The Chestnut Hill Film Group is kicking off its new fall season with a double-feature Sept. 26 presentation of two Kay Francis movies, “One Way Passage” and “Trouble In Paradise.” The pairing was originally scheduled for May but had to be rescheduled due to a power outage at the host Woodmere Art Museum.
Now in its 51st year, the group is comprised of local film experts who are passionate about the art form – and believe a film can only really shine when it’s seen as it was meant to be seen, on a large screen with a full audience.
“Seeing a film on the big screen just can’t be replicated by watching it on the Blu-Ray in your living room,” said Ralph Hirshorn, founder of the group. “You miss the artistry of the film itself, and you miss the experience of being in a room full of people who get caught up in the action of the story alongside you.”
The Kay Francis double feature is a perfect case in point. Filmed in the early 1930s, it features a script that is “clever, unpredictable, and funny,” said film group board member Andrew Gilmore. “Because of the age and relative obscurity of these films, they are rarely seen on a theater-size screen with an audience.”
Kay Francis was one of the most popular, well-respected, and highest-paid actresses in Hollywood in the mid-1930s. But, having made over 40 films by age 30, she seemed burned out by show business, famously telling an interviewer, “I can’t wait to be forgotten.”
It seems she got her wish. Only hardcore film buffs know her today. But she deserves to be remembered.
Francis, a pioneer for women in film, was one of the first actresses to play more than just a bland love interest in a male-dominated movie. From her first appearance in 1929, she played strong, independent women until she retired in 1946.
In 1933’s “Mary Stevens, M.D.,” for example, she played one of the first female doctors ever seen in film. Tall and husky-voiced, Francis added elegance and wit to dozens of 1930s films, co-starring with everyone from Humphrey Bogart to the Marx Brothers.
In “One Way Passage,” Francis's personal favorite of all her films, she plays a terminally ill woman spending her last days on a cruise to San Francisco. She meets William Powell, whose character is a murderer being transported to San Francisco by the police to be executed. Since neither has long to live, they have an eleventh-hour shipboard romance before their time is up. It’s a compelling if bittersweet drama, one of many seldom-seen gems from the 1930s.
In “Trouble In Paradise,” she shows how deft she was in comedy roles. Directed by the master of the tastefully risqué, Ernst Lubitsch, the film finds con artists Gaston and Lily (Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins) first conning each other, then working together to con wealthy perfume company owner Mariette Colet, played by Francis. They convince her to hire them as secretaries, then plan to rob her after they have gained her trust.
Other film masterpieces chosen by the Chestnut Hill group for this fall’s season include the 1933 film Man’s Castle, a stirring pre-code drama about the relationship between two homeless people and their struggle to survive in Depression-Era American life stars Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young.
Petite Maman, a 2021 film directed by French director Celine Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), depicting a young girl’s trip to her mother’s childhood home, is a charming and profound meditation on loss.
The 1944 feature film debut for director Jean Negulesco, The Mask of Dimitrios is a moody noir that stars the irresistibly watchable Peter Lorre as a Dutch mystery writer.
Shadow of the Vampire, a 2000 mordantly funny reimagining of the making of F.W. Murnau’s German expressionist classic Nosferatu operates on the premise that Murnau (John Malkovich) makes a Faustian bargain and casts an actual vampire (Willem Dafoe) as his leading man.
For Halloween, the film is House of Frankenstein, a 1944 Universal horror classic that unites some of its most iconic monsters – Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Hunchback, and the Mad Scientist – in a madcap yarn of mayhem and revenge.
Taika Waititi writes, directs and stars in Boy, a 2010 offbeat father/son dramedy set in his native New Zealand, in which a boy becomes acquainted with his wayward father.
Bette Davis is at her best in the 1942 melodrama Now Voyager as Boston socialite Charlotte Vale, a frumpy and repressed young woman who becomes transformed into a confident beauty through therapy and a little romance.
Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn play the consummate oddball couple – a boozy riverboat captain and a prim but spirited missionary – in the 1951 film The African Queen.
The 1991 film Delicatessen, written and directed by the inventive French creative team Caro and Jeunet, is a surreal post-apocalyptic comedy about the intersecting lives of a building’s landlord and tenants.
James Cagney is at his unhinged best when he closes a series of three gangster films with the 1949 White Heat.
A family of con artists gets booted from Monte Carlo after their latest grift goes awry in the 1938 film The Young in Heart starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, and Robert Preston star in the 1939 film Beau Geste, an ageless tale of three heroic brothers who join the French Foreign Legion in Northern Africa.
Movies are shown on Tuesdays at the Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave. Doors open at 6:30, and admission is free, but donations are welcome.