…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
It’s rather funny that the subtitle to the film Kitty Foyle is “The Natural History of a Woman”, because at first viewing, it seems anything but. Ginger Rogers took home the Oscar for 1940’s Best Actress for playing a supposedly forward-thinking, career-focused woman, but don’t let the character set-up fool you. With our female protagonist bouncing between two dashing men and almost too gamely appealing to their every whim, this movie plays like a soap opera when all is said and done. That’s not to say that it is necessarily a bad picture – just not, perhaps a stellar one story-wise, if it aims to make some early feminist strides (were they really even thinking in that direction in 1940? I wonder…). But I digress.
Told in flashback, the film basically relates Kitty Foyle’s (Rogers) relationship with two loves over the passage of time. From the get-go, we see that Kitty is a pretty solid, grounded young woman with a head on her shoulders, but when it comes to affairs of the heart, well… she sadly gets a little flighty. One gets the impression that the premise of the film was to set one rather independent woman’s story in the 1930s-40s as a specific example of the progress of women over time. With the advent of votes for woman in the 1920s, women could ‘speak up’ more for themselves and not bow to the persistent and sometimes pesky needs of the average Joe governing their lives. Starting from this basis, I was interested to see where Kitty Foyle might proceed with it. I’m not sure it completely succeeded.
Over the course of the movie, Kitty falls head over heels for her boss at a small independent magazine in her hometown of Philadelphia, Main-Liner Wynn Strafford (played by a dashing and almost too perfectly even-toothed Dennis Morgan – the camera gets a ton of mileage off his grin here). Wynn romances Kitty to the hilt, and almost sets the highest standards by which Kitty will probably forever judge any men after – as evidenced when she eventually leaves Wynn when the magazine folds, she is out of a job, and Wynn treats her like a charity case. Kitty flees to New York City to work in a department store and escape memories of their romance, and meets up with a beefcake, somewhat dopey doctor (James Craig) whose first words to her include threatening to jab a hypodermic in her arm. I kid you not, folks. For their first date, he meets Kitty at her apartment and, instead of taking her out for a promised dinner, plays cards with her for three hours straight to test her steadfastness. Yipes. He certainly pales in comparison to Wynn, despite the trespasses Wynn commits nearly 3-4 times within the movie against Kitty. Each time, Kitty flees (albeit somewhat hesitatingly) to the arms of the ‘back-up plan’ doctor, regretting her mistake in trusting Wynn again, only to practically jump with glee when the phone rings and Wynn calls to beg her forgiveness and ask her to come back into his life (oh, brother!). One thing leads to another, eventually Wynn marries, Kitty is engaged to the doctor and… well, you get the idea. You might not predict the ending – but I actually did.
Does my synopsis sound a little cynical – almost like I didn’t enjoy the film? Perhaps. I guess the best way to put it is that I wanted to enjoy this movie more than I did. Rogers does well as Kitty, but I think I just took issue with the inevitability and ‘ditziness’ of her character. I kept thinking and wanting her to have more pride and strong self-esteem – some ‘cohones’, if you will, to keep from rushing into the arms of two men who certainly didn’t deserve her. Rogers dulls down her flaxen locks to a deep auburn for this film and almost makes her appearance a little more nondescript from her Astaire and Rogers dancing musical days, but she is still quite radiant and lovely. I did enjoy the occasional glimpses of gutsiness that Rogers showed with Kitty – as in a powerful, pivotal scene when she goes home to be introduced to Wynn’s snooty family. Rogers is a firecracker as she stands up for herself in this scene, and for a moment I truly thought, “Wow, she certainly did deserve the Oscar!”
Honestly, it’s not that I think it was flat-out Oscar robbery, but pit this performance against the other strong contenders of that year (in particular, Kate Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story and Bette Davis in The Letter) and Rogers sort of pales in comparison. Plus, she is more convincing in roles such as the selfish, budding starlet of Stage Door (1937). Nevertheless, kudos to Rogers for showing she was more than just a pretty face and talented dance partner, in a film whose script really could have benefited from a little character tweaking here and there.