Kansas City Princess
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There are almost two movies going on here. The first is a comedy about a couple of fast-talking, wisecracking dames on the lam over a mix-up involving a diamond engagement ring given to one of them by her gangster boyfriend. The second finds all three aboard a ship to Paris, involving them in a convoluted plot about a millionaire mark, his unfaithful wife, and a French private eye. With the girls disguising themselves to get on a train, pretending to be something they're not to make passage to France with no money, several songs to set the mood, and all the talk about how the three things a woman needs in life are "money, jack, and dough," it feels like Some Like It Hot (1959) meets Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) with a healthy dose of the contemporary Gold Diggers series thrown in. There's no Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, Anita Loos or Howard Hawks to raise it to truly classic level, but on its own terms it's an enjoyable, fast-paced entertainment typical of Warner Brothers' output at the time, starring one of the studio's popular screen teams from the early 1930s.
Glenda Farrell and Joan Blondell play the two manicurists, the go-to profession for working class girls of early 30s comedies (at least those who weren't either showgirls or the euphemistic "dance hall" workers). Blondell and Farrell were teamed in four other pictures: Havana Widows (1933); Miss Pacific Fleet (1935); We're in the Money (1935), named for the ubiquitous number from the studio's huge hit Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), which featured Blondell; and a late entry in that series, Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). They both appeared in the same movie a few other times, including Three on a Match (1932), I've Got Your Number (1934), and Traveling Saleslady (1935), although not as a team in any of these.
Farrell is particularly adept at the script's rapid-fire dialogue, with her alleged 390-words-per-minute skills serving her well here. While Blondell was born in New York and raised in vaudeville, Farrell's ability to pull off the hard-boiled urban blonde is the more remarkable considering her Oklahoma roots. She matches Blondell quip for quip, brass for brass, and their appeal together made for some decent hits for the studio.
Blondell's gangster boyfriend is played by Robert Armstrong. Viewers will recognize him as big-time promoter Carl Denham, the man who brings King Kong to New York in the 1933 original of that story.
William Keighley was one of Warner's most reliable contract directors of the 1930s, turning out pictures with Queen of the Lot Bette Davis and top star James Cagney (five films total), although not necessarily the best of their careers. His work behind the camera with swashbuckler Errol Flynn on The Prince and the Pauper (1937) earned him the plum assignment of directing the star in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)-a role originally intended for Cagney. Less than stellar rushes of the picture's action scenes, however, got Keighley replaced by Michael Curtiz, although Keighley still retains on-screen credit.
Kansas City Princess includes several songs, but only one of them stood the test of time to become an enduring standard, Johnny Green and Edward Heyman's "Easy Come, Easy Go." The song became so emblematic of the Depression era that it was used as the evocative theme of the 1930s-set drama They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), starring Jane Fonda as a hard-boiled, down-on-her-luck woman whose last bid to make some money lands her in a grueling marathon dance contest.
The working title of the movie was "Princess of Kansas City." It was ready for release in early July 1934, but because Blondell was pregnant (with future TV producer Norman S. Powell), the studio held it back until October so that she wouldn't be off screen for too long. The cinematographer on this production was George Barnes, then Blondell's husband and father of her child (who changed his name to Powell when he was adopted by Blondell's second husband, Warner singing star Dick Powell). Barnes later worked with Alfred Hitchcock on his first Hollywood movie, Rebecca (1940), for which Barnes won an Academy Award. He was nominated again for Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) and six other times.
Director: William Keighley
Screenplay: Sy Bartlett, Manuel Seff
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editing: William Clemens
Art Direction: John Hughes
Cast: Joan Blondell (Rosie Sturges), Glenda Farrell (Marie Callahan), Robert Armstrong (Dynamite Carson), Hugh Herbert (Junior Ashcraft), Osgood Perkins (Marcel Duryea), Hobart Cavanaugh (Alderman Sam Warren).
By Rob Nixon