3 April 2002 | tashman
Francis Back on Top
After an evening of Kay Francis floating through a series of flat "A" levels (ANOTHER DAWN; FIRST LADY; CONFESSION), where often even the scenery steals scenes from her, and especially after enjoying her Pre-Code hey-day (DR. MONICA; MARY STEVENS, MD; TROUBLE IN PARADISE; ONE WAY PASSAGE), it was gratifying to see the old fire spitting and sputtering through the John Farrow-directed WOMEN IN THE WIND. Francis, despite her name appearing below the title, a reliable if second-tier cast, and an oddly frumpy, figure-obscuring wardrobe, carries the picture along with cheery confidence and yes, a little more fire than you'd come to expect. Ravishing Kay holds her own, even against scene-thief Eve Arden, here playing an oft-married bon-aviatrix named "Kit" Campbell, the great sport, heroic long-distance pilot, complete with silk scarf and confident swagger. They may have tried everything to discourage her at Warners, but Kay Francis is unequivocally running this game. There is even a third strong actress given a generous amount of screen time, Sheila Bromley, a tough cookie whom you probably saw in some 1950s sit-coms playing tough cookies (JOAN DAVIS SHOW; I LOVE LUCY). Here Bromley gets to sink her chops into the stock "First Wife-Other Woman" road hazard, providing personally supervised obstacles for ex-hub (William Gargan), Francis, and all the WOMEN IN THE WIND put together. Lots of Warners' actresses - Ann Sheridan, Jane Wyman, Carole Hughes, Gloria Dickson, Lola Lane, Marcia Ralston - could have easily played this role, but it's a treat to watch Bromley - an actress who reminded me of the young, cocky Bette Davis of the "I'd love to kiss ya..."days. The lead is handled by William Gargan, an actor who had great Pat O'Brien-style charm, which here he uses sparingly, spending a large portion of the tale glowering. Too bad he's sort of dull and annoying while he glowers, because he's playing a guy named Ace Boreman. As comic relief, Maxie Rosenbloom has a nice, easy-going, laid-back style -- untrained with good instincts, and quite welcome in this film. And Eddie Foy, Jr., Frankie Burke, Frank Faylen, Vera Lewis, and Spencer Charters are all on hand to do good work in a highly entertaining tale that holds the interest. Footage of circa aircraft is actually as entertaining as any aspect of the picture, there's not one dull shot.