I’ve watched a lot of movies that I didn’t like very much just because Greta Garbo or Kay Francis were in them. Since she made more movies than Greta Garbo, there’s no actress I’ve seen in more movies than Kay Francis. Every movie she makes is watchable for me because every moment she’s on screen is an opportunity to soak in her unique endearing qualities.
Kay’s voice has a rhythm and musical quality that I love. I’m thrilled when she gets to deliver witty/playful dialogue with gusto. I can’t think of many actresses who are as fun to watch when they’re flirting. In more serious movies, her soulful eyes compel me to care deeply. Her bright smiles inspire mine. With her wide set eyes and parted-down-the-middle/puffy hairstyle (which has been called ‘mannish’ many times), Kay Francis looked very different from her fellow actresses, yet embodied the quintessential ’30s glamour girl. She seemed most comfortable and natural playing rich, immaculately-dressed high society women.
Kay Francis wore some of the most gorgeous dresses ever put on the screen and looked better in them than anyone else could, earning herself the nickname ‘The Clotheshorse’ (which sounds more insulting than it’s supposed to be). She was also called a ‘workhorse’ for being prolific by churning out multiple movies per year. My favourite of her nicknames is ‘Wavishing Kay Fwancis’, given to her for being sexy and sometimes pronouncing ‘Rs’ as ‘Ws’. Some people thought this speech impediment made her laughable. I think it’s adorable…just another reason to love her. Below is an inventory of my favourite Kay Francis movies from the 1920s and 1930s, accompanied by photos and/or GIFs from them and my comments.
“Dangerous Curves”, 1929.
In “Dangerous Curves”, Kay Francis is a manipulative circus veteran who seduces a man away from more innocent, less experienced circus cutie pie Clara Bow. As a Bow and Francis fan, it’s hard to watch them in this movie. Bow is sweet, self-deprecating, innocent, idealistic, and brave. Kay is shamelessly self-serving and heartless. I liked Bow’s personality, acting, and appearance. I also appreciated the novelty of an early Kay Francis role. I didn’t like much else. The male lead is such a drag. He’s weak and infuriating, being used by Kay and loved by Bow when he REALLY doesn’t deserve her devotion.
“The Cocoanuts”, 1929.
Kay plays one of the rich, snooty patrons at a hotel where The Marx Brothers like messing with people.
In two scenes, I love the interactions between Kay’s humourless, snobby character and silent buffoon Harpo Marx’s silly doofus.
First, he keeps putting his foot on her lap, prompting her to angrily shove it away. Later, Kay and a friend are laughing, and Harpo pisses them off by trying to join in. He also fights with Kay over her cane. She’s a terrific serious foil for his tomfoolery.
“Girls About Town”, 1931.
Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman play escorts and best friends in a minor, but thoroughly likable little picture about two gold-digging escorts who start to consider living less frivolous lives. Despite being simple and unambitious without much resonance, “Girls About Town” is one of my favourite movies of the 1930s. There are so many appealing elements at play in it. I love movies about strong, smart, independent, funny and sassy women. Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman are all of those things, playing two hip gals with attitude.
The women are paired with equally well-cast fellas. Eugene Pallette is so fun as a practical joke enthusiast that I could get a kick out of him, despite his sometimes grating gravelly voice. Joel McCrea always has good chemistry with actresses I like (i.e. Jean Arthur, Barbara Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers) and is the same with Kay Francis. Their sentimental scenes together warmed my heart.
“Guilty Hands”, 1931.
After a murderer kills a man she loves and tries to frame her, the Kay Francis character in “Guilty Hands” goes about trying to prove his guilt. Her acting is a little awkward as she’s overemphasizing her emotions a lot, but it’s fun to watch Kay snooping around sleuthing and cowering when the killer tries to intimidate her. I love how she wears two pearl necklaces even as she’s sneaking around! She has a heroic moment at the end of the movie that made me very happy.
“Man Wanted”, 1932.
In “Man Wanted”, Kay Francis is an ambitious workaholic. She falls in love with David Manners after hiring him as a secretary. He is engaged to a finicky nag played by Una Merkel. She is too serious and whiny for him. Obviously the audience is supposed to applaud Manners shunning spoilsport Merkel for the more fun Kay. I just felt sorry for Merkel, because she was so square, needy, and pathetic. I think a woman playing Kay’s rival should be villainous. On the plus side, Manners and Francis are very cute. In my favourite scene, she finds out by phone that he will visit her. She responds by spinning in her chair and happily shrieking, “EEEEEeee!”
“Jewel Robbery”, 1932.
In “Jewel Robbery”, Kay Francis plays a ridiculously wealthy Baroness who is wild about jewelry. She lives in absurd opulence of a palace-like home, with endless doting staff members. The ridiculously rich hedonist is adorable as she playfully frolics with bubble bath in her huge tub before a massage and beauty treatment.
“Jewel Robbery” belongs to a series of six Kay Francis and William Powell pairings. I loved watching the two together in each. They’re particularly fun in this one. Their attraction to each other catches both off-guard during his heist. The final shot is one of my favourites in film history. It’s like the lighter, Kay Francis version of Garbo’s perfect ending in “Queen Christina”.
“One Way Passage”, 1932.
In “One Way Passage”, Kay Francis plays a high society lady that’s more vulnerable than her others. This one has a terminal illness, yet doesn’t pity herself. She has joie de vivre, happy to be alive, determined to make the most of time left.
On a cruise, she has a bittersweet romance with William Powell’s character, who has his own secret about impending doom. There is tension and suspense as one wonders if they’ll reveal each other’s fates.
“Trouble in Paradise”, 1932.
A single moment in “Trouble In Paradise” made me an instant permanent Kay Francis fan. She asks Herbert Marshall where a lady should put down her pearls in a man’s room. He answers, and she declares, “But I don’t want to be a lady!” Kay’s flirty words and the way she removes her necklace and fur are sexier than anything I’ve seen in an Old Hollywood picture. Only Barbara Stanwyck in “The Lady Eve” comes close. I’ve been crazy about Francis since. I marvelled at how an actress could be so alluring without the obvious tactics used in movies these days.
Of all the pictures in which Kay played a classy, charming, wealthy woman adorned in luxurious clothes, “Trouble in Paradise” is my favourite. It’s a career highlight for all involved, including master director Ernst Lubistch and three of the coolest, liveliest, most overlooked stars of Old Hollywood. It was the first movie to make me aware of Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, AND Kay Francis. I immediately adored all three, but loved Kay most.
“Another Dawn”, 1937.
It’s not always possible to see my favourite actors and actresses as co-stars. On those rare occasions when I can, I hope for two things.
I want them to have good chemistry and material that highlights their appeal.
That’s what I saw when Kay Francis and Errol Flynn got together in “Another Dawn”. I was so ecstatic watching this once-in-a-lifetime dream couple of the silver screen working their magic on each other. They co-star in a melodramatic love triangle. Flynn and Ian Hunter play soldiers at a British outpost in Africa. Both love Kay. The Flynn and Francis dialogue is sometimes mushy. Since I love them and romantic philosophy, I loved every minute of it.
In “Confession” Kay Francis wears a blonde wig(!)
She also gets what might be her last strong dramatic role. Emoting intensely, she inhabits a tragic tale told mostly by flashback.
The picture is stylish, dramatic, and solemn. It concludes movingly.
The plot is mostly tight. I think its major flaw is vagueness in a key scene. I blame that on Post-Code censorship. As a Pre-Code film, “Confession” might have been better…maybe enough to earn Kay’s performance the praise it deserves.
“Secrets of An Actress” 1938.
“Secrets of an Actress” is a movie with a few sweet and funny moments. I wish it had more. Kay Francis plays an actress. She has endearing interactions with friends. Her manager says, “Hello, goldmine!” and she asks a friend to kick her in the butt before every performance “for luck”!
The movie’s plot involves Kay being in love with a married man,
just like in way too many other movies.
It’s generally slow-going with too many dull spots between the bright moments.
I recommend skipping most of this movie.
I think its best part is the last two minutes.
In them, Kay’s does some of the cutest things I’ve ever seen in a movie.
“First Lady” is based on a play and feels more like one than a movie. Kay Francis and Verree Teasdale play enemies whose husbands are thinking about running for president. I loved watching these ladies smile before hurling hardly veiled insults at each other. The movie is sometimes sluggish and confusing. There’s too much unfunny chatter. I forgive these flaws because Kay Francis gets to play a confident, dynamo. I like her cool dresses and clever quips. My favourite is when she enters a house, sees flowers everywhere, and exclaims, “It’s like a gangster’s funeral!”
For more about Kay and her career, please visit “Kay Francis Films”.
I’ve loved that site ever since I became a Kay fan.
I consider it an inspiration and invaluable source of information.