Friday, 20 January 2017

Film Friday: "In Name Only" (1939)

This week on "Film Friday" I have decided to honor both Carole Lombard and Cary Grant, whose 112th birthday was this Wednesday, by telling you a little bit about the most notable and well-known of three pictures in which they appeared together.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Cromwell, In Name Only (1939) tells the story of Alec Walker (Cary Grant), the victim of a loveless marriage to heartless social-climber Maida (Kay Francis). One day, he meets Julie Eden (Carole Lombard), a widowed commercial artist with a young daughter named Ellen (Peggy Ann Garner), and immediately falls in love. Julie is caring and uncomplicated, everything that Maida is not. Alec subsequently asks his wife for a divorce and she consents but on the condition that she sail to Paris with his parents, Richard (Charles Coburn) and Grace (Nella Walker), and inform them of the break-up once they reach Europe. Alec foolishly agrees and follows Julie to New York, where they decide to marry.

Returning home on Christmas Eve, Maida informs Julie that she will never grant Alec a divorce. Moreover, if he files for one, she will sue Julie for alienation of affections and drag her daughter into court to testify. Apparently defeated, Julie ends her relationship with Alec, arguing that she cannot see a future with him. A distraught Alec then gets drunk, falls asleep in front of an open window and contracts a severe case of life threatening pneumonia as a result. At the hospital, Dr. Muller (Maurice Moscovich) tells Julie and Mr. Walker that Alec will only recover if he has the will to live. Hearing this, Julie bravely approaches Alec's sickbed and lies that Maida has finally granted him a divorce. Soon after, Maida shows up at the hospital and attacks Julie, admitting that she married Alec only for his social position and his father's wealth. Alec's parents enter the room in the meantime and overhear her cold-blooded admission. Exposed by her own duplicity, Maida is banished from Alec's life, thus clearing the way for his union with Julie.

Julie Eden: What's wrong with romance and what's wrong with illusions as far as that goes, if you can keep them?

While her new husband, Clark Gable, was filming the epic Gone with the Wind (1939), the restless Carole Lombard looked for a new project to fill her time. She read in a magazine that RKO was planning a screen adaptation of Bessie Breuer's debut novel Memory of Love (1935) and she became interested. Originally purchased as a vehicle for popular duo Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, the property had been shelved after the Academy Award-winning actress severed her ties with the studio and moved to New York to appear on Broadway in The Philadelphia Story. When Lombard heard that RKO wanted the picture to be directed by John Cromwell, with whom she had just worked on Made For Each Other (1939), she determined to make it happen. She telephoned Cromwell, who had not yet agreed to the assignment, and said, "If I play the girl, would you direct?" His reply was, "Oh my, yes [...] then I'm sure we could also get Cary."

With Lombard and Cromwell on board, RKO was able to secure Grant, who had appeared with the actress in Sinners in the Sun (1932) and The Eagle and the Hawk (1933). Now at the peak of her popularity, Lombard successfully negotiated the terms of her contract for the film with RKO herself, dispensing the services of her agent, Myron Selznick. She managed to secure a four-picture deal over two years at the then-astonishing fee of $150,000 per movie, plus profit percentages, as well as top billing in the film's credits and advertising. When Grant, hired at half of Lombard's salary, heard about this, he was so angry that he vowed not to appear in the film. Finally, RKO's head of production Pandro S. Berman agreed to raise Grant's fee to $100,000 based on his recent success in Gunga Din (1939) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939).

Cary Grant, Carole Lombard and Kay Francis
To adapt Breuer's novel to the screen, RKO hired Richard Sherman, whose previous credits included the musicals Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938) and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939). The Production Code Administration (PCA), Hollywood's self-imposed censorship board, rejected the first script that RKO sent them for approval. In that script, still titled Memory of Love, Alec learns that Julie is pregnant and that he has only six months to live. Rather than let her suffer the pain of his death, he accuses her blackmail and send her away. Joseph I. Breen, head of the PCA, deemed that version unacceptable because their illicit relationship "undermines the sanctity of the home and the institution of marriage." The sexual affair between the two characters was consequently toned down by the removal of Julie's pregnancy and the addition of a happy ending in which she and Alec plan to marry.

For the role of Grant's heartless wife in In Name Only, as the film was ultimately titled, Lombard recommended her friend Kay Francis, who had been directed by Cromwell in four other films, including Street of Chance (1930) and For the Defense (1930). A star at Warner Bros. in the early 1930s, Francis' stardom had considerably dimmed after the studio began promoting their newest find, Bette Davis. When Davis became more popular than Francis, Warners tried to make Francis break her contract, but she held on to the very last, enduring two years of mediocre films. At Warners, she had been reduced to being a clothes horse. "I want to be an actress," she said, "not just a woman who dresses up and speaks noble lines." Her friends advised her against playing such an unsympathetic role, but Francis was determined to expand her horizons as an actress. "When I played the heavy in In Name Only," she recalled, "my friends told me I was crazy. I said I had to do something other than the mush I'd been playing.

In Name Only was filmed between April and June 1939, with location shooting taking place in San Marino, California. The film opened at the Capitol Theatre in New York on August 18 to generally positive reviews from critics. TIME magazine called it a "mature, meaty picture," while Variety described it as a "wholly capable production," praising Grant and Lombard as "highly impressive." In turn, Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times observed, "When the wife gets the hisses from a preview audience and the other woman wins applause, you can wager that the scenarist, director and cast have done right by a picture. [...] In Name Only is the kind of picture that goes miles and miles in finding popular favor." The film was also successful at the box-office, grossing $1,321,000 in domestic rentals.

Cary Grant: A Biography by Marc Eliot (2009) | Cary Grant: Dark Angel by Geoffrey Wansell (2011) | Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939 by Mark A. Vieira (2013) | TCMDb (Articles) | TCMDb (Notes) | Variety review

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