As Summer Under the Stars rolls along, I have been recording those movies that I feel are important onto my DVR, so that I may have them as points of reference–both for this blog and for my own personal interests. The day devoted to Ginger Rogers was especially fruitful, and I recorded a good 6 or 7 movies over the course of the day, the most important of which was undoubtedly Kitty Foyle (1940), Ginger Rogers’ Academy Award-winning turn as a lower-class Philadelphia woman dealing with a multitude of domestic woes. The film is highly lauded, and it is certainly one of the most prominent films to come out of the 1940’s.
The film is told in flashback, and it is made clear that the main character, Kitty Foyle, is struggling with a decision on whether to marry a man who loves her, or to elope with an already-married man with whom she has been in love for years. While she grapples with her decision, the film flashes back to her youth. Working as a secretary in the magazine office of Wyn Strafford, a friend of her father’s, Kitty falls deeply in love with her employer, but when the magazine folds, Kitty needs to find other work and Wyn doesn’t have the courage to propose to a lower-class woman. Kitty goes to New York, where she begins work at a perfume counter, and when she accidentally presses the burglar button, she pretends to faint in order to avoid trouble. The doctor who attends her is amused by her pretense, and they go on a date–falling in love themselves.
When Wyn comes around and finally does propose marriage to Kitty, she accepts and they marry. Upon meeting his family and getting a poor reception, it becomes clear that the marriage will not work. They divorce, and Kitty goes back to New York. While in New York, Kitty learns that she is pregnant, and her hopes of creating a new life with a baby are kindled. It is at this point, too, that Kitty reads of Wyn’s engagement to a girl of his own class, right before an arranged meeting between Kitty and Wyn. The meeting never happens, and when Kitty gives birth to her baby, a boy, he dies at birth.
Years later, after opening up a Philadelphia office of the perfume company for which she works, she by chance waits on Wyn’s wife and their young son. Upon meeting and connecting with the boy, never letting on her identity, she sees the family for what it is and decides not to pursue Wyn anymore. The flashback ends, and Kitty marries Mark.
As I mentioned before, this is a movie that is very highly praised, but there seem to be two camps in the classic Hollywood community regarding this film–the camp of those who love it, and that of those who hate it. Personally, I’m not crazy about it. It has the potential to be a great story, and Ginger Rogers is certainly good. For me, too many parts are trite or corny–there is one scene at the beginning in which Kitty essentially has a dialogue with her reflection in the mirror. I understand the purpose behind it, to give the character a background, but I feel it could have been done in a more real way. This is an intensely real movie, and any fantasy as such is entirely out of place. I feel the script is not as well-written as it could be (I hate having to say that, as the screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, a very respected screenwriter whose career was seriously complicated when he was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee following a refusal to testify), and the plot is a bit hard to follow.
That said, it is one of the better films to come out of 1940, and though I question Ginger Rogers’ deserving the Oscar that year (she was in competition with Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, who I think was robbed of the 1940 Oscar), she turned in a solid, grade A performance that was probably the highlight of the film. The scene where she finds out that her baby has died is magnificent.
Here is a picture of Ginger posing with Jimmy Stewart, who was the Best Actor winner that year for The Philadelphia Story. Interesting that both the Best Actor and Best Actress winners of 1940 starred in movies dealing with Philadelphia.
Thanks for reading!