Earlier this month I watched WIFE WANTED (1946), the final feature film starring Kay Francis.
WIFE WANTED was one of three Monogram films coproduced by Francis at the close of her career. Tonight I watched another of those films, ALLOTMENT WIVES (1945), which I found tremendously entertaining in a low-rent kind of way.
The film's attitude is summed up by the poster, featuring the formerly elegant Miss Francis with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. In ALLOTMENT WIVES Kay is the hard-edged, murderous head of a crime syndicate, who shoots someone in cold blood and then barks at her henchmen "Get rid of it!" It's that kind of movie.
Kay Francis as a criminal mastermind simply has to be seen. I rather admire that Kay dove into this role with such gusto, not afraid to be a really bad woman, even if it's all a bit absurd at times. I'm not certain if it was meant to be funny, but her final line is absolutely hilarious.
The website Kay Francis Films says "On the scale of 'must-sees' in Kay Francis’ work, one being the least notable and ten being the highest, I’d rate ALLOTMENT WIVES at around eleven or twelve. It’s great, ridiculous crime entertainment, and surely anyone who watches it will agree they would like to see it again, and again, and again…"
Kay plays Sheila Seymour, a glamorous, somewhat mysterious widow who owns a popular beauty salon and also nobly runs a canteen for soldiers. The canteen, however, is meant to lure soldiers into quick marriages with young women who are bigamists; the girls pull in military paychecks from several husbands at once, turning most of the money over to Sheila's mob.
Col. Pete Martin (Paul Kelly) is tasked by the military with getting to the bottom of the paycheck fraud. He poses as a reporter and quickly zeroes in on the racket. His only mistake is taking Sheila at face value for far too long.
Otto Kruger is Sheila's partner in crime. Like Sheila, he's upper crust on the outside but he has no problem ordering that someone be rubbed out. Kruger is perfect in the role and a nice counterpoint to Francis, arranging mob hits one minute and trying to help solve her parenting problems the next.
Teala Loring -- who was the older sister of Debra Paget in real life -- plays Kay's daughter Connie, who's been sheltered at boarding school but is starting to act out because of her mother's neglect. Sheila, who grew up dirt poor, wants Connie to have a comfortable life and all the things she never had, but it's coming at the expense of time with her daughter. And of course, since Kay goes around shooting people or having them "disappeared," that doesn't bode well for their long-term relationship either.
The parental angle gives the character of Sheila an interesting Achilles' heel and also serves to drum up audience sympathy at times -- until one is reminded anew that Sheila is a bad, bad woman.
The good cast includes Jonathan Hale in a couple of "bookend" scenes as Kelly's military boss, plus Gertrude Michael, Selmer Jackson, and Bernard Nedell.
William Nigh directed this action-packed 80-minute film, which was photographed in black and white by Harry Neumann.
Hopefully ALLOTMENT WIVES will be released in the future by the Warner Archive. In the meantime, watch for it to turn up on Turner Classic Movies. (Update: I've learned this movie can be watched at Amazon Instant Video.)
ALLOTMENT WIVES isn't great art, but it is great fun. And that's a certain kind of art all its own.