Kitty Foyle (1940): Woman’s Melodrama Starring Ginger Rogers in her Oscar Performance

Cast in a major, “serious” role in Kitty Foyle, after years of being better-known as the dancing partner of Fred Astaire in the beloved RKO musicals, Ginger Rogers proved that she had star quality and possessed dramatic talent all her own.

In this woman’s picture (pejoratively known as “weepie”), Rogers plays the titular role, a feisty heroine from the wrong side of the tracks, who romances two men.  The role was first offered to Katharine Hepburn (who had appeared opposite Rogers in the 1937 melodrama, “Stage Door”).

Wyn Strafford (Dennis Morgan), a society scion, is a desirable catch Kitty has watched attending Philadelphia’s elegant balls. The two meet and immediately fall in love, when Kitty becomes Wyn’s secretary. But, expectedly, his family objects to their marriage. They want to send Kitty to a finish school to get some manners and polish, which motivates the proud Kitty to walk out on Wyn. Predictably, social obligations tear them apart, and Wyn goes on to marry another woman.

When Kitty realizes she’s pregnant, she decides to have the baby on her own, without telling Wynbut the baby dies. Kitty then begins a second romance with Mark (James Craig), a struggling young doctor. She accepts his marriage proposal, but then Wyn comes back into her life, forcing her to make tough choices.

Based on Christopher Morley’s novel, the film is sentimental, though it makes no apologies for being a tearjerker.

Well-directed by Sam Wood, “Kitty Foyle” contains some humor and genuine warmth in the characterizations.

As a working-class Cinderella, Rogers turns in a poignant performance that’s remarkable in its restraint considering Kitty’s melodramatic travails. Under Wood’s matter-of-fact direction, Rogers makes the most of her “meaty” part, whether wisecracking with her cronies during her first date with Mark, telling off Wyn’s snobbish family, or in her touching encounters with children.

Oscar Context

Rogers’ Best Actress Oscar for this film was controversial, due to the competition that year from Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Fontaine, and Martha Scott. But in the same year, Rogers also excelled in another film, the melodrama, “Primrose Path,” so perhaps the Academy voters honored her for both performances.

Despite honorable goals, the strange prologue, about how the treatment of women has “changed” through the years, comes across as anti-feminist.

Recycling:

Kitty Foyle was adapted as a radio play on the May 5, 1941 episode of the Lux Radio Theater, in which Ginger Rogers reprised her role. Rogers also starred in the April 6, 1946 adaptation heard on the Academy Award Theater.

On March 3, 1947, it was produced for the Screen Actors Theater with Olivia de Havilland.

Kitty Foyle also became a TV soap opera, starring Kathleen Murray.

Cast

Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers)
Wyn Strafford (Dennis Morgan)
Mark (James Craig)
Giono (Eduardo Ciannelli)
Pop (Ernest Cossart)
Mrs. Strafford (Gladys Cooper)
Delphine Detaille (Odette Myrtil)
Pat (Mary Treen)
Molly (K.T. Stevens)
Mr. Kennett (Walter Kingsford)

Credits:

RKO

Picture, produced by David Hempstead
Director: Sam Wood
Screenplay: Dalton Trumbo
Sound Recording: John Aalberg

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