Thursday, November 19, 2015

Stage Mother (1933)

The focus of the 1933 film Stage Mother is exactly what the title suggests: a former performer pushes her only daughter into show business and controls every aspect of her daughter's life. Think of it as an early non-musical Gypsy. Alice Brady and Maureen O'Sullivan star as the mother Kitty and daughter Shirley, respectively, while Franchot Tone is Shirley's love interest, Warren Foster.

Franchot does not enter the film until a good 45 minutes have passed (Only I would post 20-something screen captures of a 15-20 minute performance). His role is small, but pivotal. Before his entrance, we see vaudeville performer Kitty lose her husband, a fellow entertainer, in a tragic accident. Their daughter Shirley is sent to live with Kitty's in-laws, who disapprove of the entertainment industry and Kitty personally. When Shirley is 14, Kitty returns to raise her and quickly trains her to enter the biz.

It is quickly apparent that Kitty is a ruthless stage mother who will stop at nothing to make her daughter famous. Maureen O'Sullivan is sweet and obliging as the put-upon daughter while Alice Brady (as Kitty) schemes and blackmails to get Shirley to the top.

When a new production takes her to Boston, Shirley is eager to revisit her childhood home. Enter Franchot. Warren Foster, an artist, answers the door and gives her a tour of the house he now owns. There is an immediate rapport between the two and without her mother's knowledge, Shirley begins to see Warren often. Because this is pre-code, Shirley is even shown spending the night with Warren.
Now recovered from an illness that kept her bedridden while Shirley experienced a bit of freedom, Kitty is backstage and reading Shirley's mail from Warren when she hatches a plan to regain control of her daughter. Unbeknownst to Shirley, Kitty blackmails Warren's family for ten thousand dollars with the threat of exposing the two lovers' clandestine meetings. Warren assumes that Shirley seduced him with the extortion plot in mind and confronts her in a stage dressing room. Franchot is as powerful as the angry, manipulated young man in latter scenes as he was the carefree, patient lover earlier in the film. Maureen O'Sullivan (Franchot's costar in Between Two Women) is perfectly cast as the lovely, trapped Shirley in this oft-told tale of a mother living vicariously through her daughter.
Watch Stage Mother to see if Kitty maintains control of her daughter or if Shirley finally fights back for a life of her own. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hill School fight leaves Jean defeated

The photograph above makes my heart ache for Jean Wallace. She looks so devastated moments after a court supported Franchot's urging that his son attend The Hill School, which had been a Tone tradition. It probably didn't help matters that her husband Cornel Wilde looks so chummy with ex Franchot for the photograph. According to reports of the day, Jean had a difficult and emotional time during her divorce and custody battles with Franchot. I'm sure this extra battle (which would place son Pascal away from her in Pottstown, Pennsylvania for a good part of the year) was painful for her. Below is an article that described the court's decision.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

La Bonne Soupe (1964)

The good news is I recently stumbled across La Bonne Soupe on Youtube. The bad news is I can't understand a word of it. La Bonne Soupe is a 1964 French film that features Franchot in a character part. This foreign film is definitely a departure from the majority of his filmography, but I welcome any performance of Franchot's (even when I'm clueless as to the dialogue!). I'd love to get my hands on a version with English subtitles.

The film seems quite funny and Franchot pops up unexpectedly in several scenes.

In the cinema column, "Capsule Comments", in the Toledo Blade newspaper dated November 1, 1964, La Bonne Soupe is described as "a merry, bawdy French comedy about a girl of easy virtue and her search for Easy Street". Here is Bosley Crowther's review of the film in the New York Times.

Below is the Youtube video. If it doesn't play correctly from my blog, try this direct Youtube link. Franchot enters the picture at about the 5:15 mark and reappears throughout.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dangerous (1935)

Dangerous (1935) is noteworthy to historians because it is the film that won Bette Davis her first Oscar (she would win again for the 1938 film Jezebel). It is one of my favorite films of the 30s and I enjoy watching it often. It has a lot going for it: stellar performances from Bette and Franchot (both incredibly lovely to look at, as well), a passionate romance, tons of classic Bette Davis drama and sacrifice, and a strong supporting cast.

Joyce Heath (Bette Davis) is a has-been actress. Once a talented young stage actress on the rise, Joyce has quickly descended into alcoholism, debt, and melancholy. Don Bellows (Franchot Tone) is an intelligent young architect who is greatly respected by New York society. Although he is engaged to wealthy and kind socialite Gail Armitage (Margaret Lindsay, who also costarred with Franchot in 1934's Gentlemen are Born), Don fondly recalls Joyce's stage career and how much he was moved by her performances. When he discovers Joyce's current state, Don sets out to rehabilitate her. In the process, they fall in love.

The scenes between Joyce and Don contain fluctuating moments of cute silliness, anger and resentment, passionate attraction, and deep bonding. It's really easy to get wrapped up in their romance. You're completely rooting for them, but all the time, there's a little voice telling you that it's not going to end pretty.

Don is willing to sacrifice everything for Joyce. His belief in her love and her talent is so strong that he gives up his fiancĂ©e and puts his wealth on the line to support Joyce in a new play. Although Joyce continuously warns Don that she is a jinx, Don believes that his love and the success of her new play will change everything. Don doesn't realize that Joyce has a secret and that the way she handles that secret may change everything.

Dangerous is a beautiful film, one that makes me both laugh and cry. Because of Franchot and Bette's performances and its powerful ending (which I won't spoil for you here), it's a film whose story lingers with me long after the end credits roll. Dangerous is available on DVD at Amazon and WBShop.

Bette Davis admitted that during filming, she had an intense crush on Franchot. At the time, he was deeply in love with Joan Crawford. Bette describes her attraction to Franchot and jealousy of Joan in this post.