Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers)–a working-class girl born and raised in Philadelphia, where the lines between the classes are distinctly drawn and adhered to rigidly–does the unthinkable: she falls in love with a “Main Line” boy, Wyn Strafford (Dennis Morgan), for whom she works as a typist. Though Wyn loves her in return, he faces immense pressure from his high-society family to conform to tradition: to work as a banker and marry the “right” kind of girl from the “right” kind of family. Kitty, who is unashamed of her Irish roots or her status as a working girl, eventually leaves Philadelphia and finds work in a New York boutique, where one day she meets Mark (James Craig), a poor but determined doctor. Still, despite Mark’s courtship and her growing feelings for him, she never can quite get Wyn out of her head. Through a series of tragic circumstances, Kitty finds herself at a crossroads where she is forced to choose between the two men, who are offering her two decidedly different futures.
Directed by Sam Wood, and based on a popular novel by Christopher Morley (subtitled The Natural History of a Woman), Kitty Foyle was clearly designed by Ginger Rogers’s home studio RKO as a showcase for her dramatic skills–skills that were, by and large, tapped only sporadically in the years leading up to the production of the film. By 1940, Rogers had built a reputation as not only a fine dancer and singer–most notably in her many screen partnerships with Fred Astaire–but as a capable comedienne. Indeed, Rogers displayed a gift for banter and a deceptively easy sense of comedic timing in several films in the 1930s, including Vivacious Lady (1938) and Bachelor Mother (1939). Her wisecracking role in 1937’s Stage Door provided the first true hint of her dramatic prowess, and she capably handled the racy and overly sentimental material of Primrose Path (1940), but arguably, it wasn’t until she was cast as “America’s white-collar girl” in Foyle that Rogers was able to show off the particular depths of her talent.
Granted, the Academy Award-nominated screenplay (penned, surprisingly enough, by Dalton Trumbo, near the start of his long and controversial Hollywood career) is soaked in sometimes-treacly dialogue–Kitty Foyle is, rather unabashedly, a “woman’s picture,” and almost seems to revel in its own melodramatic flavor. But this is what makes Rogers’s performance all the more remarkable. It is her characterization of Kitty that carries the film; even in its most maudlin moments, Rogers makes Kitty’s heartbreak palpably, movingly real. Kitty Foyle was an absolute smash hit, and in recognition of her effective performance, Rogers–faced with some seriously stiff competition from Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine, Katharine Hepburn, and newcomer Martha Scott–ultimately walked away with the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film.
One perhaps unexpected side effect of Rogers’s luminous performance: the actress completely overshadows her leading men. Neither the adorable yet still wet-behind-the-ears Morgan nor the rather bland Craig are quite able to match her (but, hey–did I mention how utterly adorable Morgan is here?). There are a couple of interesting supporting turns, however. As Kitty’s father, Ernest Cossart has a few choice scenes opposite his onscreen daughter (in which he utters the epithet “Judas Priest!” so many times that the words begin to lose all meaning). Gladys Cooper appears in one of her many society-dowager roles as Wyn’s mother, though her screen time is sadly far too brief. And Eduardo Ciannelli provides some welcome levity as a speakeasy owner who fervently (and vainly) hopes for FDR’s defeat in the 1932 election.
The recent Warner Archive DVD release of Kitty Foyle boasts a very good print of the film (and subtitles! In three languages! A rarity among the Archive releases I’ve seen). Interestingly, this disc also offers some entertaining extras–a pleasant surprise, considering the dearth of special features on many of the manufactured-on-demand Archive releases. The theatrical trailer for the film is included, as are two radio broadcasts of the film’s story–one a 1941 Lux Radio Theater broadcast featuring the three lead actors and produced by Cecil B. DeMille, and the other a 1946 Academy Award Theater broadcast with Rogers reprising her Oscar-winning role. Among the extras are also two MGM cartoons: the 1948 Tom and Jerry short Kitty Foiled, and Tex Avery’s uproarious 1949 short Bad Luck Blackie. Neither of them truly has anything to do with Kitty Foyle beyond tangential (and titular) references, but they are enjoyable inclusions nonetheless.