I Found Stella Parish 1935

Continued review: Kay Francis in "I Found Stella Parish"

PAGE 2 | PAGE 1


"I'm an ink-stained news hound first, and a gent second."
Reporter Keith Lockridge (Hunter) to theatrical producer Steven Norman (Lucas)

But the "auntie disguise" also has interesting visual suggestions in LeRoy's direction. When Parish is secluded into the privacy of her cabin (and it's huge: she's not trying to save any money on this voyage), she walks to her mirror and pulls apart the disguise, tossing aside the black hat, robe and gray wig that in one scene earlier she was wearing while happily playing with her daughter. With the costume gone, we now see the raven-black Kay Francis hair, and a very tired and worried expression settled over her face. It is small scene, but it indicates a lot more thought and care went into details of this production than came out on the other end with editing and scripting. It also reminds anyone who has seen a lot of Kay Francis movies just how badly Warner Bro's could handle such a prize factory player.

On board, Keith Lockridge worms his way into her family circle by entertaining the young daughter Gloria, and though it is obvious to everyone Lockridge knows that "Auntie" isn't really anything but the girl's mother, the masquerade is played along until the boat docks. While sailing, this film has more in common with light-hearted musicals and romance movies that centered upon the exotic sense of travel afforded by a luxury liner. It's after coming off ship that LeRoy reverts back toward the grim dramatics of the earlier part of the movie. This schizophrenic shifting about ruins what qualities the film does possess (Francis' acting and shouting "fweak!," the excellent camera work and staging. And Ian Hunter and May Robson are certainly serviceable in their roles, as is Paul Lucas and Sybil Jason.) How does a good director come about making such a choppy, loosely-handled movie?

[Above: Kay Francis' confronts a bit of reality when unmasking in private before her giant art-deco mirror. Sometimes in this film the props are simply better than the story.]

"In New York I'll just be a needle in a stack of six-million straws."
Stella Parish (Kay Francis) to Nana (Jessie Ralph).

It is not until they have arrived in America and continue to spend time together that the consequences of the relationship between the unmasked "Auntie Lumilla" and reporter Keith Lockridge come to the fore. Stella is trying to find an anonymous hat shop to buy in order to secure an income for her family, in the meantime she claims to Keith Lockridge that she is living off alimony, adding "disgusting, isn't it?" She is cheerfully lying, completely unaware that Lockridge knows she is. Of course, he is also lying, pretending that he works in the English tea trade and is in the United States on business. Actually, he spends his time searching through Stella's belongings wherever there is a chance, and using the information to find her former associates that can provide him with enough information to explain why Parish is in hiding - - not that he is actually interested in the truth, just in details that he can use to manufacture the tale the way he wants it and the way his editor Reeves (Walter Kingsford) wants it. Lockridge is a con-artist and a bit of a burglar, and when he plays with the little daughter he has befriended, enacting the role of 'The Big Bad Wolf' while Gloria is 'Little Red Riding Hood,' it's not too far from the truth.

Reporters were portrayed in various ways in the films of the 1930s: as evil, sick hacks (Five Star Final, 1931, incidentally directed by LeRoy); hard-drinking, ironical, but pragmatic and idealizing (Capra's Mr Smith Goes to Washington, 1939); and cynical con-artists with a sentimental side (Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, 1936). Ian Hunter's character Keith Lockridge is of the latter Hollywood tribe, charming, duplicitous and quite willing to ingratiate himself into Stella Parish's little family group through whatever lie necessary. Though they are enjoying him immensely, we're never given any view of him other than that of a newspaperman pulling off a vicious con in order to have a gossipy exclusive for his English newspaper.

When Lockridge finally has his story published, it's right on the heals of his hearing Stella announce her affection for him, and her revealing her whole past to him, particularly about the formerly lethal ex-husband. She's suddenly (and not particularly believably) come a long way from the "never trust any man" attitude in the start of our tale. Stella is pensive, then happy to get her story and her hidden love off her chest. But we know we're getting set-up for her next humiliation, despite all the embarrassment written all over Lockridge's face. He's been feeling like a cad, and he's about to be exposed for sabotaging this lady and her family for a cheesy headline (and the title of our film), and was it all worth it?

Complications before the climax

Apparently not! Instead of confessing his sins immediately to Stella, Lockridge dashes out the door to a trans-atlantic telephone (technology was quite different in 1935) to try and have the story stopped. He pleads to his editor that the story "isn't fair" but that seems strange coming from a 1930s Hollywood reporter of this type, though maybe that is more believable than him pleading to stop the story because it isn't actually true. No matter, of course it is too late, the newspaper is already getting extras out and the wire services have carried the story around the world. Shortly every reporter in New York City has traipsed to Stella's apartment for more sensational information, and Lockridge shows up to find the street ringed with autos marked "Press."

We see Stella now talking (and sounding) like Mae West, preaching to the gathered reporters that she'll be happy to give them information, provided they pay for it (they happily start bidding). Is Kay only acting the role she seems doomed to play to yellow journalists, or does she have multiple-personalities? LeRoy doesn't let us in on Stella's gag, and so its just one more wild left-turn in a movie that's full of them.

His face full of angry embarrassment, Lockridge appears. The affection Stella had is gone and instead there is the bitter smiling acknowledgement of someone who knew better but still got "took." Lockridge hurriedly attempts to explain to her that he tried to stop the story, but she is well past believing anything he might say. She kicks him out of the apartment along with the contingent of reporters, inviting them back the next day and to be sure they all bring money.

The dream of her little hat shop now gone, Stella vows to gain every penny possible from her media notoriety. She also forces Nana into a pact that the older woman will take little Gloria to Europe and hide. Stella will send money to support them, but will not be in any contact, therefore preventing reporters (or anyone else, I guess, in case the husband might still be alive. I still think he's at the bottom of the Thames) from following her and finding them.

Stella quickly joins with exploitation producer Jed Duffy (Robert Strange, who injects some brief but snappy life into this limpid film). He's ready to produce a series of theatrical vignettes that will dramatize Stella's various crimes and alleged evil doings. Her success is large but doesn't last long, the sensationalism of her renown fades and she is steadily reduced to cheaper play dates and then finally burlesque.

It's a tawdry tale at this point, though no indication is given of what lower road Stella might still be forced to travel in her stations of "sacrifice," something which would have been directly inferred in a pre-code drama. But in 1935, Hollywood storylines had loftier resolutions (and solutions) to these travails (though I was wondering why doesn't Stella just go work in a hat shop?), and thus London stage producer Stephen Norman appears suddenly with an offer for legitimate stage work.

We've spun loose entirely from the famous, gritty Warner Bro's film world into one more like M-G-M. True, Norman was manipulated into the deed of offering work by the repentant Keith Lockridge who is back in London. He has schemed to get Stella back to there so that she can be reunited with her little girl, Nana and of course, him. On the other hand, I guess it's the least he could do after destroying her life. Which begs the question, where was Lockridge while Stella was playing "every two-bit grind up and down the line" as Jed Duffy puts it before sending her off to burlesque? Since she was forced into prostituting her own, real name, it wasn't as if she would be hard to find.

But now back in London, not only is there a chance she'll be censored from appearing on stage due to her 'bad' reputation, but her rehearsal performances are "unbelievably bad! She has no confidence!" so says Producer Norman as the cast mulls through scenes from another run of "The Brief Hour."

"We have a nervous cast, a leading lady who's falling to pieces, and an audience which I am afraid is hoping for the worst.
But aside from that we have a show!"
Producer Stephen Norman (Paul Lucas) on opening night

When Stella finally comes nervously from her dressing room on opening night, Francis' plays it as if she is looking for something she lost on the floor. Norman spots her and tries to cajole her to get on stage (we hear the play has started up) but Stella feverishly says she can't remember her first line. Norman is pushing her to the left wing entrance, telling her it's the same audience she faced on her previous run (my, they've been waiting a long time), but Stella knows better:

Stella: "They used to be my friends!"
Norman: "They are!"
Stella: "No, no, no friends!"

What will get Stella to go out on the boards? We're supposed to realize that her torture as a scandalous woman has destroyed her, she's now muttering like Boris Karloff's poor Frankenstein, using half-formed sentences. But Norman knows there's nothing Stella won't do for her daughter, and just who do you suppose is sitting in a box seat to the right of the stage? Bursting into happy tears, Stella is then confronted by the repentant Lockridge, who arranged this. "How could you do this?!" she berates him, but who can argue with his logic "A daughter needs her mother."

Rejuvenated, Stella marches out on stage, cue applause.

I Found Stella Parish Kay Francis 1935 Photo Print (16 x 20) - AMAZON

Some Notes About I Found Stella Parish

Originally, the film's working title was "The Judas Tree" as written by John Monk Saunders. In pre-release, it was also temporarily simply titled 'Stella Parrish'.

"Stella Parish gave audiences the added thrill of seeing glamorous Kay hitting the skids. She ends up in a seedy burlesque houses acting out her sordid past and commenting, "Americans pay most anything to look at a freak!" Tears well up again, when Paul Lucas shows up backstage and offers her a London comeback. On film, Kay gives a convincing portrayal of a woman who has been humiliated, humbled, broken, hardened and finally, acquiescent to a helping hand." Page 153 from the book Kay Francis: I Can't Wait To Be Forgotten, by Scott O'Brien. Bear Manor Media, 2007

Film originally release date Nov 16, 1935

Turner Classic Movies has notes and info about the film online here.

Read Page 1 of the Review "I Found Stella Parish"


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