Saturday, October 09, 2010

Tonight's Movie: First Lady (1937)

Kay Francis and an excellent cast appear in FIRST LADY, the stagy yet entertaining filming of a play by George S. Kaufman and Katharine Dayton.

Lucy Chase Wayne (Francis) is the granddaughter of a former President and the wife of the respected current Secretary of State (Preston Foster). Lucy would love to see her husband elected President, but even more, she doesn't want her nemesis, Irene Hibbard (Verree Teasdale), to be First Lady.

The film is very theatrical in tone, with the style of dialogue and the limited sets both contributing to the feeling one is watching a filmed play. That said, it's an amusing filmed play, and some of the witty, catty dialogue calls to mind THE WOMEN (1939). Unlike THE WOMEN, men are onscreen in this film...but it's strictly women running the show.

FIRST LADY is an interesting mix of political fantasy, with the next President (not nominee!) selected on a whim by a handful of people, and the reality of the times, when politics was a man's world and nominees were selected by dealmakers over brandy and cigars, rather than by election. The film then veers back to fantasy by suggesting that although the men think they're in charge, it's really women who pull the strings.

Francis is fun in an atypical role as a woman who is both bubbleheaded and Machiavellian. As always, she looks fabulous in gowns by Orry-Kelly; a number she wears to a dinner near the end of the film is a particular knockout.

Teasdale (Mrs. Adolphe Menjou in real life) does a great job as Irene, delivering numerous barbed digs. An extended sequence showing Irene and her husband, a dimwitted Supreme Court justice (Walter Connolly), spending an evening at home goes on too long, but otherwise the film is well paced.

Anita Louise is charming as Emmy, Lucy's sweet, even more bubbleheaded niece, who falls in love with Senator Keane (Victor Jory). Unfortunately it feels as though some of their storyline might have been left on the cutting-room floor.

The cast also includes Harry Davenport, Henry O'Neill, Marjorie Rambeau, Marjorie Gateson, Louise Fazenda, Grant Mitchell, Sara Haden, and Lucille Gleason.

FIRST LADY runs 83 minutes. It was directed by Stanley Logan.

The 1935 Broadway cast starred Jane Cowl (ONCE MORE, MY DARLING) as Lucy. A 1952 revival starred Helen Gahagan, the wife of Melvyn Douglas; at that time Gahagan had recently concluded serving in the House of Representatives.

FIRST LADY is not available on VHS or DVD. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

The trailer is here.


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