Kay Francis ... Dulce Morado
Kay Johnson ... Katherine 'Cassy' Pringle Wallace
Charles Bickford ... Dan Wallace
Winter Hall ... Leroy Pringle
Lewis Stone ... Antonio 'Tony' Morado
Zasu Pitts ... Mrs. Harney, landlady / nurse
Dickie Moore ... Tommy Wallace
Directed by William C. DeMille.
Based on a Novel by Kathleen Norris.
Adaptation by Martin Flavin.
Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons.
Gowns by Adrian.
Film Editing by Conrad A. Nervig.
A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Picture.
Released December 19, 1930.
Kay Johnson, one of the lesser promising stars of the early 1930s, played the cousin. She and Kay had met each other a few years back, and Johnson had even confessed to Kay that she would always be the love of her life. Their affair didn’t extend much; Kay Francis didn’t see Kay Johnson in that way at all, and that probably led to its fair share of awkward moments behind the scenes.
Charles Bickford, who had just scored notoriety opposite Greta Garbo in her first talking film, Anna Christie, was upset over his casting, rightfully calling the movie “melodramatic claptrap.” In his autobiography, Bickford insulted producer Irving Thalberg for denying his request to be loaned out to RKO to appear in Cimarron (1931), and casting him in this predictable dud instead.
Kathleen Norris had been a popular author of melodramatic romantic novels which had been brought to the screen several times. Lucretia Lombard (1923), a melodrama of the similar make as Passion Flower, is a prime example of Norris’ work (Lombard was based on Norris‘ Flaming Passion). About a spoiled brat who gets everything in life but the affections from the man she loves, the film had been a major promotion for a young Norma Shearer, who played the spoiled brat. Irene Rich played Lucretia Lombard.
Completed at a production cost of $259,000, Passion Flower appeared as a second-rate attraction but earned a respectable $642,000 at the box office. It was a major boost for Kay, though Variety doubted that “this brunette will ever achieve stardom.”
Three more movies, Guilty Hands (1931), Storm at Daybreak (1933), and The Feminine Touch (1941), would be Kay’s only other films for Metro Goldwyn Mayer, a studio which probably wouldn’t have known what to do with Kay if she was under contract. Aside from her infamous falling-out with Warner Brothers in the late 1930s, one can not over-look the promotion Warners---clearly the only studio which understood her potential---gave her.
They made Kay Francis a star. Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Fox, and RKO probably couldn’t have.
Box office Numbers
Cost of Production: $259,000
Domestic Gross: $470,000
Forgein Gross: $172,000
Total Gross: $642,000
Dulce arrives at her Uncle’s house. She’s greeted by an over joyous cousin, Cassy, who tells Dulce she is in love with a man who has no name or money, someone whom her father certainly won’t approve of. But Dulce doesn’t see it Cassy’s way. She married for money, not love, and doesn’t understand Cassy’s idea of romance.
There is a confrontation between Cassy, her father, and Dan Wallace, Cassy’s lover, who tells her father that he is deeply in love with Cassy, who decides to leave high society life behind to marry Dan. As Dulce comes to realize that love can be more important than money, Dulce tells Dan and Cassy that they can have their wedding at her home.
A farm is the wedding gift from Dulce and her husband, Antonio, but Dan doesn’t accept it. He’s going to support Cassy on his own, and doesn’t need anybody else’s help. Instead they take the top flat in a boarding house with a landlord who “isn’t quite sure” they’re going to “like it.” She’s grim, sarcastic, but a good source for comic relief.
They take the flat for $20 a month.
Soon they have a son named Tommy and a baby daughter, Audrey. It’s their fifth wedding anniversary, and Dulce is over to help Cassy prepare the dinner. The landlord brings the news of a neighbor’s son---who is just about Tommy’s age---who has been run over and killed. Dulce insists that Cassy should take Dan and the kids away from the neighborhood, particularly when Dan looses his job.
Dan and Dulce have a confrontation because Dulce can’t keep her mouth shut. He tells her that he would like her to keep out of his family life because she’s been “waiting for five years for him to fall off his feet” so she can pick him back up.
“Oh, let’s not say ‘thick,’ darling,” Dulce responds. “Let’s say dumb.”
They smile and shake hands.
Dan and Dulce go for a horseback ride through the country. Stopping at an edge, they’re surrounded by beautiful mountains, trees, and fields in the valleys. It’s a beautiful set up.
Back at Dulce’s home, Dan is taken in by her charming request for him to stay for dinner. When she comes down the stairs in a beautiful gown, Tony tells her that she’s making a big mistake by flirting with Dan, and that she will ruin her life if she continues their relationship any further.
“My life couldn’t be more ruined any more than it already is,” she tells Tony. “It’s hasn’t been heaven living like this. Oh, I’m sorry, Tony, didn’t mean to hurt you…”
When Dulce runs into Dan in the living room, she admits her unhappiness with Tony and her love for him. He tells her that he could never leave Cassy for her, after all those years Cassy stuck by Dan while they struggled to get by with grim results. They come to a modest conclusion that they mustn’t continue their relationship any further.
In the meantime, Cassy gets word that her father is very ill, possibly dying. Because Dan took the car to Dulce’s, Cassy had to walk over to the house to ask Dulce for her car. What Dan and Dulce don’t realize at first is that Cassy has watched everything from outside the window, including a kiss Dulce and Dan shared. She confronts Dulce about it. “I did fight against it,” she says, trying to defend her actions. “Love isn’t a thing you can control.”
Cassy refuses to speak to her, and is gets back to her father’s house to find out that he has died, and has left her a substantial amount of money. That very day, she also loses her husband.
There is a heartbreaking scene in which Cassy is putting Tommy to bed. His little hands wipe the tears from her eyes and says, “Didn’t think you cried, Mommy.” Thinking things over, Cassy writes a litter to Dan, who has gotten a lot more comfortable with Dulce ever since Tony died. The letter asks him to return to her, but it’s message is eclipsed by the news that Dulce is free to marry Dan.
He doesn’t take the offer up.
Rereading the letter from Cassy, and looking at a photograph of his children which came with it, he decides to visit his family. Dan is working class, and is fed up with Dulce’s way of life, which consists of high society parties and meaningless friendships.
Dan decides to leave Dulce, who insists that she is leaving him. He has a family and genuine love with Cassy, something Dulcy probably could never really give to him. The film ends with her telling him goodbye, and Dan, Tommy, and Cassy deciding that things are going to return to the way they were before he left the family.
Kay is beautiful, particularly at the scenes of the wedding and the party in which Dan receives the letter from Cassy and Dulce hears news of Tony’s death. Her hair has grown-out more, and Adrian has gowned her beautifully throughout the entire film, with the exception of the hat she wears in the opening sequence, which makes her look like a desert storm trooper.
Her acting in the beginning it a little flamboyant and showy. She talks with her hands, sarcastically smiles in an all-knowing way, and says her lines with an emphasis on certain words to indicate her character is a narrow-minded snob. As Dulce’s eyes begin to open up and see love for what it really is, she becomes more natural and is a pleasure to watch.
Johnson is good in that Pollyanna-sort of nature. Her character’s actions are more down to Earth, and she’s forgiving in her husband after his affair with Dulce in a way which doesn’t tarnish her own dignity. She holds her own against her cousin, letting her know that if Dan decides to return, okay, if not, that’s just fine. She’ll always love him, but will move on with her life.
Charles Bickford was playing a role which is hard to imagine anyone else playing. Cimarron obviously is far better than Passion Flower in terms of story, direction, and dialogue, but his acting in Flower is fairly good. I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of his, but I like his work in this one.
Dickie More is good, too. He’s one of my favorite child stars, because he was mischievous and funny at the same time. A lot of the other child stars of this era were bratty and all-knowing.
Passion Flower was a second-rate feature but did respectable at the box office. With Kay Francis’ name heading the cast, it made a substantial profit which encouraged Paramount to give Kay more starring roles and have her loaned out for more, too. Transgression (1931), which was made for RKO, was a perfect follow-up for Passion Flower.
Films like these forwarded Kay Francis’ transition from second-billed leading lady to Hollywood superstar.