Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Kitty Foyle (dir by Sam Wood)


(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.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Pride of the Yankees (dir by Sam Wood)


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“People all say that I’ve had a bad break. But today … today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

— Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) at the end of The Pride of the Yankees (1943)

After airing Foreign Correspondent earlier tonight, TCM followed up by showing the 1943 best picture nominee, The Pride of the Yankees.  Knowing that Pride of the Yankees was going to be a baseball film and that I know next to nothing about baseball, I recruited my sister, the Dazzling Erin, to watch the movie with me.  Erin loves baseball and I knew that she would be able to explain anything that went over my head.

Well, I absolutely loved watching this movie with my sister but it turns out that The Pride of the Yankees isn’t really much of a baseball movie.  True, it’s about a real life baseball player.  Several actual players appeared as themselves.  About 85% of the film’s dialogue deals with baseball and probably about 70% of the film features characters playing some form of the game.  But the film never goes into any great detail about baseball or how it’s played.  There’s no talk of strategy or rules or deeper meaning or anything else.  Going into the film, I knew that baseball was a game that involved throwing, swinging bats, and running.  And it turns out that was all that I needed to know.

The Pride of the Yankees is less about baseball and more about celebrity.  It’s a biopic of Lou Gehrig, who today is best known for his battle with ALS, a disease that is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 and The Pride of the Yankees was released just a year later.  Watching the film, it’s obvious that Gehrig was a beloved figure, the type of celebrity who, if he were alive today, would probably be the center of stories like, “Lou Gehrig Did Something This Weekend And It Was Perfect.”  Watching the film, it easy to imagine how traumatic it must have been for the nation when a beloved athlete like Lou Gehrig died at the age of 37.

As a result, The Pride of the Yankees is less a biopic and more a case for canonization.  From the minute that the film’s Lou Gehrig appears on-screen, he is presented as being the type of saintly athlete who, by promising to hit two home runs in one game, inspires a crippled child to walk.  Lou is modest, kind, unpretentious, and never gets angry.  Over the course of the film, he takes care of his mother, displays a worthy work ethic, and marries Eleanor.  He and Eleanor have a perfect marriage without a single argument or a hint of trouble, except for the fact that Lou sometimes gets so busy playing baseball with the local children that he’s late coming home.  There’s not a hint of sadness in their life, until Lou suddenly gets sick.

And really, it should not work.  If ever there’s ever been a film that should be painfully out-of-place in our more cynical times, it would be The Pride of the Yankees.  However, the film still works because Lou is played by Gary Cooper and Eleanor is played by Teresa Wright.  These two excellent performers bring their considerable talents to making overly sentimental scenes feel credible.  Gary Cooper was 40 years old when he made The Pride of the Yankees and there’s a few scenes — especially the ones where Lou is supposed to be a student at Columbia University — where Cooper is clearly too old for the role.  But, for the most part, Gary Cooper did a great job as Lou Gehrig.  Cooper is especially memorable when Lou first starts to show signs of being ill.  Watching Lou struggle to swing a bat, I was reminded of a horse struggling to stand on an injured leg.  It was almost painfully poignant.

The Pride of the Yankees was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture.  However, it lost to another sentimental film that featured Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #13: Rebecca (dir by Alfred Hitchcock)


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Well, here we are, less than a week into Embracing the Melodrama, Part II, and I’m already running behind!  The plan, as I mentioned back on Monday, is to review 128 melodramatic films over the next three weeks.  And, even though I know that sounds a like a lot, I had it all planned out so that I’d be able to get all that done in just 21 days.  All I had to do was make sure that I reviewed 6 films a day.

And …

Well, life happened.

But no matter!  It may now take me 3 and a half weeks to review 128 films but that’s no great tragedy.  And besides, regardless of how long it takes, I’ve got some pretty good films scheduled.

Take, for instance, the 1940 best picture winner Rebecca.

Rebecca is a film that all women can relate to.  The heroine is played by Joan Fontaine.  I say “heroine” because we never actually learn the character’s name, nor do we learn much about her background.  When we first see her, she’s defined by her job, which is to basically be a paid companion to a wealthy woman.  Later, she’s defined by her whirlwind romance with the brooding and aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier).  When, after two weeks, they get married, she becomes known  as the second Mrs. de Winter.  She becomes defined by both who she married and who she is not.

She’s not Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter.

As soon as Maxim takes his new wife to his estate, the second Mrs. de Winter discovers that she’ll always live in the shadow of the deceased Rebecca.  Everyone she meets describes Rebecca as being a vibrant, lively figure — in other words, the complete opposite of the meek second Mrs. de Winter.  The coldly imperious housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), has perfectly preserved Rebecca’s room and makes little attempt to hide the scorn that she feels for the second Mrs. de Winter.  Even worse, once they return to the estate, Maxim reveals himself to be moody and tempermental.  With the help of the manipulative Mrs. Danvers, the second Mrs. de Winter becomes convinced that Maxim will never love her as much as he loved Rebecca.

Making things even more complicated, a man claiming to be Rebecca’s cousin comes by the house when Maxim is away.  Jack Flavell (played by George Sanders, at his most serpent-like) suggests that there may have been more to Rebecca’s death than the second Mrs. de Winter was originally told…

Rebecca is a classic film, for many reasons.  It’s well-acted, with Fontaine, Olivier, Anderson, and Sanders all bringing their characters to vibrant life.  It’s a gothic romance.  It’s a thriller.  It’s a mystery.  It is the epitome of old Hollywood style.  But, for me, the main reason that Rebecca is a classic is because it tells a story to which almost everyone can relate.  Every relationship that I’ve ever had, I’ve always been curious and occasionally even jealous of who came before me.  There’s nothing more intimidating than living in the shadow of someone who you will never get a chance to meet personally.  The second Mrs. de Winter’s insecurities are everyone’s insecurities and, in some fashion or another, we’ve all had a Mrs. Danvers in our life.  The second Mrs. de Winter’s struggles are our struggles and, as she grows stronger, the viewer grows stronger with her.

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most influential and acclaimed filmmakers of all time but he never won a directing Oscar.  Rebecca was the only one of his films to win Best Picture.  Producer David O. Selznick brought Hitchcock over from England to direct Rebecca and it’s been reported that Hitchcock resented Selznick’s interference.  (And, while Rebecca is undoubtedly a good film that was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it’s not exactly a Hitchcock film in the way that Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, or Vertigo are Hitchcock films.)  As a result, Hitchcock subsequently made it a point to edit future pictures in camera so that the studios would not be able to re-edit his films.

But, whether you consider it to be a Hitchcock picture or a Selznick production, Rebecca remains a wonderfully watchable melodrama.