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.
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.