In the grand tradition of MADAME X and STELLA DALLAS, this tale of murder, betrayal, lust, loss and a mother's sacrifice blows them all out of the water due to the fact that it really happened. "Ripped From Today's Headlines!", CONFESSION was based on a 1930 murder case that rocked Europe. Directed by UFA alumni Joe May, this Warner Bros. film was a near shot-for-shot remake of the 1935 Third Reich Pola Negri classic, MAZURKA, although the tale's earliest film version is RKO/Pathe's 1931 Pre-Code corker, MILLIE, starring that premiere "sob-sister of soap", Helen Twelvetrees.
A brief synopsis of CONFESSION from "The Warner Bros. Story": Kay Francis, as a singer, endured almost as much as her audiences in CONFESSION. An unashamedly melodramatic film, it had its heroine performing in sidewalk cafés when, at the very least, she should have been gracing the opera houses of Europe! Not only that, but when she finds evil Basil Rathbone, who was once responsible for separating her from her husband and little girl, making advances to the same little girl who isn't so little anymore, she kills him. All too silly for words ...and for Joe May's limited directorial talents.
The author seems ignorant of a few pertinent facts -the film is no sillier than the real-life events it depicted while director Joe May's talents need not be defended here. The author should also have been aware that CONFESSION was a conscious shot-for-shot remake of the 1935 German film. Producer Hal Wallis, stars Kay Francis & Basil Rathbone, the Warner Bros. cinematography, costume, and set design departments are all in peak form here and, as time passes, CONFESSION's reputation continues to grow.
Film historian William K. Everson gives a more accurate assessment when he re-discovered this Hollywood Classic in "Films In Review": The plot ...pre-dates CITIZEN KANE in its narrative structure ...it is almost impossible to understand fully all of the plot ramification at one sitting ...Kay Francis, perhaps piqued by the knowledge that Bette Davis had turned this property down, professed not to like it at all, and reported that May was impossible to work with. CONFESSION's finest moment is also its most old-fashioned. After the trial, mother & daughter meet accidentally in the cheerless prison corridor. Both stand silently staring at one another, the daughter unaware of the other's relationship to her ...the mother unable to reveal her own emotions without giving away her secret. Then a ghost image leaves the mother's body to bestow the wish-fulfillment embrace that she cannot bestow in actuality. It is one of the most poignant and moving moments I can recall in any movie. Kay Francis is surprisingly good. For once its a role for an actress rather than a personality, and she does well with it ...Joe May believed in what he was doing and didn't feel superior to its tear-jerker category. CONFESSION is one of the very best and most handsomely mounted genre films ...a needed reminder (of) the German influence on Hollywood.
Wavishing Kay Fwancis (the lady had occasional trouble with her "r's") is wonderful here and shows she's far more than a Depression Era "clothes horse". Francis has been unjustly forgotten by all but the most knowledgeable film buffs -but with two new biographies out, Kay has now begun to take her rightful place in Classic Film history. In CONFESSION, she artfully transforms from naive raven-haired operetta/revue star to cynical jade in platinum wig and alarming décolleté -and even growls a torch song: "One Hour Of Romance"! Warner's Bros. CONFESSION actually started out as MAZURKA with Kay Francis & Fredric March after Bette Davis refused the Francis role. But March had a commitment with David O. Selznick at the time and was replaced with Basil Rathbone -and the film's title changed to "One Hour Of Romance". Then director William Dieterle was replaced by Joe May and it all became CONFESSION. Anita Louise was slated to play Kay's daughter but was inexplicably replaced by Jane Bryan. This role would have been deja-vu for Anita -she had already played it. Louise was the daughter Helen Twelvetrees took a gun to protect in the 1931 RKO film MILLIE.
May's precision-driven direction wasn't easy on the cast & crew -during the murder scene, he had Rathbone roll down the stairs ten times until it was "perfect". May was so enamored of the original MAZURKA he used a stopwatch to make sure CONFESSION's scenes ran exactly as long as the original Reich film. Kay Francis' diary entry for March 9, 1937 says "Joe May driving us all crazy" and Jane Bryan noted, "We were marching through the film like sleepwalkers." When filming was completed, the entire cast and crew presented Kay with an 18th century snuff-box containing a parchment that read: "A confession of our love & appreciation of Kay Francis". According to Kay's biographer: "The difficult Miss Francis, frequently reported terror of the sets, promptly broke down and cried like a baby." Audiences at the time loved the film. "Variety" wrote: "CONFESSION is a finely produced vehicle for Kay Francis ...Responsibility for the commercial career of the picture is tossed right into Miss Francis' lap. Despite some very fine supporting acting, the picture is all hers ...ideal material for any dramatic star." "Life Imitates Art Imitates Life" Department: Creaky tear-jerking chestnuts like MADAME X and STELLA DALLAS had already seen incarnation as silent films. One has to wonder: Did these films go through the head of the real-life woman (who saved a young girl from ever knowing what her real mother really was) as she pulled the trigger in 1930? Hmmm...
Highly recommended for myriad reasons, CONFESSION reveals itself to be an amazing classic film experience!