Monday, August 5, 2013

Between Us Girls (1942)

Diana Barrymore ... Caroline 'Carrie' Bishop
Robert Cummings ... Jimmy Blake
Kay Francis ... Christine 'Chris' Bishop
John Boles ... Steven J. Forbes
Andy Devine ... Mike Kilinsky
Ethel Griffies ... Gallagher
Walter Catlett ... Desk Sergeant
Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams ... Father of the Boys
Scotty Beckett ... Little Prince Leopold
Andrew Tombes ... Doctor
Peter Jamerson ... Harold
Mary Treen ... Mary Belle

Produced and Directed by Henry Koster.
Based on the play "Le Fruit Vert" by Regis Gignoux & Jacques Thery.
Adapted by Hans Jacoby & John Jacoby.
Screenplay by Miles Connolly & True Boardman.
Gowns by Vera West.
Musical Direction by Charles Pervin.
Camera by Joseph A. Valentine.
Editing by Frank Gross.
Special make-up by Bud Westmore (Diana Barrymore's costume make-up).

Released September 4, 1942.
A Universal Picture.

Background: Between Us Girls has the sad distinction of being Kay Francis’ last real Hollywood movie. The film, a lesser version of It’s a Date, was an attempt to make a star out of Diana Barrymore. Although more interesting than the year’s previous Always in My Heart, whatever remained of Kay’s star status was just disposed upon in an attempt to build the career of Diana Barrymore, who never really went anywhere.

It should be noted that, even as late as 1941, Kay was still being voted by moviegoers as a top-box office attraction. Despite being in group one during her top Warner Bros. years (1937 and prior), she was still placing in the group two or group three categories between First Lady (1937) and Between Us Girls. When she placed in group three in 1941, she was beside names such as Brian Aherne, Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, W.C. Fields, Greta Garbo, and Katharine Hepburn.

These box-office rankings were determined by the Motion Picture Herald, who annually announced the top 10 stars across the entire country. While Kay might not have ever placed in there on their specific top ten poll, she was still clearly represented by legions of moviegoers and theater owners in the group categories.

For some reason or another, Kay chose to lessen her standards for quick work (and quick money). As a result, the movies she made after Warner Bros. weren’t much better than the ones she made under contract. And as a matter-of-fact some of them were worse, much worse. It’s clear evidence that Kay was still careless about her scripts when it came to quick cash. This attitude served her well financially, but severely dampened her chances at ever continuing her work in Hollywood as a top star. After she dedicated most of her time to helping soldiers in World War II, her career was virtually finished.

Unfortunately this was true for many of Kay’s generation of Hollywood. After the war, they were basically unemployable. Some went on to film noir (which is a shame Kay never did, she would have been perfect for such material), but most were forced out by the lavish (and gaudy) Technicolor musicals being put out all over the country. The types of parts that made actors popular in 30’s had stopped being profitable. Many found themselves out of work or settling for substandard material. Unfortunately, Kay was one of those individuals.

Between Us Girls was based on a foreign play “Le Fruit Vert” by Regis Gignoux. It was adapted for the screen the first time in Germany in 1934. According to The Complete Kay Francis Career Guide, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, and Deanna Durbin were considered for the role which eventually went to Diana Barrymore. It is likely this was conceived before Kay’s casting since it would be unthinkable to imagine her playing Katharine Hepburn or Ginger Rogers’ mother, since Kay was only three and six years older than each lady, respectively.

During production of the film, John Barrymore, Diana’s father, died. Barrymore was paid $1,500 a week for her work, the salary for Kay is unknown. Diana was supposedly a brat during filming, and even pointed out at Deanna Durbin (who was working on a nearby soundstage, but visiting this one) during a take and rudely asked “who’s that?” After Between Us Girls, booze interfered with her chances at ever becoming someone, and she died before she turned 40. Still, she sobered up enough to write a very telling autobiography before her death, and seemed to have fond memories of Kay.

The film opened to so-so opinions from the critics and audiences. The most memorable aspect of the movie for Kay Francis fans would be her work with John Boles, a subtle, talented actor who added so much to the films he appeared in by downplaying so many of his characters.

Vintage Reviews:

By T.S. in the New York Times, September 25, 1942.

No doubt even the offspring of royal families must be allowed their little indiscretions, but why display them? Certainly not Diana Barrymore's protean revel in the Capitol's "Between Us Girls," which might better have used the title of the original script, "Green Fruit," or more pointedly, "Six Performances in Search of an Actress." With an unabashed zest hardly equalled by Mickey Rooney himself, Miss Barrymore runs the gamut of her limitations—from old Queen Victoria, not even a makeup artist's triumph, to a grade school Joan of Arc; from gin-voiced, hip-swinging Sadie Thompson to a screeching adolescent. Miss Barrymore's abilities are hardly so diverse. If she has talent she should not conceal it in such a frenzied and labored exhibition.

Adapted from a farce of the meager sort once regularly imported from France, the film tells the story of a young actress who comes home from the road to find her mother again facing the pleasant prospect of marriage to a suitor, who has illusions as to the mother's age; to prevent a disastrous disillusionment the actress promptly pops into middy waists and short socks and ribbons only to discover finally that the whole ruse was unnecessary. A thin story, its only excuse for existence is as a showcase for a talented comedienne, and, as of the moment, Miss Barrymore hardly qualifies. She does not assume a role, she wrestles with it. She has not learned that in comedy the ribs should be tickled not poked. As a display of sheer vim and vigor, Miss Barrymore's performance is a great advertisement for breakfast food.

In supporting roles, Robert Cummings portrays an amusingly baffled young man and Andy Devine, Kay Francis and John Boles are adequate. But inasmuch as the picture frankly sets out to exploit Miss Barrymore's talents, it stands or falls upon them. It falls, we fear, with a rather heavy thud.

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