Saturday, March 25, 2017

Kay's a Model

Stefan Orloff (Claude Rains) is about to pull off a huge business deal, but he needs to convince his backers of his stability.  So, he hires mannequin Nicole Picot (Kay Francis) to come as his date to an important party.  This leads to Stefan owning his own investment firm, and Nicole becoming the head House of Picot, a major design house.  Stefan loves Nicole, but she's not ready for marriage, at least to him.  Unbeknownst to Nicole, Stefan is the mastermind behind a huge swindle.  To avoid investigation, he convinces Nicole to go away with him for a brief vacation, where she meets Anthony Wayne (Ian Hunter) on her Stolen Holiday (1937).  

The date of the release of the film makes it rather remarkable, as there are elements in it that you would expect in the pre-code era, not in 1937.  Stefan is as dishonest as they come, but it is impossible to dislike him.  There is an implication that he and Nicole have been lovers, and though one of our lead characters is "punished" for their sins, another minor character easily gets away with an horrific act.  Based on an actual scandal (see this brief note at the AFI Catalog), the ending is true to the real-life facts.  Warner Brothers, however, carefully distanced themselves from the real story with a disclaimer at the beginning of the film (TCM article). It's amazing that they were able to produce the script as they did, and it makes the film far more provocative. 
As always, Ms. Francis gets a gorgeous wardrobe from Orry-Kelly that she shows off to perfection.  Her severe hairstyle at the opening is quite in contrast to the feminine gowns (you can see it in the image above).  The set design by Anton Grot is splendid and Ms. Francis is placed into it like a jewel.  

The only real problem with the film it is that Ian Hunter doesn't bring much to the part of Anthony Wayne.  Perhaps it is the comparison to Rains, but quite honestly, it's hard to understand why Nicole is attracted to Wayne, he seems such a non-entity.  When Ms. Francis is with Mr. Rains in a scene the dialogue sparkles, but once she is with Mr. Hunter it seems banal and dull. It's a shame, really, because he was just fine as Ms. Francis' romantic interest in I Found Stella Parish (though, to be honest, we did prefer Paul Lukas in that film).  Mr. Hunter is a capable if uninspiring actor; but put up next to someone like Claude Rains, he fades into the background.
Claude Rains.  There really is music in that name.  The man could pretty much do anything - villain, romantic lead, supporting actor.  Bette Davis was a fan (Mr. Rains daughter discussed their relationship on a TCM Word of Mouth oral history), and in fact thought that Charlotte Vale of Now Voyager would have eventually married his Dr. Jaquith (TCM article).  He's really magical in this film - he takes a character that could potentially be unlikable, and turns him into the most interesting person in the movie, despite his rather larcenous nature. According to Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice by David J. Skal and Jessica Rains, he and Ms. Francis didn't get along.  He disliked her unwillingness to participate fully in scenes where he was being filmed for a close-up.  One assumes this may be the reason they didn't work together again.

Mr. Rains began his film career at age 44 with The Invisible Man (1933).  By that time, he'd been on stage in London and New York, served in the first World War (with colleagues Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, and Herbert Marshall); attended, and then taught at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and returned to the stage.  When he returned to New York, and was appearing on Broadway, he was approached by Warner Brothers (after RKO decided he was not right for A Bill of Divorcement).  Beginning in 1933, he worked steadily, appearing films such as Mr. Skeffington (1944), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938),  Four Daughters (1938),  and King's Row (1942). And, of course, Casablanca (1942). Nominated for four Oscars (all in the supporting actor category), he never won, but did get a Tony Award for his performance in Darkness at Noon (1951). With his delicious voice, he was a popular radio voice, and transitioned to television in the 1950s and 1960s.  But he still continued in films until 1965, two years before his death of intestinal hemorrhage in 1967.  In one of his final films, Twilight of Honor (1963), he worked with Richard Chamberlain, who was making a name for himself in Dr. Kildare.  Mr. Chamberlain did a tribute to his co-star on TCM; the year after the film, Mr. Rains appeared with Mr. Chamberlain again in Dr. Kildare.
Also in the cast is Alison Skipworth as Suzanne, who acts as a surrogate mother to Nicole.  Ms. Skipworth is quite amusing in the role, and really gets most of the good lines.  She's a delight in the role!

We'll leave you with the trailer to the film.