Friday, 3 May 2013

Kitty (1945)

Mitchell Leisen's "Kitty" is the story of a woman from the London slums in the 18th Century who, with the guidance of an unscrupulous and bankrupt nobleman, raises to the top of society. Think of an amoral "Pygmalion" and you won't be too far off. Paulette Goddard is the Galatea, Ray Milland is Pygmalion.

Mitchell Leisen's work has, I think, long be neglected for reasons which I have discussed before. I personally think that this is unfair, and he is actually a good director, whose work might even satisfy some aspects of the auteur (the theme of masquarades, of people pretending they are who they're not). His  comedies of the late 1930s and early 1940s owe a lot to its writers (Wilder and Sturges) it is obvious, but what about the others they didn't write (e.g. "No Time for Love")? In a sense, he is as much as Wilder and Sturges, one of the heirs of Lubitsch. And his melodramas are equally fine. "Kitty" is somewhere between the two groups, more dramatic than comedy, but with good comic relief by Constance Collier and Reginald Owen.

This is not a perfect film (and spoilers ahead). One main issue is that Ray Milland's character is too base and devoided of any good quality to justify Kitty's love or for me to believe in his redemption. Although I did buy his arrogance really well. Furthermore, attempting to put her down before her fiancé as a way of earning her heart is really not a good idea: either dramatically or in real life. This is exactly the same problem I had in Leisen's "Lady in the Dark" and it is a pity he didn't address it any better here (sometimes I wonder if someone at Paramount simply gave Fred McMurray all nice leading man and Ray Milland all the unpleasant ones). Another major flaw in the film the time scale: Kitty's education seems to last longer than her first marriage, and in a time where appearances were all, she has no morning period - I could just about buy this when she marries the duke because his social standing would just about allow it, but not the second time. Both these problems are in part the way Leisen deals with them, but also easy wait out for lazy writers.

On the other hand, Paulette Goddard is really good as the social climber with a heart. Her characterisation is really well done, with incremental steps up the social ladder. And then there's the brilliant moment when her beads (pearls?) fall over the floor. And so is most of the cast. I particularly liked Constance Collier as Milland's drunken aunt, Eric Blore as her servant and particularly, Cecil Kellaway as Thomas Gainsborough. The film seems to have more respect for historical authenticity than most at the time. More important, it is an entertaining film, even if it is one I shan't remember terribly well in a few months.

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