Opening crawl for Divorce
Kay Francis returned to the vampish roles of her early film career with the 1945 melodrama Divorce, the first film in a three-picture deal she signed with Poverty Row studio Monogram. Although they marked the end of her film career, her three Monogram pictures at least gave her the chance to produce, giving her an independence her work at other studios had never supplied.
It's hard to tell if Francis' three Monogram films were simply an attempt at moving into another area of filmmaking, or a last desperate attempt at regaining the stardom she had lost since her heyday in the early '30s, when she was one of Hollywood's highest-paid leading ladies. Although her films at the studio have been dismissed by some as the worst of her career, others have pointed out that they can't hold a candle for sheer rottenness to her late Warner Bros. films, when the studio seemed to be trying to get the high-priced actress to quit. She had actually enjoyed something of a comeback after leaving the studio in 1939, but when the U.S. entered World War II, she threw herself into USO work. Between 1942 and 1945, she only appeared on-screen as herself, first in the 1943 documentary short "Show Business at War," then in the popular 1944 feature Four Jills in a Jeep, based partly on her experiences entertaining the troops.
Some biographers have suggested that it was the chance to produce that lured Francis to Monogram, which otherwise would have seemed a step down even at that stage in her life. She certainly threw herself into script preparation and worked to keep the budget tight (a necessity at Monogram, though it could also have been a reaction to her major studio vehicles, in which sumptuous costumes and sets often took the place of solid writing). All three of her films there were within a proven B movie genre, the melodramatic exposé. Divorce, her first film, was inspired by the growing divorce rate in the '40s, particularly as returning GIs found little in common with their war brides. Studio publicity also claimed inspiration from an editorial cartoon by Percy Crosby called "Break Up," in which a child was shown torn between mother and father. The film took a decidedly moralistic view of divorce, depicting the disastrous effects when femme fatale Francis returns to her hometown and steals her childhood sweetheart (Bruce Cabot) from his faithful wife (Helen Mack). That viewpoint was in keeping with Hollywood practice; the Production Code, working with the Catholic Legion of Decency, demanded that divorce be treated as a tragedy rather than a sometime necessity. The condemnation of divorce rings a little hollow, however, in a film whose top-billed cast counts seven divorces among them -- five for Francis alone (ironically , the same number as her character).
As co-producer, Monogram teamed Francis with Jeffrey Bernerd who, with the film's director, William Nigh, had brought out such earlier exposés as Where Are Your Children? (1943) and Are These Our Parents? (1944). With Francis' name as a draw, they were able to bring in leading man Cabot, just returned from World War II duty, and character actor Jerome Cowan, who had scored as one of Bette Davis' suitors in Mr. Skeffington (1944). As Cabot's devoted wife, too proud to accept child support when she learns of Francis' crooked real-estate dealings, Mack made her last film appearance. Ironically, she was best known as the leading lady in The Son of Kong, while Cabot was best remembered as the romantic male lead in King Kong (both 1933)
Like most Monogram films, Divorce was only released to less prestigious theatres, but because of its low budget it still turned a profit. Francis would re-team with Bernerd and Nigh for her second feature at the studio, Allotment Wives (1945), a film noir usually hailed as the best of her low-budget films, then work with Bernerd again on her final feature, Wife Wanted (1946). With her contract completed, she turned down further picture offers to return to the stage, bringing to an end a distinguished if little-examined career. Like most of her films, Divorce is not available on DVD and has only rarely been aired on television, making its presentation on TCM an event for the fans she has won since her films started turning up on the network.
Producer: Jeffrey Bernerd, Kay Francis
Director: William Nigh
Screenplay: Sidney Sutherland, Harvey Gates
Based on a story by Sutherland
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Art Direction: Dave Milton
Music: Edward J. Kay
Cast: Kay Francis (Diane Carter), Bruce Cabot (Bob Phillips), Helen Mack (Martha Phillips), Jerome Cowan (Jim Driscoll), Craig Reynolds (Bill Endicott), Jonathan Hale (Judge Conlon).
by Frank Miller