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Give Me Your Heart

Give Me Your Heart(1936)

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teaser Give Me Your Heart (1936)

Kay Francis was Warner Brothers' top female star in the mid-1930s, slinking through her weepy melodramas swathed in high-fashion gowns, furs and jewels which showcased her brunette, sad-eyed beauty. By 1934, Francis's pictures earned the most at the box office, and her salary was the highest of all the studio's female stars. Unlike the up-and-coming Bette Davis, however, Francis cared more about financial security than the quality of her films, and her roles became over-the-top ridiculous. By the following year, her box office appeal was waning, and she had been dismissed by critics as nothing more than a clotheshorse.

Divorced from her second husband, Francis became involved with screenwriter (and later director and producer) Delmer Daves, whose lively intellect stimulated her own. Daves urged her to ask the studio to give her the lead in a Florence Nightingale biopic to be directed by William Dieterle, who had helmed the hugely successful Oscar®-winner, The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936). Hesitant to put their glamorous cash cow into a "serious" picture, Warners executives hesitated, but finally agreed to cast Francis as Nightingale in The White Angel (1936), with two conditions: not only would she have to give a performance that impressed the critics, the film also needed to perform well at the box office. Under the guidance of Dieterle, Francis gave a strong emotional performance that won praise from critics, but the public stayed away. In spite of the critical acclaim, producer Hal Wallis later blamed The White Angel's failure on director and star, rather than on script or production issues: "I felt [Dieterle] should have gotten more emotion from Kay Francis....We weren't too happy with the picture. The White Angel was well directed but miscast, and Kay Francis had lost the box office she once had. It was one of our box office failures."

After that failure, it was back to romantic melodramas and high-fashion wardrobes for Francis. Fortunately, her next film, Give Me Your Heart (1936), "might have been one of her last good Warner Brothers films," according to Francis biographers Lynn Kear and John Rossman. On the website, www.kayfrancisfilms.com, Michael O'Hanlon calls it "perhaps the most underrated movie of Kay's entire Hollywood career...it's one of her top four greatest movies." Based on a play called Sweet Aloes (1934) by British actress Joyce Cary (writing under the pseudonym Jay Mallory), Give Me Your Heart is set among the British aristocracy. Francis plays Belinda, who finds herself pregnant as a result of an affair with a married nobleman (Patric Knowles) whose wife is unable to give him an heir. Yielding to pressure, she turns over the child to her former lover and his wife and flees to America, where she marries a businessman (George Brent) who truly loves her. However, Belinda cannot forget her past, and her unhappiness threatens both her own marriage, and her ex-lover's family. Rich in emotional complexity, the film offers Francis the chance to show off her range opposite Brent, one of her favorite and most sympathetic co-stars. They were featured together in six Warner Brothers films.

Give Me Your Heart was the second of three films Francis made with director Archie Mayo. Although the two reportedly did not get along, Mayo always managed to draw excellent performances from Francis. Columnist Jimmy Fiedler witnessed and wrote about one tantrum on the set of Give Me Your Heart during which Francis berated the director, then stormed off the set, only to return soon after and apologize to Mayo. Critics praised the work of both star and director. Photoplay called the film "a perfect vehicle for the dramatic power of Kay Francis." Columnist Louella Parsons gushed that Francis "has never given a better performance," and added, "Archie Mayo, who excels in these human heart-interest stories, does a really beautiful job."

Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times called Give Me Your Heart "an affecting, mature and sophisticated drama of mother love and applied psychiatry." Nugent praised the entire cast, including Frieda Inescort as the incredibly understanding wife, and singled out Roland Young, as Francis's pal, for adding a welcome comic relief: "Tripping lightly though the heavier theme and wisely balancing its tragedy is a genial elf of comedy in the increasingly stocky form of the aforementioned Mr. Young...The cast, in other respects, is thoroughly up to the task of bringing a basically exaggerated story to a convincing measure of credibility."

Give Me Your Heart returned Francis to the box office heights, but it did not last, as the studio increasingly confined her to lavishly-costumed romantic dramas with weak scripts. The following year, dismayed at the quality of films the studio was giving her, Francis sued Warner Brothers to terminate her contract. The suit was eventually settled, with the star continuing to draw her $5200 per week salary, and accepting the inferior films the studio gave her, until the contract ended in 1939. After that she freelanced, and played mostly supporting roles until the mid-1940s, eventually retiring from films and working occasionally onstage. She died in 1968. Like the title of one of her films, Comet Over Broadway (1938), Kay Francis's stardom had flared brightly and briefly, then had been forgotten for decades, before being re-discovered and appreciated by a new generation of film fans.

Producer: Hal B. Wallis (uncredited)
Director: Archie L. Mayo
Screenplay: Jay Mallory (play); Casey Robinson
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Art Direction: C.M. Novi, Max Parker
Music: Heinz Roemheld (uncredited)
Film Editing: James Gibbon
Cast: Kay Francis (Belinda 'Bill' 'Linda' Warren), George Brent (James 'Jim' Baker), Roland Young (Edward 'Tubbs' Barron), Patric Knowles (Robert 'Bob' Melford), Henry Stephenson (Edward, Lord Farrington), Frieda Inescort (Rosamond Melford), Helen Flint (Dr. Florence 'Bones' Cudahy), Halliwell Hobbes (Oliver Warren), Zeffie Tilbury (Aunt Esther Warren), Elspeth Dudgeon (Alice Dodd).
BW-89m. Closed Captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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