Confession - 1937
Confession - Released Aug 28, 1937. Directed by Joe May
This isn't a typical Kay Francis movie, though the melodramatic situation seems familiar: a mother is compromised and loses her daughter when the husband pursues divorce and then simply changes his name and disappears with the child. But there's a lot more on the ball than that, with Francis not even appearing on screen for the first 25 minutes, and when she finally does she gets to develop her character (Vera, a professional singer) in ways that usually wasn't possible in so many other films that featured Warner's top-paid star during the 1930s.
Basil Rathbone is on hand, along with frequent Francis co-star Ian Hunter, but neither fellow is there to provide romantic resolutions before the end title, which in itself is out of the ordinary (the emotional resolution at the end is unique in American film because it is provided in an almost completely visual way that is unexpected. Cinemagraphe recommends seeing this instead of reading about it).
The star of Confession isn't just Kay Francis, it is also the direction by Joe May, who adapted Confession from the 1935 German film Mazurka scene-for-scene. The script is by Hans Rameau (German original), Julius J. Epstein and Margaret P. Levino. Confession starts off as a Warner Bros movie, but it progressively mines it's German origins so deeply that the film wouldn't be too out of place on the same shelf with Fritz Lang, among others, and all of that is to the good.
Kay Francis, whether on screen in her usual mass of black hair or with blonde coloring does a serious job (and gets out her letter "r" clearly) that it makes you wonder why she wasn't handled as well in other Warner productions. She gets to downplay her character as the story gets darker (and crazier, considering the plot), and the result has a bit more wallop than might have seemed possible from an actress just standing still, looking forlorn, and letting the camera inspect her. But she does it.
Confession has time-shifting court room flashback construction that is sophisticated for 1937, using a technique that shows up in later films like A Woman's Face and hundreds of episodes of Perry Mason. In Confession, this allows the story to be told, retold, and retold again until we're finally clear on why Vera, a washed-up and burnt out singer, decides to pick up a pistol, and why the court room full of men, logical about the broken laws and eager to condemn her, eventually end up peering at her surreptitiously like she is Joan of Arc.
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