Last week, we watched Kay Francis appear as a pre-code physician in Mary Stevens, M.D. This week, we viewed Dr. Monica (1934), released the next year, but in many ways, a much more restricted film. While technically a pre-code film (Dr. Monica was released June 21, 1934 - the code didn't officially start being enforced until July 1st), for all intents and purposes, this film is forced to abide by some aspects of the Production code, not the least of which is the punishment of a woman who has carried on an affair with a married man.
Dr. Monica Braden (Ms. Francis) is a successful obstetrician, married to writer John Braden (Warren William). The only thing that seems to mar the happiness of their marriage is Monica's inability to have a child. Or so it seems to Monica - unbeknownst to her, John has been carrying on an affair with aviatrix Mary Hathaway (Jean Muir). When John leaves for Europe, he and Mary call a halt to their relationship; what he doesn't know - and won't discover - is that Mary is pregnant.
Though the character of Mary is ultimately punished for her mistake (not so the erring husband), many aspects of the film fall into the pre-code conventions. There is the out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a brief discussion of abortion, and finally, our female leads. The film presents us with three women, all of whom are career women - our heroine, a successful physician; Mary, though wealthy, a trained flyer with her own plane; and Anna Littlefield (Verree Teasdale), a gifted architect. Several sources, including this TCM article note that Joseph Breen, the head of the Production Code Administration, despised this film as being about "a lesbian, a nymphomanic and a prostitute." We figured that Anna was the lesbian, given that she isn't married, doesn't have a man in her life, and has a successful career, and that Mary was the prostitute (though she certainly wasn't doing it for money. She has far more money that John will ever have. Monica is the major breadwinner in that family). But we weren't clear on who the nymphomanic was - Monica? Because she wants a child? We are at a loss, and we're not suggesting a seance to ask Breen what on earth he was thinking!
The New York Times review was far more sympathetic to the film, with positive reviews for the three ladies, especially Jean Muir, and even some kind words for Warren Williams (in what they truthfully call a "thankless role). We were especially impressed with Verree Teasdale's performance - she gives the character of Anna a gravitas that is essential for the person who serves as Monica's moral compass. She is Monica's confidant, but she is also the one that makes certain Monica ultimately fulfills her duties as a physician, even when outside circumstances make her unwilling to act ethically. Ms. Teasdale began her career on Broadway, appearing in 13 plays between 1924 and 1932. She started in films, in 1929, appearing in Syncopation that year. In her 30 films, she was primarily the second lead or nasty society wife; she also played Hippolyta in the 1935 A Midsummer Night's Dream. That same year, she married actor Adolphe Menjou - they had one child. Though they did not appear in films together, in the 1940's and 1950s, they hosted a radio show. She and Menjou remained together until his death in 1963. She died in 1987, at the age of 83.
According to the AFI Catalog, the Hollywood Reporter stated that Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea were considered for the leads, casting that would have resulted in a very different movie. Stanwyck would finally get to play a doctor in the 1940s (You Belong to Me, 1941); Ms. Francis would play a physician once more, in 1939s gangster film, King of the Underworld, giving her the record, as far as I can find, of an actress playing a doctor.
We'll end today's posting with a trailer from the film.