Kitty Foyle‘s claim to fame is securing Ginger Rogers her first, and only, Oscar for Best Actress; a decision I question. With so many fantastic performances in 1940 (and if you’re curious what ones I’m talking about here’s a shameless plug for Robert James’ book Who Won?!? which I recommend you buy to learn more), what is it about Rogers’ performance that makes it stand out? As evidenced by the finished product, I was left wanting. Kitty Foyle is extremely dated, to the point of irritation pointed at every single person in the cast. Misogyny runs rampant and is seen as charming, which I can’t abide. If you can transcend that, there’s a great performance by Ginger Rogers. I just wouldn’t call it an Oscar worthy one.
Kitty Foyle (Rogers) is a hard-working, white-collar woman hopelessly in love with wealthy banking heir, Wynn Strafford (Morgan). However, their relationship never comes together at the right time; so when Kitty meets penniless doctor, Mark (James Craig), she’s torn between which man she loves more.
The film is a basic love triangle story with a woman deciding between wealth and poverty; it just happens that both men are about the same. I appreciated the script’s desire to balance the two men, in terms of pros and cons. Wynn is a playboy who capitulates to his family’s intentions when push comes to shove; Mark is a bit of a flake who never pays for anything. Each man’s flaws are meant to be charming, and in the case of Morgan, he makes a better case. I found Morgan to be a discount Fred MacMurray when he played opposite Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut. Color me surprised when I found myself falling in love with him alongside Rogers. It helps that Rogers isn’t as domineering or abrasive as Stanwyck, so Morgan is allowed to be the aggressor without being overpowering. He’s got a good smile, which works on Kitty as he slyly sexually harasses her (I’ll get to that in a minute). There’s also a fair amount of sexual chemistry between the two stars; their seduction scenes are hot by 1940s standards. Wynn loves Kitty, but he can’t find a way to love her in poverty-stricken circumstances. James Craig – returning to the blog after his turn in Lost Angel – isn’t big on personality (he is the sensible choice after all), but he does well in the position.
Neither guy is a catch for Kitty, either then or now. I mentioned the flaws of both men already, but Rogers’ Kitty is too determined and ambitious for either one. No matter which man she chooses, she’ll have to conform to a way of life she isn’t fond of. This is the movie’s moral: women have to learn to compromise in order to secure a man, which is an out-dated and misogynist principle. The movie’s subtitle is “The natural history of a woman,” so I’m assuming what’s “natural” is women’s desire for men, and the need to compromise to secure one? Because the movie sure as hell isn’t about independence. Our introduction to Kitty involves a co-worker questioning whether a woman’s independence is more important than a relationship. When she asks the ladies, “What’s the difference men bachelors and girl bachelors,” Kitty retorts, “Men bachelors are that way on purpose.” The script and direction constantly reinforce the belief that women’s suffrage put the kibosh on romance; now, men see women as their equal and thus women have to resort to whatever tactics necessary to put a ring on it! Several times throughout the film male characters put down Kitty, and women in general – and if you’re wondering if other women are around Kitty, outside of co-workers all her advice is male given. When Wynn or Mark aren’t sexually harassing or “playfully blackmailing” Kitty, respectively, her tender-hearted father (Ernest Cossart) demeans her: “Now there’s a real piece of idiocy. Woman’s instinct.”
Woman’s instinct isn’t an idiocy in Kitty Foyle, but it strengthens the points the men have been discussing all movie. Kitty’s conscience is our narrator, forced back into the fray when Kitty is ready to give up her life – again – for Wynn. The conscience Kitty is humorous because she knows the real Kitty best: “I’m 24.” “You’re 26. Don’t try to kid me.” Her arrival introduces the flashbacks describing Kitty’s life (of course, Rogers plays Kitty from age 15 on), and her continual belief in fairy tales and romance. I expected the conscience to tell Kitty to step back and realize the problems within both suitors, but by the end it isn’t women’s instinct that’s wrong; it’s women’s failure to rationalize. Kitty must be rational and forsake love for the “right guy.”
It’s a shame the movie’s message is so misguided because Rogers is wonderful. Her tenacious spirit, self-awareness, and chemistry with Dennis Morgan is intense. Even her relationship with her father is one of best friends as opposed to father/daughter. Unfortunately, you have to suspend everything – disbelief, morals, ethics – to swallow the swill the movie is spitting out. I never felt the movie was bad, or that I’d wasted my time; I just wished it wasn’t so chauvinistic in its approach. If you want an example about why male directors shouldn’t write female-driven stories, Kitty Foyle is a good example (although a pretty one).
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.