Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Always in My Heart (1942)
Kay Francis ... Marjorie 'Mudge' Scott
Walter Huston ... MacKenzie 'Mac' Scott
Gloria Warren ... Victoria 'Vickie' Scott
Patti Hale ... Booley, Angie's Granddaughter (as Patty Hale)
Frankie Thomas ... Martin 'Marty' Scott
Una O'Connor ... Angie, Scotts' Housekeeper
Sidney Blackmer ... Philip Ames
Armida ... Lolita
Frank Puglia ... Joe Borelli
Russell Arms ... Red
Anthony Caruso ... Frank
Elvira Curci ... Rosita Borelli
John Hamilton ... Warden
Harry Lewis ... Steve
Directed by: Jo Graham
Produced by: Walter MacEwen, William Jacobs, and Jo Graham
Original Music by Heinz Roemheld.
Cinematography by Sidney Hickox.
Film Editing by Thomas Pratt.
Art Direction by Hugh Reticker.
Makeup by: Perc Westmore.
Gowns by: Orry-Kelly.
Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $515,000
Domestic Gross: $524,000
Forgein Gross: $1,574,000
Total Gross: $2,098,000
On May 17, 1940, Kay Francis made note of a most unusual circumstance in her diary. “Made up with Jack Warner!” she exclaimed, nearly three-years after their bitter financial battle over Kay’s career with the studio.
Kay Francis had reigned as the top star at Warner Brothers from 1934-1937, after which her career steadily declined at the hands of the Warner Brothers executives so anxious to dispose of her services. Her legal battle with the studio in the fall of 1937 had left both parties with a deserved bitterness, which forced the studio to pull out all the stops to get Kay to quit. She refused, and fought the studio for her $5,250 weekly salary, the highest of any Hollywood star. In the end, both parties lost. Kay’s career had suffered some serious unfixable damage, but she won out on the money, which she made clear was more important to her than any ridiculous B programmers.
By 1942, however, things had turned around. While it was clear Kay’s days as a top female star were over, she was still fairly popular, considering she was a free-lance actress who hated publicity, using every possible opportunity to avoid it. So when Warner Brothers’ new contract star, Walter Huston, insisted on Kay’s casting in his first film under contract, they had no choice but to hire Kay back.
Always in My Heart was a remake of Michael Curtiz’s Daughters Courageous (1939), which had a noteworthy cast even if the film wasn’t spectacular. Always in My Heart contains a story no more inspiring than its predecessor, but, unfortunately, also has a cast which is really only brightened by Kay, Huston, and Una O’Connor. Gloria Warren, Patty Hale, and Frankie Thomas are most annoying as the Scott children, and their presence is worsened by the studio’s attempts to make Warren as star with this film, her screen debut.
Lynn Kear and John Rossman rightfully pointed out The Complete Kay Francis Career Record that Miss Warren’s singing does slow down---what could have been---a nice, little film. Unfortunately the whole hype of her high-pitch sort-of ruins the film for all, most notably Kay, whose character has enough depth to make it the film’s real star. The same goes for Huston’s MacKenzie Scott.
As if Warner Brothers had not forgotten Kay Francis’ belief in the number thirteen, Always in My Heart was released on March 13, 1942 to mediocre reviews and public response. The film turned out to be the last work Kay did with Walter Huston, who had guided her so far in her early stage and film careers. But now Kay was an experienced veteran, and had gained enough knowledge to learn that her great film years were behind her. After two more pictures, and the stint at Monogram, Kay returned to the stage in 1946, where she remained a top player in the eyes of summer-stock theatergoers.
Marjorie Scott is involved with a wealthy man named Philip Ames, much to the disdain of her two children, Martin and Victoria, housekeeper Angie, and Angie’s granddaughter, Booley. The group of five have been on their own for years, and now here comes in this new guy trying to buy everyone’s attention and change everything around.
Martin has plans to go to Dartmouth, while Vicki has a gift for music, and plans on becoming a famous singer. (Booley is only a child, no more than five years of age at the most.) The children believe that their father is dead, but what they don’t know is that he was wrongfully convicted in a crooked deal, and given a life sentence in the prison system.
Marjorie doesn’t know that her husband, Mackenzie, is about to be released. When she goes to visit him, she hears him and his orchestra (yes, an orchestra in a federal penitentiary) reciting a song written by Mac titled, “Always in My Heart.” He tells her, after learning she has met a wealthy man, that he will never be released, and that it is best that she and the children, who have no idea he is alive, move on without him.
What she doesn’t know, is that he is about to be released. That his name has been cleared.
One day, as Vicki is reciting her music on her piano, Mac stops at the door and offers to tune it for her. She goes on about her personal affairs, how much the piano means to her, and about her father, whom she believes is dead, and who was a very talented musician. When she goes to pay him, he insists on not charging her, then secretly leaves as she sings a song for him because he sees Marjorie and Philip pull up in his car.
Marjorie hears Vicki playing a song on the piano which seems familiar. She comes to recognize it as Mac’s song, and asks Vicki where she learned to play it. She comes to realize that Mac is back in town, and goes to see him, asking why he told her that he would never be released. He tells her that it is no use in starting from scratch again all these years later, and tells her to marry Philip, who can give the children so much more than he can.
Vicki begins spending more and more time with Mac, with him teaching her, and a band of harmonica players, tricks of the music trade. One night at Mac’s place, she drops a suitcase of his and sees photos of him and her mother, and puts the pieces together that he is her father. When he talks in, he tries to tell her that the family would be better off with Philip as a supporter, but she won’t listen, and runs home.
Booley overhears plans of Philip’s to send Vicki away to school, though she has told her mother she would rather stay at her side. Vicki, already skeptical of Philip’s intentions, decides to run away, taking a speed boat of Martin’s, and unknowing of the dangerous storm on the high sees.
Martin and Mac take off to rescue Vicki, and when the whole family is reunited, Philip leaves the scene and the family decides to do what Marjorie had always hoped: to start from scratch.
Warner Brothers had a knack for making ludicrous melodramas back in the day, and this is a fine example. When Kay first read the script, she must have thought in her mind that absolutely nothing had changed at the studio in the three years she had been absent. Her big return to her old stomping grounds was ruined by a poor script, and the studio’s desperate attempt to make someone with no star potential famous.
Don’t jump to first assumptions, however. The plot actually has potential. Think of it, a man, wrongfully accused, returns home to a family who thinks he is dead and tries to start over again. It has something, but the music throughout the film, mostly on the part of Gloria Warren, is enough to make your ear drums bleed.
As an actress, Warren is beautiful with a surprising talent, but her voice puts out any spark movie producers must have seen in her dramatic abilities in the film. Always in My Heart was her film debut, and she unsurprisingly failed because of a studio’s desperate attempts to make a profit off of a real talent, Deanna Durbin, but finding a generic rip-off.
The real focus here, should have been on Francis and Huston. Paired for the fourth and final time onscreen, and after appearing on stage together in the 1920s, their chemistry is still unique in a way that isn’t really as special as Huston’s with Ruth Chatterton’s in Dodsworth (1936) or Kay Francis’ with William Powell in any of their movies together. It’s hard to believe they are a married couple, but yet their talented performances just make a chemistry that isn’t there appear.
Kay Francis delivers a performance which makes one think she just walked off the set of My Bill (1938) and stepped onto the Always in My Heart soundstage three years later, as if no time had passed. After all of her problems with Warner Brothers over casting, and all that time off, the two still could not find a worthy vehicle for her. Her camera time here is ample, thank god, but her character lacks depth.
The same dilemma applies for Walter Huston. These are two intriguing personalities in roles which should have been assigned to actors like June Allyson and Van Johnson. You know, wholesome types.
My favorite part of this movie is Una O’Connor as Angie. I’ve always been a fan, but she has good chemistry with her onscreen granddaughter, played greatly by Patti Hale, and delivers some good comeback lines to the annoying children and Sidney Blackmer (who stiffly plays Philip).