Kitty Foyle, 1940, RKO Radio Pictures. Starring Ginger Rogers, Dennis Morgan, James Craig. Directed by Sam Wood. B&W, 108 minutes.
A surprisingly fine movie that takes a typical soap-opera drama and elevates it to a story of a young woman with depth and purpose, Kitty Foyle recounts the tale of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who falls for the handsome heir to the local banking fortune. He turns out to be a bit of a cad, and she’s left with the high cost of falling for the wrong man.
Working girl Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers) has met the man of her dreams in Wyn Strafford (Dennis Morgan), her boss and publisher of the fledgling magazine she’s working for as a secretary in Philadelphia. The two fall deeply in love, but when the magazine folds, Wyn isn’t strong enough to defy society and his family by openly courting Kitty. Brokenhearted, she moves to New York City.
After a short time she meets idealistic young doctor Mark Eisen (James Craig), and the two begin dating seriously. She hasn’t gotten over Wyn, however, and when he shows up and says he’s willing to face his family’s disapproval and marry Kitty, she agrees to wed him and return to Philadelphia. It isn’t until she sees firsthand how unprepared he is to face the sacrifices his family will force on him that she realizes the marriage will never work, and she leaves him, returning to New York.
It’s there she learns she is pregnant, a secret she keeps from Wyn, and she struggles to rebuild her life. Eventually Mark re-enters the picture, and things seem settled, until Wyn shows up again, forcing a nearly impossible decision on the vulnerable Kitty.
Actually, that’s where the movie starts, and the rest is told in flashback, until the final moments and Kitty’s choice is made. The story is told in such a way her decision is never obvious, yet ultimately, it is.
Ginger Rogers won the Academy Award for Best Performance by a Lead Actress in this first dramatic role after her final musical with Fred Astaire (the two would actually reunite one more time in 1949, but 1939 marked the end of an era for their filmmaking together). The film was nominated for four other Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound.
The movie also inspired the “Kitty Foyle dress,” a shirtwaist-style dress, typically a dark color (generally navy blue) with a light-colored collar and buttons (ironically, perhaps, none of the pictures I’ve used here show that style of dress). The style became very popular over the next few years, particularly when the war called for austerity and re-use of household goods. Collars were replaced and the dresses were considered “good as new.” The style was developed for film-making because it was flattering to the female stars filmed wearing it.
Kitty Foyle is a woman’s film, no doubt about it, but one men who have an appreciation for character development and the fine art of crafting an adult story with the restrictions of Motion Picture Production Code will enjoy as well. It has humor and humanity to balance the more challenging aspects of human nature, and a heroine to cheer for in good times and bad.