Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Kay's Daughter Wants to Sing

Kay Francis returned to Warner Brothers in 1942 for Always in My Heart.  Kay plays Marjorie Scott, the mother of Victoria (Gloria Warren) and Martin (Frankie Thomas).  They live in a small coastal town of Santa Rita, California with their housekeeper Angie (Una O'Connor) and her little granddaughter Booley (Diana (Patti) Hale).  Marjorie (or Mudge, as her children call her) also has a suitor, Philip Ames (Sidney Blackmer), who is not above bribing Victoria and Marty to help him convince Marjorie to marry him.  But, unbeknownst to the children and Philip, Marjorie's heart lies elsewhere - with her husband, MacKenzie Scott (Walter Huston), who's been in prison for over ten years.

We really wanted to like this film, but in the long run, it was pretty hard to do so.  It's a waste of the wonderful Kay and Walter Huston (who we previously saw together in Storm at Daybreak)The film doesn't really know what it wants to be: comedy? drama? musical?  It does know that it wants to find the next Deanna Durbin in Gloria Warren.  As you can see from the ad below, even though Ms. Francis and Mr. Huston are the stars, it is Ms. Warren on whom the ad focuses.  This was the first of her five films (between 1942 and 1947), and she is, quite frankly, not well served.  To be sure, she has a magnificent operatic voice, but this film gives her nothing with which to shine.  Even the title song (more on that later) is done in a way that just makes it a bore.  Add a peripatetic plot, and you have a bit of a mess.
This New York Times review comments that "Miss Warren is . . .a bit mature for her reported fifteen years" and she does appear much older than 15.  But she was actually 16 when the film was released.  Obviously, her mature singing voice doesn't help one believe that she is only 15, but a mature voice never hurt Deanna Durbin.  What Ms. Warren lacked, it seems, were scripts.   The films she made are not remembered, and while she is pleasant enough, the public just didn't didn't take to her.  The director also places emphasis on the operatic quality of her voice, during a period of time when The Big Bands were soaring in popularity.  The one popular song she is given, Always in My Heart, is arranged with a very operatic style and probably didn't help much.  The song was nominated for an Oscar (it lost to White Christmas.  What wouldn't lose to White Christmas?)  Later, it was covered by, among others, Dean Martin.
According to this  TCM article, Kay Francis appeared in the film at Walter Huston's suggestion.  This was their fourth film together.  They do work well (especially considering they aren't given a whole lot of screen time, nor much to work with when they are on screen).  The film minimizes so many issues surrounding the adults - they are reluctant to tell us why Mac is in jail (we don't find out til the last 1/2 hour).  And why are there no pictures of him around the home? Sure, the children think he is dead, but no photographs to remember him by? And the kids never ask? It's an odd piece of writing.  Mr. Huston, however, does get to sing. He had previously appeared in the musical Knickerbocher Holiday (1938-1939) on Broadway, and had a pleasant singing voice and style (see this AFI Catalog article for more information). 

This was also the screen debut of Diana (Patti) Hale, who had almost as brief a career as Ms. Warren.  She was in five films, her last being Thunderhead - Son of Flicka (she had also appeared in the same part in 1943's My Friend Flicka) in 1945.  She returned to television in 1954 in an episode of Meet Corliss Archer, and then left the business.

Sidney Blackmer gets the thankless job of playing Philip, a bore and a stereotype.  Philip is a jerk, who uses his money to get around his beau's children.  He's a bit of a bully, and you spend most of the movie waiting for him to twirl a non-existent mustache as he ships the children far away from their beloved Mudge.  An excellent actor, with a remarkable speaking voice, Mr. Blackmer began his career in the silent era (in 1914) and continued acting in film and television until 1971.   See him as Seth Lord in High Society (1956) or This is My Affair (1937) as Teddy Roosevelt.

We'll leave you with this scene of Gloria Warren singing. Sorry we can't be more enthusiastic about the film, but do enjoy her lovely voice.