This week’s mystery movie was the 1938 Warner Bros. film “Secrets of an Actress,” with Kay Francis, George Brent, Ian Hunter, Gloria Dickson, Isabel Jeans, Penny Singleton, Dennie Moore, Selmer Jackson, Herbert Rawlinson, Emmet Vogan and James B. Carson.
Directed by William Keighley.
Original screenplay by Milton Krims, Rowland Leigh and Julius J. Epstein.
Photographed by Sid Hickox, edited by Owen Marks, art direction by Anton Grot, sound by Charles Lang, gowns by Orry-Kelly and musical direction by Leo F. Forbstein.
I broke my pledge to swear off Ian Hunter as a mystery man after a binge of “Dulcy,” “The Girl From Tenth Avenue” and “Confession,” also with Kay Francis. I figured pairing him with George Brent would atone at least a bit. “Secrets of an Actress” fills my Ian Hunter quota for the year – or possibly two.
“Molly and Me,” last week’s mystery movie about unemployed actors, led to another one. “Secrets of an Actress” is a vehicle for Kay Francis in the story of two architects (Brent and Hunter) who are somewhat friendly rivals for an out-of-work actress who has a script she’s always wanted to produce. We have the usual stock characters for this sort of film: the nagging, constantly broke estranged wife (Gloria Dickson) who refuses a divorce, the leading lady’s eccentric roommate (Isabel Jeans) for comic relief, and a couple of secretaries pining for the oblivious leading man (Penny Singleton and Dennie Moore). If you have done enough of these movies, as Warners had, the script virtually writes itself.
And let’s see which New York Times critic hated it.
That would be Frank S. Nugent (Oct. 8, 1938):
“Secrets of an Actress,” which the Strand let us in on yesterday, is one of those apparently effortless concoctions of the Warners in which several well-dressed people drift pleasantly through several well-dressed cocktail bars, penthouses and offices until it is time for Miss Kay Francis to rush down to the pier and tell George Brent everything is going to be all right — Carla will give him his divorce. Ian Hunter, as usual, is left in a gallant lurch. Mr. Hunter has been in the lurch for years now. It didn’t seem to surprise him at all.
Nothing in “Secrets of an Actress” is surprising, except possibly the realization that its plot still is making the rounds and getting away with it. Between one version and the next there is only the difference of lines (here, they are good), of occupation (here Miss Francis is an actress, Messrs. Brent and Hunter are her architect sponsors) and of emotional intensity.
Not the least virtue of the current edition is its consistent underplaying of key scenes. Miss Francis herself is content simply to rumple an emotion, instead of tearing it to tatters. So, what with one thing and another, they have made it an entertaining show, however familiar.
Credit belongs — we grant it grudgingly — to the writers for their variations on an old theme: to William Keighley for directing it in a manner to disguise its static, drawing-room ancestry; to the principals for facing their assignment so bravely, and to Isabel Jeans and Gloria Dickson for majoring in minor roles. If the Strand is revealing any secrets of an actress, we refer you to them for the choicest.
For Monday, we have a mystery woman. Her companion has been cropped out for now because he is insufficiently mysterious.
Update: For Friday, we add one of our mysterious leading men.
Update: This is Libby Taylor and George Brent.
Update: This is Bernice Pilot.
For Tuesday, we have a mystery gent.
Update: This is Arthur Housman.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (Monday’s mystery woman No. 1).
For “Hm Wednesday,” we have this mystery woman.
Update: This is Penny Singleton in Warners’ best efforts to make her look like a plain secretary carrying a torch for Ian Hunter.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery woman No. 2 and Tuesday’s mystery gent) and Mike Hawks (Tuesday’s mystery gent).
For “Aha Thursday,” we have this mystery woman going at it with the drumsticks.
Update: This is Isabel Jeans.
We also have this mystery woman.
Update: This is the tragic Gloria Dickson.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mystery woman), Sheila (Tuesday’s mysterious drunk) and Mike Hawks (mystery movie and all mystery guests).
For Friday, we have two mystery gents.
Update: This is George Brent and Ian Hunter.
Finally, our mysterious leading lady.
Update: This is Kay Francis wearing an Orry-Kelly design.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (arm of Monday’s mystery gent, Wednesday’s mystery woman and Thursday’s mystery women), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery women), Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery women) and Sheila (Thursday’s mystery women).