Her specialized take on honorable, suffering women made the distinguished Kay Francis one of the highest paid female stars of the ‘30s. Considered to be “as a responsive as a violin” (by none other than William Powell), Francis used this versatility to expand her career as that decade came to a close.
Cast as Cary Grant’s manipulative wife in 1939’s In Name Only, Francis’ Maida Walker was a woman who could – and did – drive men to suicide. Subtly maneuvering the family of Grant’s unhappy Alec into her corner, Francis’ character almost destroys his future with Carole Lombard’s loving and artistic Julie Eden. A final confrontation with Julie reveals Maida’s true motivations to all, though, and Francis slinks off with shocked elegance at the film’s close out. Subtly underplaying her character’s flint hard anger, Francis shines with sense of brittle control mixed with an acidic softness here, allowing the audience to feel a bit of sympathy for her while also delighting in her downfall.
Taking the vengefulness of Maida a step further, Francis’ dominating Sheila Seymour is a crime boss extraordinaire in 1945’s Allotment Wives. The head of a ring of women determined to milk soldiers of their savings, Francis is coldly charming once again here. Even when gunning down her opposition in cold blood, Francis shines with a hypnotic allure. As with In Name Only, Francis connects fully with the character’s emotional softness, manifested by this character’s beloved daughter, allowing the audience to feel a twinge of compassion for her actions even when they are homicidal in nature.
While not as well remembered as Bette Davis, her professional rival at Warner Brothers, Francis still has her devoted fans and a number of books and a website dedicated to her career and life.
Not many people can say that they were kidnapped by a soap opera king, but Jill Whitlow, who supplied a refreshing presence to a number of television and films in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, can actually lay claim to that cinematic honor. On the Short Walk to Freedomepisode of Airwolf, the popular television show that featured Jan Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine, her spoiled Kay Freestone finds herself a captive of John Aniston’s Colonel Arturo Alzar. Aniston, known primarily to network comedy lovers as Jennifer’s father, has spent the last 30 years intriguing daydream believers as the venomous Victor Kiriakis on Days of our Lives. Here, he spreads some of that poisonous energy out onto Whitlow and crew.
Admired, widely, for the sweet courageousness she brought to Cynthia, the heroine of Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps, it is fun to see Whitlow portray the more unsavory aspects of Kay’s character here. After being taking hostage during a Latin American excavation trip, Whitlow fully embraces the pouty antics of her role…faking illnesses and taking extra sips of rationed water with a silver glint in her eye.
Whitlow also brought the same kind of expressiveness to the Mother’s Day episode of Freddy’s Nightmares. She gives Barbara Gamble, the troubled character she plays, a jaunty air as she explores the house where Freddy Krueger committed his most heinous crimes. But even more so than Airwolf episode, the script here, by well traveled television writer David Ehrman, allows her some depth.
While her mischievous nature is in fine form when flirting with cute co-star Byron Thames, she supplies true sorrow to her moments with the accomplished Judith Baldwin (The Stepford Wives), who plays Barbara’s successful yet neglectful radio psychologist mother.
These moments here prove that beyond her most popular roles – arguably in Creeps and Weird Science – Whitlow did impressive work that is well worth seeking out. Be sure to check out her other credits at https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0926114/ and….
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!