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In Women in the Wind (1939), Kay Francis enters a transcontinental air race for women fliers, determined to win so she can use the prize money for her brother's operation. (The race is based on the real-life "Powder Puff Derby," which ran for many years.) The picture is just a simple 63-minute programmer which caused no great shakes critically or commercially, but it's notable as Kay Francis' last movie under her Warner Brothers contract.
The once high-flying star had become frustrated with the undemanding roles Warner Brothers gave her as the decade wore on. With Francis now considered box-office poison, Warners tried to settle her contract but Francis refused, and as a result the studio tried to force her to quit by having her feed lines for other actors' screen tests and the like, even going so far as to deny her requests for lunch guests to come onto the lot. Eventually, the studio simply assigned her to ordinary B pictures. The last of these was Women in the Wind.
Finishing the film and leaving Warner Brothers was a melancholy experience for Francis, who said, "This is the first picture I've finished out here that I haven't had a party for the cast or crew afterward. But this time is different. I knew I'd start crying and so would some of the others. I didn't want to say good-bye that way. I want to remember all these people as friends with whom I used to kid - with whom I had swell times. I don't want to remember them - or have them remember me - with long faces and red eyes. I want to saunter off the lot and out of their lives as casually as though the picture weren't finished and we'd be meeting again in the morning."
During production, Francis gave one of her most famous interviews, telling Photoplay, "I can't wait to be forgotten." She added, "I don't say I'll never make another picture because if I should happen to be in Hollywood and some producer offered me a good part I'd jump at it. But as far as another contract or making a career of pictures any more is concerned, I'm through!"
Indeed, she never got another studio contract, though she did make several more movies. He next job was a good supporting role in RKO's In Name Only (1939), starring Cary Grant and Carole Lombard. Lombard, in fact, lobbied RKO intensely to hire Francis. Afterward, Francis mostly headlined B films (including three for Monogram) or played supporting roles in A films (for various studios) until she retired in 1946.
Women in the Wind also provided an early role for Eve Arden, here playing the showy part of flier Kit Campbell. She later recalled in her autobiography: "I had a very dramatic scene in the plane, struggling with the controls, oil spurting in my face, and then the plane crashed. Finally, I was carried on a stretcher past Kay Francis and urged her to 'go on and win one for me.'
"It was one of the few premieres I was 'requested' to attend and, to my horror, after the oil-in-the-face scene, I saw them cut to a plane in a completely vertical dive, flames shooting from every angle, ending in a crash to forecast the atom bomb. A little fanciful work by the special-effects man who had not watched the rest of the scene! As they carried me on a litter across the screen, virtually untouched and every hair in place, the audience howled!"
The character of Denny Corson (Eddie Foy, Jr.) was loosely inspired by Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan, who in 1938 famously flew from New York to Ireland instead of to California. Corrigan himself starred in an RKO film about his flight entitled The Flying Irishman (1939), which ironically opened just one week before Women in the Wind.
The New York Times compared this picture somewhat unfavorably to Tail Spin (1939), Twentieth Century-Fox's own women's air-racing drama starring Alice Faye which had opened less than three months earlier. "Everything happens according to formula," said the Times critic, adding teasingly, "Although Francis Walton wrote the book, we suspect a few changes: he never would have sanctioned stunting over an airport, even by so charming a flier as Miss Francis."
Producer: Bryan Foy
Director: John Farrow
Screenplay: Lee Katz, Albert DeMond; Francis Walton (novel); George Bricker (contributing writer uncredited), Lawrence Kimble (contributor to treatment uncredited)
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Leo F. Forbstein
Film Editing: Thomas Pratt
Cast: Kay Francis (Janet Steele), William Gargan (Ace Boreman), Victor Jory (Dr. Tom 'Doc' Wilson), Maxie Rosenbloom ('Stuffy' McInnes), Eddie Foy, Jr. (Denny Corson), Sheila Bromley (Frieda Boreman), Eve Arden (Kit Campbell), Charles Anthony Hughes (Bill Steele), Frankie Burke (Johnnie), Spencer Charters (Henry Dickens), Vera Lewis (Henry Dickens' wife).
by Jeremy Arnold
Eve Arden, Three Phases of Eve: An Autobiography
Lynn Kear and John Rossman, Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career