SPOTLIGHT: Flaming Pre-Code Francis (XI)

Welcome to a new Film Friday and the conclusion of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of the unjustly under-praised Kay Francis (1905-1968), one of the most popular Warner Brothers stars of the 1930s. Known today as “Kay Fwancis” for her distinguished speech impediment, I am of the opinion that Kay Francis is nevertheless one of the decade’s most natural and captivating leading ladies. We’d covered one of her little known Post-Code films, The Goose And The Gander (1935), in our series on 1935, but the only Pre-Code picture of hers that we’d featured is the divine Trouble In Paradise (1932), which is among my favorite films. There were 11 more Pre-Code Francis pictures that I wanted to cover here. In this series, we featured Guilty Hands (1931), 24 Hours (1931), Girls About Town (1931), Man Wanted (1932), Jewel Robbery (1932), One Way Passage (1932), The Keyhole (1933), Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933), and Mandalay (1934). Today, Francis’ final Pre-Code…

 

Dr. Monica (1934)

Dr Monica

A female doctor learns that her husband loves another woman. Starring Kay Francis, Warren William, and Jean Muir.Adaptation and screenplay by Charles Kenyon. English adaptation by Laura Walker Mayer. Based on the play by Maria Morozowicz-Szczepkowska. Directed by William Keighley.

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“Monica Bradon, a happily married physician, is completely unaware that her husband John is having a love affair with her good friend, Mary. John and Mary end their relationship out of guilt, but when Mary faints during a party they are all attending, Monica learns that her friend is pregnant. Mary refuses to disclose the father’s identity, but begs Monica to help her. Monica, who desperately wants a child of her own, personally handles Mary’s medical care. As Monica is preparing to deliver the child, she overhears Mary telephone John and realizes the identity of Mary’s secret lover. Although Monica is stunned at the news, her close friend Anna reminds her of her duty as a doctor, and Monica delivers Mary’s baby. Anna encourages Monica to forgive and accept John, but Monica feels that with the birth of the child, he now belongs to Mary. Before Monica gives him up completely, she goes with him on a romantic vacation, after which she tells him that she knows his secret and that the only solution is that they divorce. Meanwhile, Anna convinces Mary that she must relinquish John, and in response to Anna’s advice, Mary commits suicide by flying her airplane into the sea, leaving the baby’s future to John and Monica.” (This summary is brought to you by TCM.)

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All of the films in this Kay Francis series have been excellent examples of the Pre-Code genre, filled with extramarital sex, unpunished crime, and morally questionable leads. Dr. Monica tackles infidelity, unwed motherhood, and suicide. Unfortunately, while most of the Francis films I’ve enjoyed these past two-and-a-half months have allowed her, in some form another, to participate in the “dirty doings,” this picture casts our spotlighted leading lady as a spectator. Or rather, the moral epicenter of the film — forced to overlook both her infertility and the sexual betrayal of her husband and best friend. They’re both internal conflicts, and thus, there’s not a lot of great action for Francis. Even at a bare 52-minutes (at least 15 minutes was slashed following the heavy enforcement of the code), the proceedings occasionally drag.

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And it’s not that the cast isn’t trying. Francis, William, and Muir are superb — believable, understandable (for the most part — the shortened running time hampers this). But the film is pure melodrama, and although many of Francis’ films have since earned that reputation, most of them had merits that made them worthy of our attention. But aside from the premise, Dr. Monica offers us little with which to concern ourselves. My recommendation? Skip this one unless you’re a hardcore fan. There are much better Francis Pre-Codes out there; in fact, the high rate of films I enjoyed in this blog series has truly astounded me. I’ve found many neglected gems, most of them notable for their versatile star and risqué themes. Dr. Monica is neither the worst, nor the best.

 

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Come back next Friday for another Pre-Code! And tune in on Monday for the start of a whole new week of fun on That’s Entertainment! 

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