Romance in Manhattan 1935 Directed by Stephen Roberts. Innocent and rather charming. Francis Lederer, for those of you unfamiliar with such early films, was a looker. Here he seems to inhabit naïve Czech immigrant Karel Novak who jumps ship when he’s turned away from America for lack of sufficient funds. Pulled out of the Hudson by dock denizens, unknowingly losing his wallet in the process, he walks through New York with unbound joy and gratitude. When a group of chorus girls leaves meal leftovers in sight of an open stage door, Karel tenuously enters and eats.
Sylvia Dennis (Ginger Rogers) encounters him offering another doughnut rather than shooing him away. She doesn’t know he’s illegal, but sympathetic to victims of the Depression offers to help find him a job. Sylvia takes Karel home to 12 year-old brother Frank (Jimmy Butler) whom she’s raising. The boy agrees to share his newspaper hawking. Karel sleeps on the roof. From selling newspapers to driving a delivery truck to…he incrementally rises. Then Sylvia loses her job and child services comes after Frank…The film ends with a big heart. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Bachelor Mother 1939 Based on a story written for the 1935 Austrian-Hungarian film Little Mother. Directed by Garson Kanin. Department store salesgirl Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers) is holiday help, let go as the season ends. On her way home, she sees a woman leave her baby on the steps of an orphanage. Unable to catch the mother and afraid the child will die from exposure, she takes him inside. The attendant assumes Polly is the mother and threatens to call authorities. Somehow (it’s Hollywood, folks) Polly ends up taking the baby home.
David Merlin (David Niven), playboy son of the store’s owner (Charles Coburn) accidentally finds out she has a baby and is sympathetic to “the unwed mother.” He arranges for Polly to get her job back. Realizing employment is based on her maternity, the young woman decides to keep the child. David is, of course drawn, but wary of a ready-made family and unsure of his father’s feelings… Remade in 1956 as Bundle of Joy starring Debbie Reynolds and Edie Fisher. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Kitty Foyle 1940 Based on the Christopher Morley bestseller. Directed by Sam Wood. A straight from the hip drama (with a few lighter moments) in which Rogers is completely believable. As a Philadelphia teenager, Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers) dreams about marrying a main liner. When she gets a secretarial job at a fledgling magazine, she meets the embodiment of her fantasies, editor Wynnewood Strafford VI (Dennis Morgan). They fall in love, but Strafford doesn’t have the courage to defy class restrictions and marry beneath him.
Kitty’s father dies and heartbroken, with nothing keeping her, she moves to New York. Some time later, Strafford comes looking for her saying he’s willing to deal with social pressures, but… They separate. The heroine meets and dates sincere Doctor Mark Eisen (James Craig). Just as they get close enough to talk about marriage, however, Strafford comes back into her life… Film Daily called it “one of the most human pictures that has been produced in Hollywood in many, many moons …” Rogers won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Once Upon a Honeymoon 1942 Directed by Leo McCarey. Completely unexpected plot. Character obtuseness stretches credibility, however. On the verge of WWII in Berlin we meet former burlesque performer Katie O’Hara (Ginger Rogers) now known as American socialite “Katherine Butt-Smith.” Ms. Butt-Smith is, for mercenary reasons, affianced to Austrian Baron Von Luber (Walter Skezak), secretly a Nazi. Foreign correspondent Pat O’Toole (Cary Grant) pursues an interview because of Von Luber’s affiliations. “Catherine” (Katie) is completely unaware, but private.
Instead of marrying where they are, Von Luber takes Catherine to Prague. As they move across Europe, each city falls to the Reich upon the baron’s exit. (Implied machinations are effective.) At every stop, Catherine encounters O’Toole who gradually illuminates the truth of her situation. They fall in and out of police hands (at one point mistaken for Jews) and in love. Towards the end, she becomes a spy and he’s blackmailed into broadcasting propaganda, but… Walter Slezak’s first American film. He’s splendid. Droll ending. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Forever Female 1954 Directed by Irving Rapper. Formulaic with an excellent Paul Douglas and fine parentheses featuring conversations between affectionate exes. Once upon a time lead actress Beatrice Page (Ginger Rogers) was married to producer Harry Phillips (Paul Douglas). Though divorced, he continues to produce every Broadway appearance, often sleeps in her guest room, and puts up with serial younger-men-in-passing, confident none will harm his relationship. We meet at Sardi’s on opening night of an acknowledged flop.
Agent Eddie Woods (James Gleason) and his new client, playwright Stanley Krown (William Holden), are at the bar. Elsewhere in the dining room, ambitious young actress Clara Mootz (Pat Carver) watches. Eddie introduces Stanley to Harry and Bea. The cocky author leaves his play. Harry reads it. Its plot revolves around a mother and daughter. The mother is too old for Beatrice to play, the daughter too young. Harry and Bea convince Stanley to rewrite an older daughter – so Bea can play her. Meanwhile, Clara, who had professionally typed the manuscript, is bucking for the role as written.
Spending a lot of time with Stanley, Bea turns on her charms. He falls for her. They’re to be married. Harry is deeply perturbed. This one’s different. Clara continues trying to get an audition, popping up at unexpected moments. You know what will happen if perhaps not how. The latter is one of the good things about the chestnut plot.
The ingénue role of Clara was meant for Audrey Hepburn who was unavailable. Other girls under contract twere deemed inadequate. Over 500 New York actors were seen before settling on Pat Crowley, who made her film debut. Rogers later wrote in her memoirs that although she liked the script she felt the studio “spent more money publicizing” Crowley “than they did on the entire production.” Rent on Amazon Prime.
Alas, Lady in The Dark is nowhere to be found
Top photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain