Before she was DR. MONICA (1934), Kay Francis played the long-suffering title role in MARY STEVENS, M.D.
Our girl Mary spends 72 minutes facing trials wherever she turns. She struggles to succeed professionally despite clients who insist on seeing "a man doctor." Mary's private life is also rocky, as the man she secretly loves, her longtime friend Dr. Don Andrews (Lyle Talbot), marries the rich daughter (Thelma Todd) of a politician. Don soon realizes that it's Mary he really loves, but his wife unexpectedly stalls on their divorce...leaving Mary to go abroad to secretly have Don's baby. And the drama in Mary's life is only just beginning...
Although not quite as entertaining as DR. MONICA, MARY STEVENS, M.D., is an interesting example of the pre-Code "woman's film." The charismatic Francis is compelling, and she is well supported by Glenda Farrell as Glenda, her nurse and loyal friend.
The scene where the unmarried Mary announces her pregnancy to Glenda is quite a surprising jolt for old movie fans, even knowing that this was a pre-Code film. Such a scene would have been unthinkable in a movie just a year or so later. On the plus side, the film has a pro-life message, as Mary is willing to go to great lengths to have her baby despite the impact on her career.
Mary is in many ways a highly admirable and accomplished woman, but she spends far too much time mooning over the feckless Don, who hardly seems worth the effort. And allowing him to go into the operating room drunk? Yes, Mary ultimately saves the day, but for shame.
In both MARY STEVENS and DR. MONICA, the Kay Francis character somewhat inexplicably loves men who don't treat her with the respect she deserves. The films seem to communicate the message that it's impossible -- at least until just before the end titles -- for a professional woman to also have a happy romantic life. (Of course, if she were completely happy, there wouldn't be a movie, right?!)
The supporting cast includes Una O'Connor, Hobart Cavanaugh, Cora Sue Collins, Charles Wilson, and Harold Huber.
This movie was directed by Lloyd Bacon. When Mary's not in hospital scrubs, she's seen in beautiful gowns by Orry-Kelly.
MARY STEVENS, M.D., has not had a video or DVD release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.
Although it's not a perfect movie, MARY STEVENS, M.D., is essential viewing for those interested in pre-Code cinema and the career of Kay Francis.