Frances Dee movies: From ‘An American Tragedy’ to ‘Four Faces West’
Frances Dee began her film career at the dawn of the sound era, going from extra to leading lady within a matter of months. Her rapid ascencion came about thanks to Maurice Chevalier, who got her as his romantic interested in Ludwig Berger’s 1930 romantic comedy Playboy of Paris.
Despite her dark(-haired) good looks and pleasant personality, Dee’s Hollywood career never quite progressed to major – or even moderate – stardom. But she was to remain a busy leading lady for about 15 years.
Tonight, Turner Classic Movies is showing seven Frances Dee films, ranging from heavy dramas to Westerns. Unfortunately missing is one of Dee’s most curious efforts, the raunchy pre-Coder Blood Money, which possibly features her most unusual – and most effective – performance.
Having said that, William A. Wellman’s Love Is a Racket is a worthwhile subsitute, though the standout performance in this pre-Production Code release is that of Ann Dvorak.
On the positive side, TCM is showing Josef von Sternberg’s An American Tragedy, an early – and for years very hard to find – sound adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s novel produced at Paramount. Dee plays the role that two decades later would go to Elizabeth Taylor in George Stevens’ remake, A Place in the Sun. Phillips Holmes is the tragic all-American while Sylvia Sidney plays the woman standing between Holmes an the ever-elusive American Dream. (Miriam Hopkins had the part on Broadway; curiously, Hopkins was also at Paramount in the early 1930s.)
Also worth checking out, Frances Dee plays a Jane Eyre of sorts in Jacques Tourneur’s great-looking I Walked with a Zombie (1943), while in Four Faces West she can be seen opposite husband Joel McCrea. The couple were married from 1933 to McCrea’s death in 1990.
This Frances Dee post is being revised and expanded. Please check back later.
8:00 PM HAPPY LAND (1943). A small-town druggist thinks back on the life of the son who has just died in World War II. Director: Irving Pichel. Cast: Don Ameche. Frances Dee. Harry Carey. B&W. 75 mins.
9:30 PM AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY (1931). A factory worker’s romance with a beautiful heiress is complicated by an earlier fate. Director: Josef von Sternberg. Cast: Phillips Holmes. Sylvia Sidney. Frances Dee. B&W. 110 mins.
11:30 PM I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943). A nurse in the Caribbean resorts to voodoo to cure her patient, even though she’s in love with the woman’s husband. Director: Jacques Tourneur. Cast: James Ellison. Frances Dee. Tom Conway. B&W. 69 mins.
1:00 AM FOUR FACES WEST (1948). After a big bank job, a bandit tries to avoid the posse on his trail. Director: Alfred E. Green. Cast: Joel McCrea. Frances Dee. Charles Bickford. B&W. 90 mins.
2:45 AM OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934). A medical student falls prey to a sluttish waitress. Director: John Cromwell. Cast: Leslie Howard. Bette Davis. Frances Dee. Kay Johnson. B&W. 83 mins.
4:15 AM FINISHING SCHOOL (1934). A boarding-school girl has to cope with family problems and puppy love. Director: Wanda Tuchock. Cast: Frances Dee. Billie Burke. Ginger Rogers. B&W. 73 mins.
5:45 AM LOVE IS A RACKET (1932). A beautiful girl convinces a reporter to cover up her involvement in a murder. Director: William A. Wellman. Cast: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Ann Dvorak. Frances Dee. B&W. 71 mins.