January 21, 2012
Man Wanted, 1932. Director: William Dieterle, with Kay Francis, David Manners, Una Merkel, Andy Devine, Kenneth Thomson, Claire Dodd and Elizabeth Patterson.
In January 1932, it was reported that Warners had bought A Dangerous Brunette for Kay. Her previously announced role was a wealthy divorcee in The Rich Are Always With Us, was given to Ruth Chatterton. Producer Darryl Zanuck (using the alias Melville Crossman) had written A Dangerous Brunette with Kay in mind. Zanuck would also write Baby Face (1933), the classic pre-Code shocker, for Barbara Stanwyck. A Dangerous Brunette translated to the screen as Man Wanted and it still has a contemporary feel to it. A breezy, truthful comment on marriage and relationships, Kay finds herself with a philandering husband, a male secretary who adores her, and her emotions grappling with the human thing to do. In spite of the film’s mature attitude, and Kay being “tremendously serious” about her work, David Manners and Andy Devine acted like juveniles on the set. “Andy Devine and I behaved very badly,” Manners commented years later. “We were whooping it up one day and Kay Francis walked off the set. She sent back word that she’d return to work when those two ‘apes’ quieted down.”
Man Wanted was a complete turnaround from the featured status that Kay usually received at Paramount. Every quality of Kay’s that was persuasive was shown to advantage and her screen-time far exceeded any of her Paramount films. In Man Wanted, Kay was the star. She worked well with Director William Dieterle and gauged her performance with naturalness and appealing gestures that were uniquely hers. Her technique drew audiences and fans into what felt like her charmed circle. As dangerous brunette Lois Ames, Kay is the officious, very responsible editor of the exclusive “400 Magazine.” She’s enthusiastic about her job. She’s fond of her husband (Kenneth Thomson), whom she supports, while he plays polo and philanders. He mostly philanders. She’s aware of his infidelity, but wants to be a good sport and not nag. Her fulfillment at work compensates for what her marriage is lacking. Almost. Enter David Manners, whom Kay hires as a secretary.
For some comic relief, we learn Manners is being pursued by Una Merkle and eager to get away from her henpecking clutches. When Merkel calls him at work, Manners, using Kay’s desk phone, attempts to politely bring the conversation to a close. “Yes,” he tells Merkel. “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” Kay interrupts, “Are there many more?” To which the embarrassed Manners gives an abrupt, “Goodbye.” Delightful and amusing moments like this abound in the film as the romance between the two develops. When Kay invites Manners to join her and husband Thomson at a Bar Harbor resort, business culminates with Manners kissing his boss as she’s about to fall asleep on a chaise lounge. Not ready to acknowledge her feelings, Kay thoughtfully dismisses the kiss, saying, “it can be forgotten, because it has not meaning.” We are then privy to the fact that Thomson’s mistress, Claire Dodd, also made it to Bar Harbor. Dodd informs Thomson that she wasn’t there just to dance and supplies him with the key to her room.
The direction, script and creative camerawork (Greg Toland) are fluid and compliment the story. The scene where Kay and her husband Thomson decide to part is intelligent, simple and honest. We see Kay sliding a conciliatory note under his bedroom door. Before he reads it, he invites her in only to announce that he would like to go to England, alone. “Divorce,” Kay says finally. “We can’t change ourselves,” he pleads. Disappointed, Kay sadly retreats toward her room. When Thomson picks up the note, she’s embarrassed and asks him not to read it. He reads it anyway, feels remorseful and bows his head. Laying her head on his shoulder, Kay comforts him by saying, “Freddie, I feel like crying too…” The scene is thoughtfully handled, and objective, although sympathies lean in Kay’s direction. Realizing what a team she and Manners make, Kay invites him to a catered dinner for two at the office and the inevitable fade-out kiss. Man Wanted is a delightful mix of humour and romantic wistfulness.
The New York Times raved that “Kay Francis radiates so much charm throughout Man Wanted…that the familiar theme somehow does not matter…the screenplay is the very thing for Miss Francis…the comic relief is injected in well-measured doses…the directing work of William Dieterle seems to be another feather in his cap.” Other reviews echoed the film’s delights. The LA Illustrated Daily News wrote, ʺIt’s a topsy-turvy version of all those stories about the private secretary and her boss. This is good light material which has the benefit of luxurious settings, pleasing dialogue, rather clever situations and some good performances. Miss Francis photographed well and wearing stunning costume creations, as usual, contributes a smooth, svelte delineation as the wife who found happiness in the world of business rather than in the smart set.ʺ`
Kay Francis—I Can`t Wait to be Forgotten: Her Life on Film and Stage by Scott O`Brien
Illicit, 1931. Director: Archie Mayo, with Barbara Stanwyck, James Rennie, Ricardo Cortez, Natalie Moorhead, Charles Butterworth and Joan Blondell.
After the successful Ladies of Leisure, Barbara Stanwyck found herself in a very different position in Hollywood. Her value had shot up overnight. Non-exclusive contracts with Columbia and Warner Brothers followed, as did publicity build-ups, and she was on her way.
Her first film under this arrangement was Warners’ Illicit—a chic mounting of arguments for and against free love. Done up in fancy gowns and wigs, Stanwyck is happily carrying on an affair with James Rennie and putting off marriage which she feels will kill the fun. When she gives in and becomes his wife, the glamour vanishes and—as predicted—they become petty, dependent and suspicious. She finds him seeking diversion with a former sweetheart and walks out. But when it looks as though he will go off with the diversion, the realization that she would rather be married to him than lose him hits her and they are reconciled.
Illicit is of no great consequence, but it is sincere. A light approach saves it from being clinical or dull. Comic relief is provided by two of the supporting characters (Joan Blondell and Charles Butterworth) and Stanwyck’s spirit keeps things bubbling.
It was on Illicit that Stanwyck and Joan Blondell met and worked for the first time. Blondell was one of the many who had seen Burlesque (Broadway before Hollywood) and been deeply impressed. As she tells it, ʺI was never so overcome in my life.ʺ Referring to the team of Stanwyck and Skelly she says, ʺWhat they did to an audience we should be so lucky to have today. Never again have I experienced anything like it.ʺ Stanwyck ʺmade me cry—laugh—want to hug her.ʺ She and Skelly were ʺtwo consummate artists.ʺ
Blondell feels that it is Stanwyck who was the major reason for Illicit’s success (ʺWhat she did, she did on her own.ʺ) This is because director Archie Mayo knew Stanwyck could give him what he wanted and let her. Mayo once said that he had no interest in the mechanical end of things, and knew nothing about camera, sound or acting technique. He worked instead through an understanding of cameramen, sound engineers, and actors and depended upon them to know their jobs. His approach would result in two more fine Stanwyck performances—one of them (in Ever In My Heart) very special. Her work in Illicit is charming and effortless. Critics thought so too, and the film did well.
Illicit was the first film in which Stanwyck received star billing. And, in their local publicity, Warners went all out and referred to her as ʺ`Missʺ Barbara Stanwyck—an honour they were according only two other stars: Mr. John Barrymore and Mrs. George Arliss.
Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck by Ella Smith