Friday, August 14, 2009

Kitty Foyle (1940): Ginger Proves She Can


They started out "flying down to rio" and ended up telling the story of the famous dancing Castles with nine movie hits by 1939. They were Fred and Ginger. Yep, Astaire and Rogers, and they were the most famous movie dance team in film history. In 1939, after six years of hoofing, waltzing and generally making movie magic, they shot their last film together (until Ginger took over for an ailing Judy Garland opposite Fred in 1949's The Barkley's of Broadway). They made major money for not so major studio RKO, but each wanted to branch out in his or her own career path. Rogers had been making strides in a solo starring career for a few years by the time they parted company, in fact she had been a supporting player and minor lead for years. More recently she had made a splash in Stage Door (1937), Having Wonderful Time (1938) and Bachelor Mother (1939). Next she wanted to break out in dramatic roles.


Kitty Foyle was a bestselling novel by Christopher Morley about a career working girl from humble beginnings in Philadelphia, who gets involved with two men, a rich playboy with an upper crust pedigree Wynward "Wyn" Strafford VI (Dennis Morgan) and a poor but idealistic doctor Mark Eisen (James Craig). Wyn is her first and true love, but their differences in social standing create problems. Despite protests from her blustering but loving Irish father, Kitty falls head over heels for the loaded pretty boy and takes a job as his personal secretary at the struggling magazine he owns (his money is not his own but a trust fund from the Main Line family he refuses to break from). When the rag folds and she realizes Wyn will never buck up against his family, she takes a job in New York. There she meets Mark, who woos her much differently than Wyn had, choosing to play cards in the tiny apartment she shares with two other girls. When the Philadelphia freewheeler, whom she'd never gotten out of her system, shows up in New York, Kitty throws over her solid steady and marries Wyn. When the couple returns, with wedding bands in tow, to Philadelphia, Kitty's fears about the social gap between them proves legitimate and they split as quickly as they had joined. More turmoil, more heartache for the heroine and by the end of the picture she has a big decision to make.


The film is a grand showcase for Rogers, who traded her honey blond hair for a brunette coif to push the drama a little farther away from the comedy. Although a well produced film, if not for Ginger and the RKO build it would have been a standard soaper in its day. Instead it was the studio's biggest financial success of the year (#10 of top grossing films for 1940) and nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture of the year. Also nominated was none other than former Astaire dancing partner, Ginger Rogers for Best Actress. Her competition was fierce, going up against Bette Davis in The Letter, Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, Martha Scott in Our Town and her old RKO rival Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. When the winner was announced in 1941 it was the lovely Miss Rogers. She had broken away from her lightweight image and won the highest honor the industry could bestow.

14 comments:

  1. Great review! She danced from Texas to Tinsletown. I plan on reading her autobiography after I finish Cary Grant's. She was great as Kitty Foyle.

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  2. While Kitty Foyle is not Ginger's best film (a great one, but not the greatest), I did really enjoy it, and I even cheered at the end!

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  3. As always, Rupert, an insightful peek into cinema's fabulous past. Thanks!

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  4. Great review! Probably my favourite Ginger Rogers performance, though she gave many great and versatile performances throughout her career!

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  5. Fascinating blog entry once again! This is another instance of an overlooked film in terms of Oscar-winners. I agree that this isn't Rogers' best role and it is a soaper but it does stay with you. I remember seeing it as a kid and finding the whole thing very sad. Seeing it again years later it's less sad and more hopefully poignant.

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  6. I saw Ginger Rogers star in "Hello Dolly" around 1965 or so, when I was 15 or so, live at the LA Music Center. They didn't show any Fred and Ginger films on LA TV in those days.

    I will never forget her standing in front of the closed curtain, after her applause. She told us LA meant so much to her, especially in the early days of her career. She thanked us, so humbly and sweetly. I remember wondering, just what had been her career? I only had a couple old movie books, full of photos, but no other reference to her musical.s

    A few years later I was able to finally see Fred and Ginger films, terribly cut up, late at night on TV. Then more here and there on TV, finally in all their glory TCM! I will never forget her wonderful speech!

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  7. thios is a lovely entry, and while I agree, it's not GInger's best role, it deserves more recogition than it gets! xx

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  8. When I saw this a few months ago, I found it a most enjoyable experience. I've always found Ginger to be a charming actress but one with a limited range. She could be very effective if she stayed within that range, and I especially liked her in "Stage Door" and "Bachelor Mother" and, of course, the best movies she made with Fred Astaire, like "Top Hat" and "Swing Time." I would say that this is Ginger's best performance, if only for the fact that it was her most demanding and she seemed well up to the challenge, and I can't imagine the movie would have been this good with anyone else in the lead. I wouldn't say that she deserved an Oscar for this performance over the other contenders that year. The Oscar was probably a fluke resulting from the big three other nominees (Hepburn, Davis, and Fontaine) splitting the vote and Ginger picking up extra votes in a kind of career reward for being such a trouper. Trivia note: Ginger's blonde roommate was played by K.T. Stevens, daughter of the film's director, Sam Wood.

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  9. This is one of my favorite movies. It's unforgettable. My favorite scene is toward the end when she imagines her son as president sixty years into the future, in the year 2000.

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  10. Wonderful review again Rupert! This is one of my favorite Ginger Rogers movie, not my fave but one of them. She is wonderful in it. You always pick great movies or movies that I haven't seen that when I do see them they are always ones that I enjoy so much I will always want to see them again. You should do this professionally.

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  11. I'll be watching this movie for the 5th time. Can't get enough of Ginger!

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  12. Hi:) I was born in the 1960's, in my 40's now, and although I've watched some movies from the 1930's and 1940's, I have not seen a great many. So I'd like to ask you more experienced classic movie viewers to comment on my perspective on "Kitty Foyle:" It seems this movie is somewhat of a "pioneer" sort-of-feminist film, considering it was made in 1940. In spite of being swept off her feet by Wynn, falling in love with him, and marrying him, Kitty stayed remarkably true to herself, her own standards, and to what she wanted out of life when she made the painful decision to divorce him. She lost the one she felt was her true love, but she kept her self-respect. I like it that Kitty has spunk, intelligence, a can-do attitude, optimism balanced with common sense, an extremely healthy amount of self-confidence, and self-respect. Yes, the movie's storyline has a soap-opera quality to it, but Ginger Rogers plays Kitty with realistic common sense (down-to-earth) and a lack of self-pity that is very appealing and makes Kitty a realistic character. I was impressed that a 1940 movie portrayed an everyday working girl defining herself by her own personal standards and character, rather than defining herself by marriage. It seemed remarkable that a 1940 movie showed Kitty unwilling to compromise at all to save her marriage to Wynn...It seems like, in 1940, Kitty (with her lower-economic-class upbringing) marrying Wynn (handsome, nice rich guy) would have seemed like Kitty got the "brass ring" to moviegoers of that era, and would have expected Kitty to compromise a little to save her marriage. An interesting and enjoyable classic movie!

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  13. I loved it so much that I named my eldest son, Wynn...after Dennis Morgan's character- although I varied it and named him, Wynndham.

    I wish I could see a close-up image of the ring that was a family heirloom. Is is in museum somewhere? I would love to see any memorabilia from the set if it still exists.
    My favorite movie of all time.

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    1. I own the dressing mirror from the movie Kitty Foil.
      It is the tall gold tri-fold beveled mirror with two lamps each with double shades and porcelain figures attached and small drawers below each lamp with carved acanthus legs. The lamps still have the Hollywood labels!! There is green fabric towards the base.

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