Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Dr. Monica (1934)

DR. MONICA is a deliciously soapy, compulsively watchable melodrama featuring Kay Francis in the title role.

Dr. Monica Braden is an incredibly chic obstetrician, thanks to gowns by Orry-Kelly. Monica desperately wants to have a baby of her own, but she and her husband John (Warren William) have been unable to conceive.

When Monica delivers the baby of an unwed friend, Mary (Jean Muir), she learns the terrible truth which the audience has known from the beginning of the movie: the father of Mary's baby is Monica's husband, John. (I couldn't help but mentally flash forward to Dr. Lesley Webber delivering a different Monica's baby on GENERAL HOSPITAL, circa 1979; maybe the TV scriptwriters were Kay Francis fans. Or maybe it's simply a classic soapy plot device...)

DR. MONICA was released just as the pre-Code era was coming to a close in 1934. The film was originally 65 minutes, but was edited down to 53 minutes for censorship reasons. (A couple brief moments from the original print can be viewed in the trailer.) Even so, the edited version is quite a bit more frank about adultery and unmarried pregnancy than was typical of films in the decades which followed.

The story is tame by today's standards, but parental caution is advised with regard to the younger set, who may not have been exposed to the mature themes addressed in the film; viewed with parents, the movie could, in fact, be used as a teaching tool. I liked a brief, subtle scene in which Monica makes clear to Mary that giving her baby life is the only option she should consider.

Kay Francis is marvelous in the title role, as a smart, warm-hearted woman who soldiers bravely on in the face of devastating news. Few people played a cad better than Warren William, although he's a relatively nice cad in this film. Muir's character is by turns irritating, melodramatic, and sympathetic; ultimately she makes Mary memorable.

The film is somewhat unique for its era insofar as two of the leading female characters were professional women. Verree Teasdale portrays Monica's spirited, helpful best friend, an architect. In 1935 Teasdale married Adolphe Menjou; they were married until his death in 1963. Teasdale passed away in 1987.

DR. MONICA was directed by William Keighley and an uncredited William Dieterle.

DR. MONICA can be seen as part of the library on Turner Classic Movies.


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