Wednesday, June 3, 2015

1940: Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle

Ginger Rogers plays the title character, who at the beginning of the film is faced with a difficult choice: marry the kind, devoted doctor, or run away with the rich man she's hopelessly in love with who is married to somebody else. Through a series of flashbacks, narrated by her mirror/conscience, we watch her fight her way through the Great Depression, and her history with both men is revealed.

I am a huge Ginger Rogers fan, and even though this is definitely not my favorite of her films, I love that she won this year. From 1933-1939, she was in nine musicals with Fred Astaire, and while she also made several other movies during that time, those were by far the most popular. Wanting a career of her own, rather than to be known only as Fred Astaire's dance partner, she decided to stop working with him altogether after 1939's The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (although they did star in one more movie together in 1949). And the very next year, lo and behold, she won Best Actress. So I guess it worked. She proved that she could succeed in dramatic roles in addition to lighthearted musicals.

That being said, I definitely prefer Rogers in comedic roles. Her best moments in this film are when Kitty's joking around or being clever. She gets this great little twinkle in her eyes, and her delivery of funny lines always makes them even funnier than they should be. Unfortunately, Kitty Foyle has a pretty hard life, so most of the movie is pretty dark. In most of the Ginger Rogers films I've seen, when she's doing comedy she seems like a genuine human being whom I can relate to, but as soon as she gets too serious it's like she's holding a sign that says, "I'm acting! Look, watch me act!" I can't figure out a way to say that without sounding mean. Sorry, Ginger, I love you! And actually, to be fair, there are only a few moments like that in this film, and they're almost all towards the beginning. A lot of that probably has to do with the hokey writing in the first few scenes. Once the story picks up, she seems more like a person and less like an actress, though what she ever saw in that sleazy Wyn guy I'll never understand. Anyway, the point is, I generally don't like Ginger Rogers as well in dramatic roles as comedic ones, but this is probably the best dramatic acting I've seen from her. And while I still think Katharine Hepburn should have won an Oscar for The Philadelphia Story, I certainly don't begrudge Ginger this win. Hepburn did end up with four of them after all.

Possibly because she was best suited for comedic roles, which the Academy seems loath to recognize, this was Ginger Rogers's only Oscar nomination. She continued to star in films of various genres throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and appeared on television several times in the 1950s and 1960s, and occasionally after that. She is still best remembered for her partnership with Fred Astaire, but rather than merely his backup, she's generally considered his equal. At least she won a competitive Oscar, which he never did.

Next up: Joan Fontaine, starring opposite my very favorite actor of all time, which will make it difficult to blog about her rather than him, so we'll see how that goes.

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