Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kay Flies

Kay Francis takes to the air as Janet Steele in Women in the Wind (1939), a film that looks at flying from a woman's point of view.  Janet Steele has been nursing her brother, Bill (Charles Anthony Hughes), an aviator who was injured in an air accident, and requires expensive surgery to save his life.  Janet, a flyer herself, decides to enter an air race to win the funds necessaryfor Bill's surgery.  She approaches Ace Boreman (William Gargan), an arrogant ladies' man (and friend of her brother's), to enlist his support (she needs a plane!).  Of course, they fall in love.  But there is a wrinkle.  It turns out that Ace's Mexican divorce from his wife, Frieda (Sheila Bromley) is not legal in the United States.  And SHE wants his plane as well.

Obviously, we love Kay Francis, and she is (as always) just fine in this picture.  As we've mentioned before, Ms. Francis was tarred with that Box Office Poison list that also affected Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and Norma Shearer.  Warner Brothers had tried to buy Ms. Francis out of her contract; when she refused they stuck her in a bunch of unappealing roles.  Women in the Wind was her last film under that WB contract.  (This TCM article goes into greater detail).  But this film is not really all that bad for a B picture - what we lose are the glorious costumes that usually grace Ms. Francis' films.  While Orry-Kelly is listed as providing the gowns, Ms. Francis spends most in work clothing, which very much become her.  And Eve Arden (as Kit Campbell) looks fantastic in the riding pants that she sports for a good part of the film.
This is not a complicated or deep film, but it has the feel of being about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.  The characters (especially the women) are so precisely drawn, it makes the movie better than it should have been.  You end up liking many of the characters, and even those that were not likeable are interesting enough that you want to see them again.  Much of this, of course, is the acting.  With strong character actors like Eve Arden, Eddie Foy, Jr (as Denny Corson), and  Victor Jory (as Doc), the ordinary dialog sparkles.  

We especially liked the way the film portrayed the relationship between Janet and Kit; in fact, for the most part, the picture gives us a glowing view of sportsmanship in the aviation race, both among men and women.  There is, of course, the rotten apple of Frieda, but even she comes through in the end.

One odd bit of film editing occurs mid-film.  A mechanic has tinkered with Janet's plane, causing it to leak gas.  This forces Janet to land in the middle of a field, and try to obtain some gas from a local farmer.  As the plane leaks, the editor keeps cutting to the leaking part.  Then, after Janet gets gas and takes to the air a second time, there is a quick cut to the damaged part.  It doesn't seem to be leaking, but still, our immediate reaction was "oh, no, it's going to leak again".  But, the it doesn't.  And Janet's subsequent problems are totally unrelated to her gas line.  And we can't leave out another continuity error.  When Kit's plane crashes, she comes out of it all neat and clean and uninjured, despite the fact that we see the plane burst into flames.  Ms Arden said in her autobiography that, much to her dismay, "the audience howled" at what was supposed to be her big dramatic scene.

One interesting bit of background (from the article cited above) - the character of Denny Corson was based on Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan, a flyer who was SUPPOSED to fly from New York City to Long Beach, California, but instead flew to Ireland.  He had asked for permission to fly to Ireland, but it was denied, so he "made a mistake" and went in the wrong direction.  Though Corrigan never admitted to purposefully going against orders, most historians believe he wasn't such an awful pilot that he couldn't see the difference between water and land.

We leave you with a trailer from the film:

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