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Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees's Blog

Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees • Location: Athens, Georgia
• Member since: March 2004
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Fantasy Box Set #1: Kay Francis
June 1st, 2005 5:55PM

There are so many neglected movies and stars that deserve DVD attention, Iíve decided to help out the studios by putting together some box sets. So far these are just wishful thinking, but perhaps putting the idea out in the universe will exert some influence, however small, on the powers that be. My self-appointed rules for my imaginary boxed sets are that they shall number five titles that arenít available on DVD in region 1.

For my inaugural entry, Iíve chosen the exotically lovely but largely forgotten Kay Francis, a clotheshorse and popular star of ďwomenís picturesĒ in the 1930s. With her drowsy dark eyes, husky voice, and slinky way of wearing clothes, she was always a striking presence -- and she was adept at both sophisticated comedy, as in 1932ís Trouble in Paradise (released by Criterion), and melodrama. She also turned in memorable performances as liberated women in some refreshingly adult pictures made before the enforcement of the Hays Code, and played an outspoken Florence Nightingale in The White Angel in 1936. Sadly, there are many of her films Iíve never even had the chance to see, so there may be many more gems deserving of DVD release that I donít even know about.

1. One Way Passage, 1932. Francis stars with William Powell in this timeless tearjerker about a dying heiress who falls in love with a convict under sentence of death on an ocean cruise. Deceptions abound! The drama is lightened by the comic supporting characters -- a couple of con artists who sniff out the truth behind all the noble lies. Recommended.

2. Mary Stevens, M.D., 1932. Francis plays an independent single woman, a doctor and -- eventually -- single mom. A great example of the kind of intelligent drama dealing with complex real-life womenís issues that got totally outlawed by the Production Code.

3. Mandalay, 1934. Squeaking in before the Hays Code was enforced, this is a completely implausible and irresistible drama in which Francis is sold into white slavery by her dastardly lover. She becomes the most notorious and powerful prostitute in Mandalay, and parlays her hold over a government official into a brand-new start -- at which point her ex-boyfriend turns up again to ruin it all. The plot gets even more implausible from there.

4. Stolen Holiday, 1937. This isnít as good a movie as it could have been, but between her costar, Claude Rains, and a terrific opening sequence -- not to mention some stunning Ď30s fashions on parade -- itís one of my favorite Francis dramas. She stars as an ambitious fashion model who teams up with shady businessman Rains and later marries him when his reputation needs a boost -- even though sheís fallen in love with a bland diplomat. Uneven but bookended by suspenseful, atmospheric sequences; based on a real-life scandal.

5. In Name Only, 1939. Francis takes a bitchy turn as the doe-eyed but ruthless wife of Cary Grant. When Grant falls in love with sweet widow Carole Lombard, Francis refuses to give him a divorce, since that would mean giving up her status and wealth. Oooh, sheís evil. Terrific drama with great performances all around.

Coming up: Fantasy Box Set #2...

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