Thursday, 29 November 2012

Dr Monica (1934)

A few years ago, I said that "I [couldn]'t point out exactly why, but [Kay Francis] doesn't interest me very much". Recently, I had a chance to see several of her Pre-code films and I changed my mind. Among them, was "Dr Monica", her last Pre-code and a woman's picture through and through, with a plot that reminded me of bits in "The Great Lie": Kay Francis is Dr Monica Braden, an obstetrician married to a writer (Warren William) who is having an affair with one of her friends (Jean Muir). They break it up, but the friend is pregnant while Monica is not able to have children herself.

The film is incredibly short, running at only 55 minutes. Running times quoted elsewhere, suggest that over ten minutes were cut - the Hays Office took issue with the film, with Joseph Breen objecting plot and characters (one of them was supposed to be a lesbian!). Whatever the cuts were, the film still flows quite well, with veiled references to abortion and a plot that hinges on adultery and illegitimate pregnancy. But, if one looks at the trailer, there are some scenes which are not in the film - a long sequence between Warren William and Jean Muir on doing the right thing, and a shorter bit of dialogue towards the end, when Monica and her husband watch a sunset together.

Personally, I think the film's pace works in its favour. A longer film would just have more time to be more sentimental - and it would harm it. The self-sacrifice at the end is a bit too much, as are some of the key telephone scenes, which are incredibly badly acted by Francis. The lack of chemistry between William and Francis and William and Muir is quite noticeable. To be fair only Francis and the actress playing her other friend (Verree Teasdale) seemed to do well.

The film has certainly its good moments - one of the best is the opening sequence, where the phone rings for Dr Braden, and it takes a few seconds to reveal that the doctor is a woman. Or the scenes with the three women, which show a deeper bond than usual at this time between women - sort of a 1930s "Sex and the City".

Kay Francis is the 1930s Pre-code successful professional woman who manages almost everything. She does it with charm, and many clothes' changes (as expected) but I sense in a rather routine fashion, and certainly with less spark than in some of her other films. Warren William is wasted in the sort of part that (and I mean this in the worst possible way) Herbert Marshall and George Brent made a career of (the latter better than the former). As for the other two main parts, Kay Francis' two friends, Jean Muir is quite weak, while Verree Teasdale shines as the bitchy best friend (in a sort of upper class Glenda Farrell), a successful, unmarried architect - I assume her character is the one Joseph Breen though was a lesbian (she does such lesbian things as being unmarried and successful...). I don't think I have seen that many films with her, and I never noticed her before in those I have. But will keep an eye open in the future.

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