Friday, December 26, 2008

Stolen Holiday (1937)


Cast:
Kay Francis ... Nicole 'Nicky' Picot
Claude Rains ... Stefan Orloff
Ian Hunter ... Anthony 'Tony' Wayne
Alison Skipworth ... Suzanne, Nicole's Assistant and Friend
Alexander D'Arcy ... Leon Anatole, Orloff's Assistant
Betty Lawford ... Helen Tuttle
Walter Kingsford ... Francis Chalon, Publisher
Charles Halton ... LeGrande
Frank Reicher ... Charles Rainer, Credit Municipal
Frank Conroy ... Dupont, Crooked Policeman
Egon Brecher ... Bergery
Robert Strange ... Prefect of Police
Kathleen Howard ... Madame Delphine
Wedgewood Nowell ... M. Borel, Swiss Printer


Directed by Michael Curtiz.
Produced by Hal B. Wallis.

Story by Warren Duff & Virginia Kellogg.
Screenplay by Casey Robinson.
Musical Direction by Leo F. Forbstein.
Musical Composition by Al Dubin, Werner R. Heymann, Heinz Reomheld, & Harry Warren.
Art Direction by Anton Grot.
Gowns by Orry-Kelly.
Special Effects by Fred Jackman.
Cinematography by Sid Hickox.
Film Editing by Terry Morse.

A Warner Bros. Picture.
Released February 1, 1937.


Background:


Kay Francis’ importance at Warner Brothers was showcased beautifully in Stolen Holiday, one of the best examples for Kay’s consideration of being the most glamorous woman to ever grace the screen.

She plays a Parisian fashion model---of American decent---who teams up with a creepy Russian to form an economical empire, only to watch it crumble as she falls in love with an honest Englishman. For the casting of that “honest Englishman” the studio had clearly only one player who fit the bill, Ian Hunter, who had worked so well opposite Kay in I Found Stella Parish (1935) and The White Angel (1936).

The scandal was based on, surprisingly, a real life story which took Paris by storm. Andre Stavisky, the man who Claude Rains’ character was based, was a notorious embezzler who sold false bonds and ran a corrupt pawn shop to cover his tracks. Arlette Simon was a Coco Chanel model who had married Stavisky; her exact play in his actions is unknown, and Warner Brothers may have exaggerated her importance to enhance the plot for Kay, the film’s real star.

Either way, the plot works.

Michael Curtiz was one of Kay’s best directors. His work with her on Mandalay and British Agent (both 1934) were especially remarkable, and Warner Brothers went all out for Kay on this one. The production values are of the utmost quality, she’s beautifully lit and breathtakingly gowned. Clearly this was an expensive movie, and it proved to be one of their most profitable of the season. Filming began July 20, 1936 with locations shoots including Lake Arrowhead, California.

Critics raved about Stolen Holiday, and after its release, Kay was voted the sixth most popular female movie star in the entire industry. Her $209,000 salary for that year topped producer Hal Wallis’, and made her one of the highest paid females in the entire country. Clearly she was anything but “washed-up” as late as 1937, and---finally---people are beginning to wake up and realize that there was more to her falling out with Warner Brothers than a declining status.


Below: Kay personified glamour in Stolen Holiday. Warner Brothers took advantage of their expense on her with stunning portraits like this one.



Below: Kay and Claude Rains share an unusual relationship in Stolen Holiday, their only film together.




Webmaster's Review

The film opens in Paris, 1931. Beautiful mannequins parade the latest fashions, and we are introduced to Nicole Picot right away. She is one of the models parading a beautiful wardrobe. Kay’s hair is slicked back as it was in her Paramount years, which gives a great affect to help date the setting.

Stephan Orloff takes Nicole back to his home to model clothes. Inside the beautiful, but mysterious mansion, Nicole quickly realizes they are alone. He tells her to put on the dress she was wearing when he walked into the shop, and when she can’t find him, she begins to yell. “Don’t do that!” he shouts.

Realizing his sick intentions, she decides to leave, but he locks her in. Steven mentions that he is in need of money, and Nicole will be used to get it for him. He tempts her with the offer of a sophisticated lifestyle, and she accepts.

Five years later they have everything they want, including the House of Picot, which has become one of the biggest, most important companies in the fashion world. A huge parade of mannequins modeling either some of the most beautiful or ridiculous fashion one will ever see follows.

Stephen throws a ball in the White Room of the Hotel Eugenie, and Kay makes one of her greatest entrances in a white evening gown with a white turban. The set is beautiful, completed with marble floors and breath-taking chandeliers.

Nicole meets British Diplomat Anthony Wayne when he refers to her dress as “frightful.” She thanks him and smile, making him look absolutely stupid as he dances with another woman.

When Stephen and Nicole have a drink and cigarette, they briefly discuss marriage, and the rumors surrounding their relationship. After he leaves to discuss his shady business deals, Nicole and Anthony make eyes at each other.

Nicole and Stephan board a plane to Switzerland. Anthony is on board the plane two, and is surprised to see Nicole, who snubs him for his “ugly” coat. Suzanne, who hates Stephan, like Anthony, and tries to play matchmaker. She sets the two up on a date, where they laugh, flirt, and get to know each other.

Anthony and Nicole go for a ride. Kay wears one of the ugliest dresses of her career, and the two hit a bump on the road, which kills the engine. Laughing it off, the two decide to walk. When they reach a house for help, they realize no one is inside, but of course there is food and chickens for them to make a meal out of. Typical of the Hollywood fluff at the time, the two are clearly falling in love.

The French police invade Steven’s bogus bank. “Don’t exaggerate it into a flood,” he snaps to his associates. “In your fright you gentlemen forget that we still have the most valuable asset of all, time. Time to cover up the pawn shop affair, time to sell our bonds and come out with a tremendous profit.”

Back in Switzerland, Nicole and Anthony return to her room where they kiss. Their making out is interrupted by a telephone call, informing her that Stephan is in a major scandal. She returns to Paris to find out what’s going on. Stephen completely lies to her, saying that he trusted thieves and he’s completely innocent. He talks Nicole into marrying him. Inviting important people to a lavish wedding might save him. “But I don’t see how a wedding could save you,” Nicole says.

“We will have such a wedding as Paris has never seen,“ Stephen responds. “Invite only the most important people.”

Anthony and Nicole are broken hearted, realizing they will be forced to break up. On the day of her wedding, Nicole appears almost suicidal. After the wedding, the police arrive to investigate the scandal. Nicole refuses to run away with him, and his disappearance causes a major headlined sandal.


The people of Paris are livid, and mobs form outside Nicole’s shops where rocks start being thrown through the windows. Director Michael Curtiz makes this almost as dramatic as the mobs of Paris storming the Palace of Versailles during the French Revolution.

Anthony arrives at the mansion to persuade Nicole to leave Stephan for good. It doesn’t exactly work, but she leaves to find him and give him a piece of her mind. When he learns that she will still do anything for him, Stephan realizes how much of a creep he is for taking advantage of her friendship.

When he walks outside, Stephan is shot down by police, but it is announced that he put a gun to his head. Since Nicole and Suzanne are innocent, they are free to carry on with their lives. However, Nicole finally agrees to marry Anthony, even if she is a “marked woman.”

This is one of Kay’s best (but frustrating) movies. It’s not good because of any stellar story line, but mostly because she’s beautifully lit in gorgeous gowns and placed in expensive surroundings. Stolen Holiday is proof of Kay’s importance to Warner Brothers at this point in her career. You won’t find any of Bette Davis’ movies of this era looking so good.

And, boy, does Stolen Holiday look good.

She doesn't have to act here---though she does have her emotional moments when she longs for Ian Hunter. But, please, this is Kay Francis just being Kay Francis. There's no acting involved here. She doesn't have to. Kay was interesting enough to allow her presence to act for her. She's just along for the ride, beautifully gowned in breath-taking clothes and surrounded by beautiful sets, lavishly produced to the point where they look like real places, not like the grandoise castles MGM surrounded Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Garbo in.


I was never a big fan of Claude Rains, and in this movie he is completely despicable. But my personal opinions aside, he gives a damn good performance as the rat. His acting is so convincing, it almost makes one wonder how oblivious Kay’s Nicole is to let his intentions go unnoticed.

Kay and Ian Hunter never really had great chemistry, but they do good with their characters’ situations. The two of them are really charming in the countryside scenes, even if it is a little ridiculous for them to find an empty house completely loaded with fresh food---including bread---but no trace of a family who lives there.

Hunter is another one who doesn't need to put a performance on here. All he is required to do from us is support Kay, and be the man who loves her despite her association with Orloff.

Still, they both play togther nicely, and Stolen Holiday may be the best film the two made as a romantic team. I wouldn’t recommend this as an introduction to Kay’s work, though. While it's a perfect movie for her, there’s something about this one that everyone finds slightly unlikable, though no one has ever really figured out what it is.

My guess would be that it's a film that, had just a little more effort been put into the script, it would be flawless.

Stolen Holiday was a major success for everyone involved. Kay was voted the sixth most popular leading lady in Hollywood by Variety shortly after the film was released, and the critics loved the movie as much as the audience did.

Today, it survives as the ideal Kay Francis vehicle, and gives us a clear explanation on why she was so popular at the time.

Below: Kay made this stunning entrance in Stolen Holiday, which flaunted the movie's extravagence from Warner Brothers. Audiences were in awe of Kay's beauty and style as a Parisian fashion model.



Vintage Reviews:

Written by Frank S. Nugent.
Published February 1, 1937 in the New York Times.

Despite an unusually insistent bit of prefatory splutter about the similarity of its characters to “persons living or dead” being pure coincidence, the Strand’s Stolen Holiday, the Warner Brothers’ latest film setting for the darkly lithesome charms of Miss Kay Francis, is a highly romanticized although essentially accurate account of France’s celebrated Bayonne pawnshop scandals.

As film entertainment it moves listlessly, freighted as it is with leisurely assemblages in incredibly lavish surroundings and conspirators who play hide-and-seek with a frock-coated prefecture. It is considerably over wordy, too, because this in one Miss Francis’s heart is torn between love and friendship, and the brief advanced for each is paradoxically lengthy. If the picture is at all distinguished, it is because Claude Rains does a superb job with the character whom the film’s producers would have you believe is not patterned after the late M. Serge Alexandre Stavisky; and because, first as a manikin and later as a successful modiste, Kay Francis parades the most striking wardrobe that Hollywood’s couturiers can conceive in the Paris manner.

The film’s Stefan Orloff, a Russian fortune hunter with an unsavory background, is protected by financiers, police officials, legislatures, and Cabinet Ministers in his ingenious swindle, and when the inverted financial pyramid begins to tepple he flees to the South of France. This is a very remarkable series of coincidences, because it is past what M. Stavisky did. At that point in his career, M. Stavisky was either murdered or committed suicide. The film’s M. Orloff is definitely murdered, probably due less to the Warner convictions in affaire Stavisky than to the fact that the Legion of Decency objects suicide in pictures. At any rate, the passing of this character leaves the widow, Miss Francis, free to follow the dictates of her to-way heart concerning Mr. Ian Hunter.

Below: Ian Hunter and Kay Francis share this intimate scene in Stolen Holiday (1937).










Movie screenshots from my DVD:
[Note: the Warner Bros. Archive DVD of the film has much superior quality.]














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