Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Confession (1937) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Kay Francis stars in CONFESSION (1937), a stylish, absorbing melodrama just released by the Warner Archive.

Francis doesn't appear until roughly 20 minutes into the film, and she enters with a splash, playing Vera, a dance hall performer who spots the sleazy Michael (Basil Rathbone) kissing a young girl (Jane Bryan) in a nightclub -- upon which Vera promptly plugs him with two bullets.

The whys and wherefores are all explained by Kay in flashback via an extended courtroom confession scene; watching her veer back and forth from glamorous, vivacious young dark-haired Kay Francis to the hollow-eyed, depressed blonde in the courtroom is quite something. Francis had star power, and she's fascinating in this.

Rathbone is so sleazy that I think the viewer feels like shooting him too! His seduction of the young girl, who is simultaneously frightened and intrigued, is extremely creepy; when he first kisses her, the shot from her perspective of an out-of-focus light fixture is perfect.

Ian Hunter plays Vera's husband, a soldier, but he has relatively little to do. The film has good performances by Donald Crisp as the judge and Robert Barrat as the prosecutor; both men are tough but ultimately compassionate. Dorothy Peterson gives a warm performance as the loving mother of the young girl in the nightclub.

The movie's most distinctive attribute is its strong visual style, including nightmarish angles, filmed in black and white by Sid Hickox. Some reviewers have commented that the film has a European look, and indeed, director Joe May was Austrian. He would go on to direct the entertaining but more pedestrian-looking SOCIETY SMUGGLERS (1939) and the creative JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944).

Watching CONFESSION back to back with the Warner Bros. "B" Western THE CHEROKEE STRIP (1937) also provided a bit of insight into the studio system. Jane Bryan (seen at left) and Helen Valkis (who later acted under the name Joan Valerie) were the leading lady and main supporting actress of THE CHEROKEE STRIP, which was released in May of 1937; in CONFESSION, released in August 1937, they play an ingenue and a bit role. Bryan had one other film released between May and August, KID GALAHAD, and Valkis had three (two bits and a Western lead). Such was the working life of a young studio contract actress in training!

The DVD of this 87-minute film is a lovely print. The disc includes the trailer.

CONFESSION is an interesting film worth seeing, particularly for fans of Kay Francis.

Reviews of other recent Kay Francis releases from the Warner Archive: THE WHITE ANGEL (1936) and I FOUND STELLA PARISH (1935). Like CONFESSION, both these films costar Ian Hunter.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

5 Comments:

Blogger KC said...

I really liked Francis' performance in this one. It's my favorite of the new releases.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Playing support to a big female star, or the third man in a love triangle, it seems Ian Hunter often had 'little to do.' Having seen THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD at least a hundred times (lol), I've always liked Hunter, but didn't fully appreciate his acting ability until recently... after having seen STRANGE CARGO and THE LONG VOYAGE HOME for the first time(s).

With that said, I'd still like to see this sometime. I've never seen a Kay Francis film, this sounds like a good one to start with...

7:34 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I enjoyed your review of it, KC! Good movie.

Maricatrin, two of my favorite Francis films are the short pre-Codes MARY STEVENS, M.D. (1933) and DR. MONICA (1934). Fun stuff!

Hunter made several films with Francis. It's true he often faded into the woodwork; I thought he was especially good in ANOTHER DAWN (1937). But he'll always be King Richard to me! :)

Best wishes,
Laura

9:20 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Laura. I'll probably see ANOTHER DAWN first... Ian Hunter, the British Empire... and Errol Flynn;-)

Hunter cheerfully described himself as "a very dull fellow," but it's partly that unassuming quality which makes him very likable. And those two performances I mentioned are real eye-openers! I'll never take him for granted again.

Two other British films of his I've seen recently: he was well cast as Dr. Watson apposite Arthur Wontner in THE SIGN OF THE FOUR (1932), and he had a nice supporting role to Binnie Hale and Gordon Harker in the very funny and exciting THE PHANTOM LIGHT (1935).

10:52 AM  
Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

Enjoy Kay in this one, and you're right about the dramatic and memorable look of it-- I LOVE that scene on the staircase when the shots are timed with the stage act.

6:30 AM  

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