(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day. These films could be nominees or they could be winners. They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee! We’ll see how things play out. Today, I take a look at the 1940 best picture nominee, Kitty Foyle!)
Kitty Foyle opens with a title card informing us that, before the film can tell us the story of Kitty Foyle, it is necessary to remind audiences of how Kitty Foyle — and so many other “white-collar” girls — arrived in their present (which is to say, 1940) situation.
We then get a strange little montage of life at the turn of the century. A woman meets a man. The man marries the woman. They’re a happily married couple. The man goes to work. The woman takes care of the house. The man comes home. Everything’s perfect. Then suddenly — oh my God, it’s the suffragettes! They’re holding rallies! They’re parading around with signs! They’re demanding the right to vote! They’re demanding prohibition! Suddenly, women are expected to be independent and to have careers…
Which leads us to New York in the 1940s, where a bunch of women in an elevator discuss how difficult it is to find a good husband, especially now that they’re all busy working as salespeople and administrative assistants. Apparently, this is the price that we all had to pay for the right to vote. On the one hand, the women who cast their first votes in 1920 elected Warren G. Harding and spared the nation from another four years of Wilsonianism. On the other hand, it’s now difficult to find a husband.
Fortunately, Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers) doesn’t have that problem. She has a wonderful suitor, a man who has just asked her to marry him. His name is Dr. Mark Eisen (James Craig). He may not have a lot of money but he’s handsome, he’s considerate, and he spends all of his time providing medical care to the poor and indigent. When Mark asks her to marry him, he asks her if she’s sure that she’s over that man from Philadelphia. Kitty says that she is.
Of course, as soon as Kitty returns home, that man from Philadelphia is waiting for her. Wyn Stafford VI (Dennis Morgan) is handsome, rich, and totally in love with Kitty. Of course, he’s also married to his second wife. (The identity of his first wife isn’t revealed until late in the film but you’ll be able to guess who she is.) Wyn is in love with Kitty and he wants her to run away to South America with him. Kitty says yes.
However, as Kitty is packing to leave, her reflection in the mirror starts talking to her. It turns out to be a pretty judgmental mirror. The rest of the film is an extended flashback, showing us how Kitty was raised by her single father (Ernest Cossart), how she first moved to New York, and how she met and fell in love with both Wyn and Mark. Will she run off and live in wealthy sin with Wyn? Or will she stay in New York and marry honest, hard-working Mark?
The main problem with Kitty Foyle is that there really isn’t much suspense as far as the film’s central dilemma is concerned. Mark is a living saint who heals children. Wyn is a heel who wants to abandon his wife and son so that he and Kitty can live in South America. About the only thing that Wyn has going for him is that he’s got a better sense of humor than Mark but, in 1940, that wasn’t necessarily considered to be a good thing. There’s really no question about who Kitty is going to pick and, in fact, the answer is so obvious that you kind of lose respect for Kitty when it takes her so long to make up her mind. It’s like being told you could either marry a Nobel Peace Prize winner or someone who embezzles from a charity and replying, “Let me think about it…”
Of course, the main focus of Kitty Foyle is less on the love triangle and more on Ginger Rogers’s performance as Kitty. This was one of Ginger’s first films after she stopped making films with Fred Astaire and it’s obvious that the film’s main theme was that Ginger Rogers could do more than just dance with Fred. In Kitty Foyle, she gets to make jokes. She gets to cry. She gets to fall in love. She gets a huge dramatic scene in which she mourns the loss of a child. She does it all and yes, she does it very well. Still, Kitty Foyle is never as much fun as the movies that she made with Fred.
Ginger Rogers won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Kitty Foyle, beating out Katharine Hepburn, Joan Fontaine, Bette Davis, and Martha Scott. Kitty Foyle was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Hitchcock’s Rebecca.