Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Kay's Found!

I Found Stella Parish (1935) is the story of an actress, Stella Parish (Kay Francis) who is making her London stage debut.  Her producer, Stephen Norman (Paul Lukas), eagerly anticipates her opening.  He believes her performance will garner stellar reviews.  He has also fallen in love with her and wants her to marry him.  But Stella, who keeps a small London apartment, rarely ventures from her home for anything but work.  She has a secret life - living in the country are her mother (Jessie Ralph as Nana) and her small daughter, Gloria (Sybil Jason), both of whom she carefully shields from the public eye.  Stella has good reason to fear - she has a secret past, which catches up to her on her opening night.  In terror, she snatches up her little family and runs, pursued, unbeknownst to her, by reporter Keith Lockridge (Ian Hunter).

We were fortunate enough to see this with some commentary by Robert Osborne, who talked about Kay Francis as the star of melodramas that sometimes leave you with questions, but questions for which you don't really care about getting answers.  So, while the plot doesn't ALWAYS make sense (for example, who IS the man who threatens Stella, and why do we never see him again), we really didn't care.  The fun in this movie is just going with it and not worrying about the slight vagaries of plot. According to this TCM article, most of the reviews for this film were favorable (and the film made a quite hefty profit), though the New York Times reviewer Frank S. Nugent, no Kay Francis fan, was not impressed.  He seems to find her lisp distracting (he comments that she could not be a success on the London stage with her lisp.  I have two words for him.  Claude Rains).
In the relatively small part of Stephen, Paul Lukas shines.  Warren William was supposed to play Stephen (he had been considered for Lockridge, but was moved into the smaller role.)  William was not pleased to be given such a minuscule part, so the studio let him out of it.  Lukas appears only in the beginning and the end of the film, and is in the rather thankless position of a man in love with a woman who does not reciprocate (and who ultimately falls in love with someone else).  Lukas plays his part with subtlety, and gains the affection of the audience by his generosity of spirit.  He had already appeared with Kay Francis in three other films: Illusion (1929),  Behind the Make-Up (1930),  and The Vice Squad (1931).  This would be their last one together.  Probably his most notable role was in Watch on the Rhine (1943), as Kurt Muller, an anti-Nazi agent for which he won the Best Actor Oscar.  He had segued into television by 1949, and continued working in both film, television and on Broadway until 1970.  He died in 1971 at the age of 80.
Sybil Jason is quite adorable as little Gloria.  We were very impressed with her scenes with Ian Hunter - he seems especially engaged when he is interacting with her, and those moments appear unforced and even spontaneous.  Sybil Jason was born in South Africa in 1927, and had a very short career.  Her first part was an uncredited appearance in 1934; her last was in 1940.  She starred opposite Ms. Francis twice (our film, and Comet Over Broadway (1938), which also starred Ian Hunter).  Her final two film appearance teamed her with Shirley Temple - The Blue Bird (1940) and the film that is probably her most famous one The Little Princess (1939) in which she played the scullery maid, Becky.  Basically retired at 13, she would eventually marry (a marriage that lasted for 58 years) and have a child.  Though she believed that Shirley Temple's mother requested most her of best scenes be excised from The Blue Bird, Ms. Jason and Ms. Temple-Black remained lifelong friends.  Ms. Jason died in 2011 at age 83.
Several scenes in the film were quite interesting.  In one, Lockridge meets Stella, who has disguised herself as an older woman.  He takes her hand, and his eyes betray to the audience that he has notice her hand is not that of an old lady.  Another is a scene in which reporters harass Stella for more information about her illicit past.  That one in particular was quite reminiscent of the paparazzi of today.

Ms. Francis again gets a wonderful array of lovely dresses designed by Orry-Kelly.  I was particularly impressed with a Greek-key designed dress she wears onstage, as well as some amazing hats!  We'll close with a trailer from the film.  We highly recommend it!
For some other reviews of this film, visit: Journeys in Classic Film and Immortal Ephemera.  Both do have spoilers, as does this outro from Robert Osborne

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