You want to know what a woman's film is? Dr. Monica is it. The only male of any substance in the cast is Warren William and while to say they've neutered him would be to deny the film its one-note plot he certainly has been sedated. They even shaved off his trademark moustache! Okay, he actually removed that to play Caesar in Cleopatra, but the clean upper lip works as nice disguise for him Dr. Monica. That is if you actually see him.
I won't dwell on Warner Brothers' misuse of Warren William any longer--if you want that it's available in the twin article posted to WarrenWilliam.com today--I won't even mention Warren again. We'll just refer to his character, John, if and when necessary.
You might think that I hated Dr. Monica with that intro, but I didn't. I just hated it's use of, erm, the fellow playing John. By the same token Dr. Monica is good for Kay Francis, especially for her 1934 audience who couldn't yet dream of what a television soap opera would look like. Here's a hint, go to the theater, watch Dr. Monica and you'll be a couple of decades ahead of what your kids are going to see on the tube.
Dr. Monica is even further ahead of the curve than those first TV soaps. The doctor's husband, that vanilla fellow John again, has actually--get this--impregnated their young friend, Mary (Jean Muir). Mary is a rich brat living on her own in New York who unlike the other women of Dr. Monica doesn't work and so spends her spare time seducing other gals' husbands.
In case you weren't quite sure about Dr. Monica making it in under the mid-1934 pre and post code dividing line we have the following brief conversation between Mary and her pal, Dr. Monica after Monica has given Mary her diagnosis:
Mary: "Monica, you've got to help me!"
Monica: "Don't you ever dare talk like that again. Don't you ever think that way again."
Now Monica is completely willing to help Mary. In fact she helps her above and beyond proper expectations once all of the facts are known. But what Mary really wants Monica's help with is an abortion. As heavily veiled as the typed dialogue makes this appear it is quite obvious when watching Kay Francis and Jean Muir put the scene over.
The man who would soon be enforcing the Code, Joseph I. Breen, referred to the Dr. Monica characters as, "a lesbian, a nymphomaniac, and a prostitute."
I'd imagine Verree Teasdale's Anna would be the lesbian because she had the gall to be a successful single woman in a profession traditionally associated with males. No, not that--she was an architect (gasp!). Working by process of elimination I'm going to go ahead and assume Jean Muir's Mary was the nympho, though perhaps Breen was confused and thought John had supplied her with that lush apartment in return for favors. No, Mary came from unspecified Ohio money. The prosititute? Um, John? I dunno.
What I do know, judging by the depths Mr. Breen has sent my previous paragraph is that this guy had one dirty mind. Talk about a lecherous job. But he didn't yet have the hand to snuff out Dr. Monica.
I do see that notes from the American Film Institute (A.F.I.) put a 65 minute running time on Dr. Monica while the TCM print, which is what I watched, clocks in at only 53 minutes. While I doubt they trimmed out the 12 minutes of Kay Francis streetwalker footage that would specifically answer Breen's charge, I would sure love to see what exactly did go missing!
After Kay Francis turned down yet another part opposite William Powell in The Key she was offered two stories and chose Dr. Monica.
Originally based on the 1932 Polish play Monika by Maria Morozowicz-Szczepkowska, it was translated by Laura Walker into a three act play staged by Dmitri Ostrov at the Playhouse Theater on Broadway.
Boasting Alla Nazimova in the Monica role and Gale Sondergaard as Anna, the Verree Teasdale part in the film, Doctor Monica flopped. It lasted just 16 performances in November 1933. While the Jean Muir part was in the play under another name, that was it--just the three characters. All women. Dr. Monica Braden's husband, John, was added when Charles Kenyon adapted the play for Warner Brothers. It would be directed by William Keighley.
The part of John was originally conceived for Joel McCrea and then, according to the Hollywood Reporter newcomer John Eldredge was assigned the part right after signing with the studio. Once Eldredge was reassigned to the Edward G. Robinson film which became The Man With Two Faces, Warren William (sorry!) was basically last man standing in a game of musical chairs. More on this in the accompanying WarrenWilliam.com article.
Assigned to Dr. Monica just after Kay Francis was put on the project was Jean Muir, who I recently ripped a bit in a brief mention of her regarding The Outcasts of Poker Flat. Jean Muir is very pretty. But she's never impressed me as an actress. That said, Dr. Monica is the most phenomenal thing I've ever seen her do. Her character is actually interesting enough to rival Monica, not only for John's affections but our interest.
When Dr. Monica opens Muir, as Mary, is seated quietly on the couch next to John, an author, who is discussing the literary life with a Mrs. Hazlitt (Ann Shoemaker). After Monica arrives and greets them, hubby John excuses himself for an appointment while moments later Mary attempts to bow out of the evening as well. Eyeballs are dashing all over the place casting either suspicious glances or lustful gazes depending upon whose set of eyes they are. Despite all of their respectable exterior appearances we know there is something afoot. Monica hasn't a clue though.
Muir's Mary is trapped between being Monica's close friend and John's lover. After John leaves the party and Monica lets loose the news that her husband will be departing soon for a few months in Europe, Mary has to try to keep herself together. She faints at the piano and then recovering under Monica's care stops to snipe at her friend on her way out the door. She catches herself, apologizes, departs and goes home to weep while the wonderful Louise Beavers is oblivious to it all as her maid.
Muir's emotions swing between just down and totally bottomed out and it gets worse for her when John pays a call and she confronts him over his coming trip.
"We always knew it had to be done sometime," John tells her adding that, "It'll be easier with the ocean between us."
We're treated to John's departure as Monica, along with architect pal Anna (Teasdale), can't seem to figure out why he can't find them on the dock. It's because his eyes are pointed several yards over on poor Mary, hidden behind a beam waving to him. When John waves back to Mary, Anna calms Monica telling her, "There. He thinks he sees us."
Mary's mood swings seem explained to Monica and Anna when they bump into each other on the pier. They assume Mary's boyfriend has gone off on the same ship as John with Monica even adding, "I hope your man at least waved." The girls get together to have a few drinks and Mary is tossing them back faster and harder than anyone else. She's trying to keep a brave face but is completely inconsolable at this point.
Jean Muir is handling every mood swing stunningly well. She has completely stabbed her pal Monica in the back and Monica is Kay Francis for goodness sake so we love her!
At this point there is no doubt that Mary would take John from Monica if presented the chance. Still, she's so conflicted over her love of John and her betrayal of Mary that we just can't help feeling something for this girl. It's not as though we're being asked to blame John. He is presented as a gentleman. I get the feeling we're supposed to take one look at Jean Muir and think, well, what did you expect him to do?
Monica decides to take Mary on a little vacation to take her mind off of her man troubles. In a development so novel you can't help but to sense eventual doom, we learn that Mary has a pilot's license and so she flies Monica and herself off to a resort where rich folks go horseback riding during working hours. It's while trotting alongside another wasted male character, Phillip Reed as Bunny, that Mary downs her riding partner's flask of hooch and takes off riding as fast as she can. An attempt to make a steeple jump winds up with her horse crashing through the brick wall. Mary is flat on the ground with the revelation about her pregnancy looming a few moments away.
Once Mary is bedridden her character finally drifts into the background some to allow Kay Francis enough space to take this movie over. Up until now Kay's Monica has been the unsuspecting wife and the best friend any girl could ever have in a crisis. The one thing that gets her down is that she and John cannot conceive a child. In fact, the reason she hasn't gone over to Europe with John is so she can head to her own doctor and see if anything can be done about this.
It's while Mary is at her side that Monica's office phone rings and Dr. Palmer delivers the devastating news. "He says there's no use my going to the hospital," Monica tells Mary. She adds, "Ever."
Well now, we've got a young single woman pregnant by her close friend's husband. That close friend cannot have children herself yet is desperate for a child. In a world otherwise populated by swank apartments we've be shown that the young single can fly a plane and her riding escapade has left her saying out loud that, "I believe you people think I took that jump deliberately." Hmmm.
It is obvious how Dr. Monica is going to turn out yet well worth watching because of the outstanding performances by Muir, Francis and though I've yet to really mention her, Teasdale. Muir is startlingly good. Kay Francis has a fantastic scene once everything comes to be known and Verree Teasdale shares it with her. Teasdale is wonderful as the razor wit who keeps everyone in line. Really fine performances by all three in a movie that couldn't possibly have done much for any of them, except perhaps young Jean Muir.
Reviews were generally good. The New York Times said that while it wasn't especially suspenseful it was better than the play. The World-Telgram concurred: "whereas the play was a pretty dreary, depressing and sterile affair, the film ... is a tolerably entertaining exhibit. The American called it "an interesting and generally worth-while film." The Journal maintained that "despite its thinness of plot the picture should interest Francis fans by virtue of its generally smooth acting and direction."
The Mirror called it "a movie about women for women," and the Sun "essentially feminine," while the News went even further declaring that "The story is one that will make a strong appeal to women and men will find it interesting enough." The worst words seem to come from the Hollywood Reporter, source of all of the previous reviews. While they rip it for more space than I'm going to allow them, basically: "This picture is a lot of to-do over nothing. The story itself isn't at all interesting and it certainly isn't palatable."
I think I'm with the News. The appeal is strong for women here and fellows need not go stand on a ledge if Dr. Monica is turned on. Besides the fine performances it is only 53 minutes you're giving up here. Check it out for Jean Muir and the Teasdale slap.
This article is part of the 2012 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Click HERE to read other entries from Kay-day, August 21, 2012, from other participating bloggers. More of my own Kay Francis related articles can be found HERE.