Saturday, January 04, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Wife Wanted (1946)

The great Kay Francis ended her 16-year film career with a trio of low-budget films for Monogram Pictures, and WIFE WANTED, which she co-produced, was the very last one.

After WIFE WANTED, Kay's only other screen appearances were a couple of TV programs in 1951.

WIFE WANTED is a reasonably entertaining 70-minute melodrama with Kay as Carole Raymond, a movie star whose career is on a downward slide. Looking to pad her bank account with a job selling real estate, she becomes involved with a sleazy operator, Jeffrey Caldwell (Paul Cavanagh), who not only pushes bogus land deals, he operates a "friendship club" which bilks lonely people.

Enter Bill Tyler (Robert Shayne), a reporter who is on to Caldwell's scheme; Bill poses as a lonely sheep rancher who's attracted to Carole to get the inside story and expose Caldwell's crimes. But do Bill and Carole fall for each other for real?

The movie has a great start with a shot of the Egyptian Theatre and the Pig 'N Whistle restaurant, but after some other stock shots, the L.A. atmosphere becomes diluted. The film is also lacking much of a noir vibe, although the movie was directed by Phil Karlson, who would eventually go on to make some great noir titles such as KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952) and 99 RIVER STREET (1953).

Instead it's a fairly straightforward, standard-issue crime film in which Our Girl Kay is blackmailed by Caldwell into continued cooperation, and she desperately tries to find a way out while also helping a young actress friend (Teala Loring), another of Caldwell's victims. Kay looks wonderful and she's always watchable, but this 73-minute film seems to be a bit perfunctory, without any truly memorable scenes or style.

That said, I'm always up for a Kay Francis movie and I enjoyed watching it, and I could easily watch several more like it.

Teala Loring looked familiar, and no wonder -- she was the sister of actresses Debra Paget (PRINCESS OF THE NILE) and Lisa Gaye. Loring was in another of Francis's Monogram films, ALLOTMENT WIVES (1945). She retired from the screen in 1950, after an 8-year film career, and passed on in 2007. Paget and Gaye survive her, along with their brother Frank Griffin, who began as an actor but switched careers and became a makeup man with a credit as recent as 2005's SHOPGIRL.

Among the rest of the supporting cast, Veda Ann Borg is notable as Caldwell's nasty business partner -- quite a different role from her effervescent cabbie of THE FALCON IN HOLLYWOOD (1944) a couple years prior.

Jonathan Hale, John Gallaudet, and Barton Yarborough are also in the cast. The cinematographer was Harry Neumann. The movie was based on a novel by Robert Callahan.

WIFE WANTED is available in a very nice print from the Warner Archive. It's available as a rental from ClassicFlix.

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