Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Street of Women directed by Archie Mayo (starring Kay Francis, Roland Young, Gloria Stuart)

Street of Women (1932). Screenplay by Mary McCall, Jr., from the novel The Street of Women by Polan Banks. Adaptation and dialogue by Charles Kenyon and Brown Holmes.

People don't think that these things can be beautiful.

Kay Francis is Nat Upton, a successful fashion designer who has to break off her affair with ambitious contractor Larry Baldwin (Alan Dinehart) — whose wife Lois (Marjorie Gateson) is a controlling social climber — when Nat's architect brother Clarke (Allen Vincent) comes to live with her. Roland Young (best known for the Topper films) features as Baldwin's business partner Link Gibson, who spends most of his screen time asking Nat to marry him.

We've had our happiness, and now we've got to pay for it.

Clarke gets hired by Link's firm, but things get really complicated when Clarke hooks up with Baldwin's daughter Doris (Gloria Stuart from Titanic in her film debut) and Baldwin confesses his love for Nat to her. The self-professed "modern" girl shows herself to be old-fashioned in her response, and discomfort abounds with Lois overhears and goes to visit Nat at her office, armed with an arsenal of suggestive remarks. Thankfully, Young steps in to clean up the mess, and all ends happily.

Street of Women is a little different than most of the Francis "adultery" pictures I've seen in how it really seems as if she and Dinehart have feelings for each other. They appear taken with one another in every scene they share together. Neither Francis nor Stuart are up the intense emotional scenes, but this is otherwise a well-acted and -photographed pre-Code comedy/drama that tells its story in less than 60 minutes.

The only real downside is how the unsubtle writing forces everything to happen artificially just to get things going the way it wants them to. The metaphors (Lois takes lemon in her tea, while Nat takes sugar) as well as some scenes (e.g., the car crash) seem there just to provide "drama" to a film already filled with it — just in case some viewers don't "get it."

Look out for Louise Beavers as Nat's maid, Mattie. Two years later, Beavers would get her best role as the business partner of Claudette Colbert in the 1934 version of Imitation of Life (the superior one, in my opinion). Her presence almost makes up for the appearance of yet another wide-eyed Negro used for comic effect in an early scene (didn't that get old, even then?).

The title refers to the concept of all the skyscrapers in the city having been inspired by the women behind the men, as Nat inspires Larry in this film. Director Archie Mayo would again direct Francis in 1936's Give Me Your Heart (also with Roland Young, as well as Francis's frequent costar George Brent) and in the cross-dressing comedy Charley's Aunt (1941) starring Jack Benny. He would also helm the Marx Brothers misfire A Night in Casablanca in 1946.


Laura said...

Thanks for letting me know you had a new review posted! For many years I associated Francis mainly with her role as the nasty wife in IN NAME ONLY with Cary Grant and Carole Lombard. I've really been enjoying watching her in a wider variety of roles in recent months. I'm especially looking forward to seeing MARY STEVENS, M.D., which TCM is showing in June.

Best wishes,

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for stopping by, and for the good words. Also for reminding me to look for more Francis films -- I've been too focused on getting through my current collection.

Rupert Alistair said...

My first experience with a Kay Francis movie was the same as Laura above, In Name Only. It was only when Turner Classic Movies came around that I discovered all the great films she made. I've seen so many and yet there are SO many more I have yet to see.


Craig Clarke said...

My first Kay film was Trouble in Paradise, and unfortunately nothing has yet reached that pinnacle. But it's fun looking.

Surprisingly, considering what a big fan I am of Carole Lombard and Cary Grant (and Kay, of course), I've never seen In Name Only. Still looking forward to it.

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