that the Café's patroness and idol, Miss Kay Francis, is the centerpiece of a festival of cinema treats this month on TCM.

One of the minor annoyances of life in our Sultanate on Sea is that, while we get a channel called TCM via satellite, it is a version that originates, I believe, in the UK, and has a film library of about 10 titles, meaning that there is almost always a chance to see a truly wretched sinking-ship drama called The Last Voyage (or, moderately less annoying, the distaff oater Westward the Women*, which shows, I kid you not, at least once a week) and almost never anything you'd actually like to watch.

Meaning, to make a long story short (and I could complain a lot more about The Last Voyage, believe me; even the presence of Dorothy Malone can't redeem it), I'm missing the Kay Francis Festival.

So I'll have a little one of my own, right here, right now.

Playing in the background as I write is Trouble in Paradise, Kay's primary claim to film-snob appreciation. In a perfect world it would always be 1932 for Kay - the year she also made Jewel Robbery and One Way Passage. Most actresses today would kill for three roles like those in a lifetime.

Through the early 30s, Kay is sensual, earthy, sophisticated - a lady, definitely, but rarely starchy and almost always in control of what she wants. Later come the weepies that, too often based on weak scripts already given the fish-eye by Bette Davis and hurried through on the strength of a dozen Orry-Kelly gowns and the dubious charms of George Brent, did so much to limit her future appeal.

She went through a bad spell as the decade ended, banished to Warner's B-unit and then into limbo, her unique brand of dressiness, suffering, and Long Doubting Pauses out of fashion and, increasingly, considered a little high-hat for the masses. Her fate paralleled that of Norma Shearer and her Great Lady of the Cinema pictures over at Metro, although Kay never had to rely on the men she married for much (which was just as well, as they were pretty much all of them good for nothing).

During the war, she re-emerged, playing wry mothers and mocking second leads. It might have made for an interesting second wind (a la Mary Astor, perhaps). But it didn't.

After a few forays into the theatre - broadway, touring, summer stock - she retired.

She remained fodder for fantasy for some, if this vintage little gem is to be believed:

But Kay needs neither a modern amount of skin on display nor the dubious enhancements of Photoshop to put it across; she can smolder on her own very nicely, thank you:

There is always something bittersweet about seeing one of one's private crushes become, as it were, caviar for the general. In recent years, Kay's reputation has seen a renaissance, and while most of her films remain unavailable, it is remarkable to think that more people probably saw Divorce (one of her last, Poverty Row epics) when it aired earlier this month than it did through all the decades until it first turned up on cable a couple of years ago.

And there I'll close. I think Westward the Women is coming on again...

*sadly, not a sequel set on Marjorie Main's ranch in Reno. That would be much better, trust me.

1 comment:


    42 films with Kay. 42! Nobody suffered like Kay. Nobody!