A Notorious Affair
In the second year of talking features, studios were discovering that being a star in silent films did not guarantee an actor could recite lines convincingly. Warner Bros, like all the other studios, sent out scouts to Broadway and theaters around the country looking for stage talent. All three actors in A Notorious Affair had been on the stage Basil Rathbone had had a very successful career in the theater (and his acting skills were noted in most of the film's reviews) but he was still a newcomer to films and his technique reflected it. Kay Francis had appeared on the stage in New York but was finding her greatest popularity on the screen. In one year she had made eight movies and had already been described by a film fan magazine writer as "the foremost exponent of vamping technique, 1929 model." Dove's experience on the stage was mostly limited to having been the most famous Ziegfeld Follies Girl of her day, billed as "The American Beauty". She was not a great actress but she was considered the most beautiful woman on the screen and she had a large following. As a result, A Notorious Affair was conceived as a vehicle for her. Unfortunately for Dove, Kay Francis would steal the show.
The film had the working title Faithful, (which was ironic as the film is about adultery) and was based on the Audrey and Waverly Carter play Fame which had opened in London in March 1929. The story of a noblewoman (Dove) who abandons her title for a musician (Rathbone), finds out he is cheating on her with another noblewoman (Francis), and has an affair of her own, appears to have been heavily edited when it was brought to the screen. Variety said the confusing plot felt unfinished and rushed, suggesting "a studio compromise between trite dictum, censorship and a desire to finish on schedule, regardless of anything else."
Dove later spoke of the film, saying "The critics thought A Notorious Affair was an awful picture. I hear so many compliments and good things about it now. That happens frequently. The reviewers hate, and the fans love. Kay played the vamp, and played her well. She shaded her role with wickedness and nymphomania. Kay and I were both dressed to the nines in that one." The critics felt that the film was just an excuse to see Billie Dove and predicted correctly that even her considerable beauty would not be enough in the long run to sustain an entire picture. Francis got good reviews for her performance, with The New York Times going so far as to say that she "puts Miss Dove somewhat in the shade" and Variety's April 30, 1930 edition noted that Francis, "whose upward rise has been very rapid since last summer, is limited in scope here, but sufficiently supports, merely by her presence, the story's suggestion of a seductive countess of definite nymphomaniacal tendencies. She is supposed to have sent Basil Rathbone into a nervous breakdown. Hers, not Miss Dove's, is the reason for the unwarranted title, A Notorious Affair.
During the time that she was making the film Billie Dove was having A Notorious Affair of her own with Howard Hughes. Hughes was so in love with Dove that he offered her husband, director Irvin Willat, $35,000 ($450,000 in 2008 dollars) to divorce her. Although Dove later cut off the relationship she would later claim that Hughes was the only man she had ever really loved.
Producer: Robert North (uncredited)
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: J. Grubb Alexander (screen version); Audrey Carter, Waverly Carter (both the play "Fame")
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Music: Cecil Copping (uncredited)
Film Editing: Frank Ware
Cast: Billie Dove (Lady Patricia Hanley Gherardi), Basil Rathbone (Paul Gherardi), Kay Francis (Countess Olga Balakireff), Kenneth Thomson (Dr. Alan Pomeroy, first name misspelled 'Allen' in opening credits), Montagu Love (Sir Thomas Hanley), Philip Strange (Lord Percival Northmore), Malcolm Waite (Higgins, Olga's butler).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Variety review A Notorious Affair April 30, 1930
Ginger, Loretta and Irene Who? by George Eells
Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films by Michael B. Druxman
Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career by Lynn Kear and John Rossman
New York Times' Obituary: Billie Dove, Damsel in Distress In Silent Films, Is Dead at 97 by Mel Gussow, January 6, 1998.
The Internet Movie Database