Kitty Foyle Movie Review
Director: Sam Wood
Starring: Ginger Rogers, Dennis Morgan, James Craig, Eduardo Ciannelli, Ernest Cossart, Gladys Cooper, Odette Myrtil, Mary Treen, K.T. Stevens, Walter Kingsford, Cecil Cunningham, Nella Walker, Edward Fielding, Kay Linaker, Richard Nichols
Oscar Wins: Best Actress (Ginger Rogers)
Other Nominations: Best Director, Best Sound Recording, Best Screenplay, Best Picture
Do we marry for love or money? In today’s world, it’s a notion that’s laughed at and mocked on reality TV, but in the 1930s, it was a heartfelt decision made by women the world over.
In the years before the Great Depression, women held a very different place in society. The didn’t work, they were often uneducated, and they were still deemed the “weaker” or “fairer” sex, who’s place was at home. If a woman wanted a place in society, she had to marry into it (or come from it). Marriage was not for pleasure as much as it was for survival.
In Kitty Foyle, Ginger Rogers plays a woman torn between these two worlds – what she wants and what she needs. Told in a flashback on the eve of her life’s greatest decision, whether to marry the respectable Dr. Mark Eisen (James Craig) or run away with her rich boy-toy, Wynnewood “Wyn” Strafford VI (Dennis Morgan), Kitty literally confronts herself in the mirror (in homage to her divided nature). As she discusses her decision with herself, the movie flashes back to Kitty’s childhood in Philadelphia, where we watch her romances with the two men unfold.
With a powerhouse like Ginger Rogers in the lead here, I had high hopes for this movie – and indeed, it started off promising. Kitty enters a whirlwind romance with Wyn Strafford, and the two agree to get married and move to New York. After their shotgun wedding, Wyn takes Kitty home to meet the parents, where he basically throws her to the Strafford wolves.
Wyn’s mother declares right off the bat that Kitty is unfit for this lifestyle. She’s uneducated, unpolished and unfit for life as a wealthy aristocrat. Kitty begs Wyn to stand up for her and their decisions, but he just sits there like a wet noodle, forcing Thoroughly Modern Kitty to take it upon herself to defend her honor:
“Let's get a few things straight here! I didn't ask to marry a Strafford, a Strafford asked to marry me. I married a man, not an institution or a trust fund or a bank. Oh, I've got a fine picture of your family conference here. All the Strafford’s trying to figure out how to take the curse off of Kitty Foyle. Buy the girl a phony education, polish off the rough edges, and make a Mainline doll out of her! Aww, you oughta know better than that! It takes six generations to make a bunch of people like you. And, by Judas Priest, I haven't got that much time!”
She then storms out of the house and files for divorce from Wyn. YOU GO GIRL.
But things are on the up and up again when a mishap at work causes a meet-cute with one Dr. Mark Eisen and Kitty and Mark settle into a comfortable romance. Mark eventually proposes and Kitty, almost begrudgingly, accepts…but when Wyn comes back to sweep her off her feet, she must finally choose between the two, bringing the end of the movie back to the beginning.
Normally in the movies, the woman would choose the man she loves – in this case, Wyn. However, life with Wyn would be disreputable. She’d essentially be Wyn’s mistress (as he refuses to divorce his wife). Mark, on the other hand, is respectable. She may not love him, but she’s safe with him. For her survival, Mark is her better choice.
Honestly, I would have had more respect for the gal if she told them both to frigg off because neither one was really a great option. It was kinda sad to see this sassy heroine settle for a stereotypical ending, but if this film preaches anything, it’s that women should know their place.
In a controversial win, Ginger Rogers beat out Bette Davis (The Letter), Joan Fontaine (Rebecca), and Katherine Hepburn (The Philadelphia Story) for Best Actress at the 1940s Academy Awards. Kitty Foyle helped establish her as a “serious actress” and showed off her great acting chops that often got subdued in her other films.
Many critics today call Kitty Foyle anti-feminist – but really is it any different than Bridget Jones’s Diary or any of the other fluffy chick flicks of today when the newest Kate Hudson-style actress has to choose between two men, or a man and her career, or a man and her family? I’d argue no. In Hollywood, women can’t have it all. They must know their place…and those that do become the lucky ones. As the old poem goes, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” and, unfortunately, Kitty Foyle just reinforces that outdated adage.