Friday, March 31, 2017

Kay Designs

Based on the 1931 novel by Polan Banks, Street of Women (1932) tells the story of Larry Baldwin (Alan Dinehart), who by all accounts is happy and successful.  He and his partner Linkhorn Gibson (Roland Young) are just about to complete work on a new skyscraper that will be the tallest building in the world.  Larry is also very much in love with dress designer Natalie Upton (Kay Francis), who he considers his muse.  But Larry is married - to the cold and conniving Lois (Marjorie Gateson) - and has avoided divorce to protect his daughter, Doris (Gloria Stuart).  But Doris is now 18, and Larry decides it's time for him to be truly happy - by divorcing Lois and marrying Natalie.

In most respects, this is a standard Kay Francis pre-code melodrama - she's in love, she suffers beautifully, and though she is involved with a married man, we know that their love is true and pure.  But, get past that, and you have a lovely story that really does keep you engaged throughout.  Though Ms. Francis' Natalie is considerably younger than Larry Baldwin, they have similar issues to face: primarily two young people who are dependent upon them for love and support, and who are equally unforgiving of their elders' passions and affections.  For Natalie, her younger brother Clarke (Allen Vincent) is the source of her grief.  Natalie's unease at revealing her relationship to Clarke makes a nice parallel to Larry's reticence towards opening up to his daughter.
While Kay Francis is perfect as Natalie, we had a hard time with Alan Dinehart in the role of Larry.  It's really difficult to understand what she sees in him.  Certainly, he is intelligent, but far from being the strong, silent type, Dinehart plays Larry as weak; he is cowed by everyone - his wife, his daugher, even Natalie.  In fact, the only person who really loosens him up is Mattie (Louise Beavers), Natalie's maid.  The interactions between Ms. Beavers and Mr. Dinehart are the scenes that finally show Larry as a human being. And while Mattie is just another of the many maids played by Ms. Beavers, she is warm, affectionate, and wise.  She brings a humanity to her part that only an actress of her skill could realize.

The juveniles - Doris and Clarke - are more brats than fully realized characters.  Doris shows her affection for her father with a long kiss on the lips, that was more incestuously disconcerting than a signal of real affection.  When it comes to understanding her father's misery at home - with a woman for whom Doris has little to no regard - she is uncaring.  At the same time, Clarke, who has been supported by his sister since their parents' deaths, cannot conceive that Natalie might actually be able to make enough money to support them on her own (never mind that he's been willingly taking her financial support without question, including several years in Paris). Now that he no longer needs her, he rejects her needs and is cruel and biting to a woman who has shown him nothing but encouragement.
Allen Vincent had brief acting career - he appeared in 26 films from 1929 to 1939.  Beginning in 1941, he worked as a screenwriter, and received an Academy Award nomination for Johnny Belinda (1948). Gloria Stuart, however, is probably best known for two films that were 64 years apart: The Invisible Man (1933) and Titanic (1997).  The latter earned her a nomination as Best Supporting Actress.  In between times, she worked on screen and off - retiring from films for a time (beginning in 1946) to run an art furniture shop, paint, and create bonzai trees (some of which are in museums).  When her husband (to whom she'd been married since 1934) became ill in the 1970s, she returned to television work, and eventually to films.  Ms. Stuart died in 2010, age 100. Her ashes were scattered in Santa Monica Bay, per her wishes. 

Roland Young as Link is delightful.  His portrayal really makes you wonder why Natalie doesn't select him instead.  He's supportive and affectionate towards her, a good friend to Larry, and he is much smarter and stronger than his partner.  He is quite believable as a potential lover, and very much called to mind the part he played would later play in Give Me Your Heart (1936), where he represents the older, more experienced romantic.   He also is quite cagey, and a later scene involving Lois shows how sly and knowing he really is.
The sets are by Anton Grot (who did the set design for Stolen Holiday) and are marvelous, especially Natalie's somewhat art deco apartment.  No costumer designer was cited, so we must tip our hats to the Warner Brothers costume department for again making Ms. Francis a raft of delicious gowns. 

We'll leave you this week with the film's trailer. 

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