Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks Kitty Foyle should have won an Oscar for Best Performance by a Snow Globe in a Major Motion Picture.
"It takes six generations to make a bunch of people like you and, by
Judas Priest, I don't have that much time."
The subtitle on this 1940 movie, which won a best actress Oscar for Ginger Rogers, is "The Natural History of a Woman." In her remarks on Lux Radio Theater, Ginger Rogers suggested there were "several million girls like Kitty Foyle" out there in 1941. An introductory montage of women's lives in the 20th Century tries to make that point as well. You won't get far into this Main Line melodrama, though, before you figure out that Kitty Foyle's life wasn't the typical life of a working woman in 1940, or any other year. Perhaps that's why it was RKO's top moneymaker for the year.
Facts of the Case
When we first meet Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers, Top Hat), she's making one of those tough choices that only come up in movies: choosing between a marriage proposal from an idealistic doctor, whom she has just assisted in a childbirth in a rundown apartment, and her wealthy ex-beau, who has just ditched his society wife and arrived at her domicile, asking her to go to Buenos Aires with him.
Kitty's ready to take off for Argentina, but an objection is raised—by Kitty's reflection in the mirror, acting as her conscience, warning her that she doesn't want to end up living her life as "that woman Wyn's mixed up with." Kitty's reflection also serves as our narrator in flashbacks. As Kitty stares into a snow globe showing a girl on a sled, we see how her life went downhill…
She meets Wyn—Wynnewood Stratford VI (Dennis Morgan, Christmas in Connecticut)—when he visits her Pop (Ernest Cossart, The Jolson Story) for help with an article for his new magazine. Wyn instantly takes to Kitty and sees great potential in her…as a typist in his office. She takes the job. A mishap with a Dictaphone lets Kitty know that Wyn likes her as much as she likes him. Soon she's being romanced in style, albeit in hidden New York speakeasies beyond the eyes of Wyn's Philadelphia peers.
After the folding of Wyn's magazine and the death of Pop, Kitty heads for New York, where she finds a job in an exclusive department store. When she feigns fainting to hide the fact that she set off a burglar alarm by mistake and caused a panic, she meets Mark (James Craig, Last of the Desperadoes), a doctor whose idea of a first date is a few games of cards over coffee at her place. Although Kitty (and her roommates) aren't crazy about that, she takes to him. It looks like they'll marry, but Wyn comes back, bearing flowers.
Kitty Foyle was one of two popular 1940 movies that put Philadelphia's wealthy Main Line suburbs, first joined by rail to the city in the 1800s, on the map (the other was The Philadelphia Story).
As Kitty, Ginger Rogers comes across as a tough dame, self-reliant and quick with a quip, but with a tender heart. As she goes through joy, heartbreak, and tragedy, Rogers's expressive face brings Kitty's emotions to the surface clearly and sympathetically. It gets quite a workout, with two whirlwind romances, a speedy marriage and equally speedy divorce, and a pregnancy and miscarriage. The actors playing her devoted beaus don't get to show much emotion, since they're only there for Rogers to react off of, but Dennis Morgan and James Craig both get to show light comic touches in some only-in-movies situations, such as that Dictaphone mixup.
While the melodramatic plot from Christopher Morley's novel is telegraphed at every turn, the delight is in the dialogue here. Dalton Trumbo's (A Guy Named Joe, Papillon) script (with additional dialogue by Donald Ogden Stewart—no relation to me—who handled the same job with The Philadelphia Story) gives the actors lines with sharp edges: "Do you know the first thing I thought of when I saw you this afternoon?" Mark asks Kitty on their first date. "Yes," she says. Elsewhere, Kitty gets to quip on her Depression-era business school diploma: "All you needed to get a job was this fancy document—and a miracle." Pop gets a few good ones as well, as when he calls his father a real Main Liner: "He laid down the tracks."
The script also finds humor in looking backward. One of my favorite scenes shows speakeasy operator Giono (Edward Ciannelli, Foreign Correspondent) confidently telling Wyn that "Roosevelt will never make it" on the night of the 1932 presidential election, then slowly disintegrating into despair as the "wet" president who could end Prohibition and make his line of work unprofitable charges into office. Running a speakeasy isn't the only crime here; character actor Ciannelli handily steals the scene from Morgan and Rogers. Elsewhere, Ernest Cossart gets to steal a few scenes, too.
The transfer is good, showing contrasts sharply in the black-and-white movie with only the barest hints of grain. The lighting puts the focus on Rogers's lovely face to show off all its expressive glory. The sound's also decent for mono, with period music in the background setting many a flashback scene.
Despite the punny title, the cartoon "Kitty Foiled" has nothing to do with the movie, although it does find Tom the cat torn between two entrees: Jerry the mouse and a Tweety-like bird. Chances are you'll like the other cartoon, "Bad Luck Blackie," (featured here because of a quick Kitty Foyle reference) better, since it offers a more inventively surreal take on a battle between dog and kitten, courtesy of Tex Avery.
Condensed versions of Kitty Foyle are featured in the two radio shows included here. The Lux Radio Theatre version, clocking in at an hour, is the best adaptation. You miss some of the supporting character moments, but you get to hear famed director Cecil B. DeMille (The Ten Commandments) pushing Lux soap. The volume dips in places, which you know is a natural hazard if you're an old-time radio fan. If you really want to hear Kitty Foyle in short form, you can get the plot, sort of, in a half-hour of Academy Award Theatre. I found this one, um, dreadful. There's no presentation with the radio shows. If you've caught the slideshow of Orson Welles in action that went with the soundtrack from his 1938 radio play on the recent DVD of 1953's The War of the Worlds, you might be disappointed by the lack of similar visuals here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This working-girl melodrama definitely is dated, as you'd guess from plot twists like the convenient miscarriage in the last reel. It's also a far cry from the light musicals with Fred Astaire for which fans remember Ginger Rogers today.
I found the plot predictable and tedious, but this movie has some good performances and witty moments that made this a pleasant diversion and a nice evening at the DVD player. If you're checking out Oscar-winning performances or Ginger Rogers movies, this one's a little too melodramatic to live up to its hype, but it's not a disappointment.
Not guilty, although I expect it gave those several million would-be Kitty Foyles back in 1940 an aversion to mirrors and snow globes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Bad Luck Blackie" Cartoon
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