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In the 1938 soap opera My Bill, Kay Francis stars as Mary Colbrook, a widowed mother of four children in a small town who remains optimistic despite being financially strapped and having limited prospects. While she struggles to make ends meet, three of her four children are unappreciative of her efforts and abandon her for greener pastures. Her youngest child Bill (Dickie Moore), however, remains steadfastly loyal throughout and helps turn the family's fortunes around through his bourgeoning friendship with an elderly spinster neighbor.
From the early to mid 1930s Kay Francis was one of Warner Bros.' most popular and highest paid stars. When she made My Bill, however, Francis' career was on the decline and she was growing increasingly unhappy with her diminishing importance at the studio. My Bill, though a solid starring role, was indicative of the second string projects to which she was now being assigned. Even young child star Dickie Moore observed Francis' unhappiness about the film at the time. "[She] was pleasant," said Moore in his 1984 autobiography Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (But Don't Have Sex or Take the Car), "but she worried that her role was not sufficiently important."
According to one of the film's writers, Vincent Sherman, the script for My Bill was a rush job that reflected the lack of care Warner Bros. was now taking with its former queen of the lot. "[Producer Bryan Foy] had assigned another writer to work on the script but asked me to take over, and he informed me that the film had to start the next week," recalled Sherman according to the 2005 biography Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career. "Thus, he needed a script by Monday morning. It was now Thursday afternoon."
Despite the hurried nature of My Bill's production, especially strong performances from Francis and Dickie Moore boosted the material, and the film received unexpected critical acclaim. Moore showed off his remarkable natural talent in a sensitive role, while Francis proved that she could pull off a homespun matriarch character under the direction of John Farrow (Mia's father) without the glamour that often accompanied her earlier films.
Based on a 1928 play by Tom Barry, My Bill was a remake of an earlier Warner Bros. film in 1930 called Courage starring Belle Bennett in the Kay Francis role and Leon Janney as Bill.
Director: John Farrow
Screenplay: Vincent Sherman, Robertson White (screenplay); Tom Barry (play); George Bilson (contributing writer and to screenplay construction, uncredited); Milton Herbert Gropper (contributor to screenplay construction, uncredited); Lee Katz (contributor to treatment, uncredited)
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Art Direction: Max Parker
Music: Howard Jackson (uncredited)
Film Editing: Frank Magee
Cast: Kay Francis (Mary 'Sweetheart' Colbrook), Bonita Granville (Gwendolyn 'Gwen' Colbrook), John Litel (John C. Rudlin, Bank President), Anita Louise (Muriel Colbrook), Bobby Jordan (Reginald 'Reggie' Colbrook, Jr.), Dickie Moore (William 'Bill' Colbrook), Maurice Murphy (Lynn Willard, Muriel's Fianc), Elisabeth Risdon (Aunt Caroline Colbrook), Helena Phillips Evans (Mrs. Adelaide 'Duchess' Crosby), John Ridgely (Mr. Martin the Florist).
BW-65m. Closed Captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume