Apology for Murder (1945), Kitty Foyle (1940)

Apology For Murder

Apology for Murder
Directed by Sam Newfield

Ann Savage made 5 movies in 1945, including the unforgettable Detour. Apology for Murder is a low-rent Postman Always Rings Twice. Only 67 minutes long, it wastes no time in … well, anything. Kenny Blake (Hugh Beaumont) is a reporter on the beat, fond of slipping out of the office and getting plastered in the middle of the day. His editor tries to steer him straight. Kenny goes out to a rich man’s house to try to get the scoop on an upcoming merger. Rich man talks to Kenny, as a woman sits in a chair nearby, legs crossed, beguiling. Kenny is drawn to her like a magnet. He assumes that she is the rich man’s daughter, because the rich man is elderly and she is young and sexy-pants hot. But no, turns out she’s the guy’s wife. Within 15 minutes, she and Kenny have started up a hot affair. She says she married her husband because she loves him (but Ann Savage doesn’t play it that way – her behavior tells the story, not her words). But now she is feeling stifled, and she can’t get a divorce because she won’t get the money she feels she deserves. Wouldn’t it be … convenient … if her husband could come by some sort of accident, so she could collect? At first, she says it almost jokingly, like she couldn’t be taken seriously. But Kenny is the perfect chump. He is obsessed with Toni, and even though he has a moral compass, he is drawn into her web. They begin to plan the murder. Like Postman, it involves a lonely mountainous road, and a car pushed over the cliff. The cops immediately knew it wasn’t an accident, but they arrest someone else who is then put on Death Row. Toni thinks it’s perfect. She has a chilling line about how it’s not THEIR fault if the law fails to arrest the right person – why is that their concern? Kenny starts to fall apart. He still loves Toni, but he doesn’t know if he can live with himself if an innocent man is put to death.

Like I said, the movie wastes no time in any of this. It hurtles along from event to event. It’s really up to the actors to deliver the seedy underbelly of the plot, and they do. Ann Savage plays what I am comfortable in calling a monster. She may look like a human being, but the essential human part has been left out. She plays a damsel in distress for Kenny’s benefit, and it works like a charm. He buys what she’s selling. As the masks fall away and he starts to realize who Toni really is, it’s akin to staring into an endless void.

The only flicker of recognizable humanity in Toni comes during a fascinating closeup during the murder of her husband out on that lonely road. The camera moves in close to her face, and we hear the awful thuds of Kenny smashing in her husband’s head. There are two thuds. With each thud, we see a twitch on her face. It’s subtle, but it’s there. This comes close to being too awful for even someone like Toni. Ann Savage doesn’t overplay her hand, doesn’t overact the horror. A sociopath may have many problems, but keeping their inner lives under control is not one of them. But she betrays herself, with those tiny twitches in her face. But once the deed is done, she feels free as a bird, no regrets. Now it’s time to collect her money. Frank is, ultimately, dispensable. All people are dispensable to Toni.

Watch how she wrings her hands when she says, “I need a drink.”

People betray themselves in all sorts of ways and it’s usually through behavior.

Ann Savage understood behavior.

The film is cheaply made, with noir effects (venetian blinds, dark shadows) that are okay but make you realize how difficult it was to get those effects in noir, how much time and mastery it took to make the shadows distinct from the light, and yet still make sure that the audience can see what they need to see.

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Kitty Foyle
Directed by Sam Wood

First read my friend Dan’s fantastic essay on Ginger Rogers’ career. So good!

I’ve seen this movie a bunch of times, it’s one I own. Ginger Rogers plays Kitty Foyle, a “white-collar girl”, living and working in New York City.

The film opens with a funny sequence which shows the history of women in the early 20th century. It’s ridiculous and satirical, and kind of out of step with the rest of the film, which is sheer melodrama. But it’s very funny. We see the courtship rituals of Victorian-era people, we see the early days of marriage, we then see the wife joining the suffrage movement to get the right to vote. Then, women get the vote, and suddenly men no longer give her their seats on the streetcar. That’s the message. You got your equality, now you can stand like the rest of us.

Kitty Foyle hails from a working class background in Philadelphia. She is fascinated by the Main Line society people, and dreams of a Prince Charming who will sweep her away. Her beloved father tells her to wise up, and marry a guy who is actually GOING somewhere. But old dreams die hard. She falls for a Main Line guy, who loves her too, but seems strangely reluctant to take her out in Philadelphia. Is he ashamed of her? You bet he is. I hate Wynn Stafford. He’s weak, stupid, presumptuous. But mostly weak. Kitty can’t see it. She believes in him, and believes that he means what he says.

She is in love with Wynn Stafford for YEARS and basically moves to New York City to get away from him and make her own life. She works in a perfume shop, and lives with two roommates (I love the scene in the apartment, with the two roommates hiding out in the bathtub while Kitty Foyle entertains a guy in the other room. Some things never change. This is the life of roommates in all eras. In order to break up the date out in their apartment, so they don’t have to sleep in the bathtub, the roommates stroll through the main room, hair in curlers, face slathered in cold cream. Love it.)

Kitty Foyle goes through SO MUCH, my GOD, how can so many things happen to one woman in the course of one two hour movie?

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Ginger Rogers is very good in the role, with an underlying sense of sadness and disappointment. She doesn’t seem able to believe in love. Wynn is the focus of all of her emotions, and she has become so used to being the Girl Who Gets the Leftovers, that it has impacted even what she looks like. Her joy is tempered. Her excitement never spills over. Ginger Rogers always played women who were realistic about love, she was too much of a wise-cracker to go gaga over anyone. It took a lot to win her over. But people can focus on the wrong person, for sometimes years … unable to move on, unable to progress, because old dreams and old wishes and hopes are wrapped up in that other person. Kitty is dating this kindly doctor (I love the scene where they first meet, where she fakes a faint in the perfume store and he busts her for faking), and yet she can’t commit. She is always somewhat elsewhere. She is always waiting for something else to happen. It’s like she’s living the wrong life. It’s like she’s waiting for her right life to begin. And so happiness is not possible for someone like that. She wouldn’t recognize happiness if it was right in front of her.

The film loses the satirical “let’s talk about women now” bite that its opening sequence set up. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if they had kept on that track, if they had told Kitty Foyle’s story in a more distanced biting way. But that clearly was not the goal. This is a star part for Ginger Rogers (she won the Oscar), and it is a classic example of the prestige that used to surround “the woman’s picture”.

Interestingly enough, the ending still leaves me unsure as to how Kitty will cope with life in the future. There’s a sense that something essential has been smashed out of her in this experience. Nothing will “make up” for her years in the wilderness and what went down. Sorrow has been left to her like a legacy.

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16 Responses to Apology for Murder (1945), Kitty Foyle (1940)

  1. kaywess says:

    I haven’t seen Kitty Foyle since my 1980s teenage-hood, but I remember renting it again and again from the local, very well-stocked video store. There was something about Ginger Roger’s completely down to earth, completely lovable everywoman-ness that made me want to grow up to be tough and sentimental, just like her. There’s also that perfect leitmotif with the witchy bottle of a Strega, wonderfully capturing the magic poignancy of wanting the thing that’s just out of reach. Kitty was wholesome, sexy and flawed; neither a ” good” or ” bad” girl. In that sense she remains a pretty good role model. Thanks for a lovely post. I’ll have to watch it again and see how it looks from the vantage point of adulthood.

    • sheila says:

      Yes, the Strega bottle! So interesting – it represents love/possibility, then later it represents lost hopes … the same bottle. Isn’t that how objects can often seem in real life? Very good.

      I agree that Kitty wasn’t “good” or “bad” – those labels don’t apply. She was both practical and idealistic – she was torn between those two things. But she was smart and ambitious. And she fell for a guy who wasn’t going to be there for her – ultimately. She got fooled. It can happen to anyone.

      I also love her boss at the perfume shop – who is so sympathetic and supportive. Not a cliche. You expect her to be judgmental but she is not at all.

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts upon re-visiting the film!

      • regularpop says:

        I just picked this up from the library and couldn’t wait to reread your really lovely review after. Your description of the emotional tenor of the film is so accurate. Even though Kitty makes the “right” decision at the end, and you feel gratified she’s choosing the solid guy, you don’t feel triumph. Her earlier sparkle is diminished and it feels tragic that such enchanting vigor was wasted on such a gutless snob.
        As a teenager, I found all the extravagant romance with Winn totally swoon-inducing; I saw it through Kitty’s eyes. As an adult, I just hated him and my dislike cast a pall over all the sweetness of the Strega bottle, the NY dance, etc. It was like watching Cinderella knowing the whole time that the prince will turn out to be a terrible creep of a husband. ( Her lovable Irish father’s complaints about the Cinderella story ruining girls’ expectations are so astute ).
        It’s a really poignant picture. And maybe a fair representation of a common journey from dewy girlishness to hardy womanhood ?
        I couldn’t agree more about her supportive boss. A really refreshing support character ( I kept wondering if she was so great because she’s French and less given to puritanical judgements..)
        Thanks so much for reminding me how great a movie this is.

        • sheila says:

          // it feels tragic that such enchanting vigor was wasted on such a gutless snob. //

          Yes, that’s it exactly! SHE is the “catch”, not HIM. And so many women sell themselves short in that manner – the film is really good about women’s perceptions of themselves, I think.

          So glad you saw it again!

  2. Kent says:

    Sheila, wonderful to read your thoughts on the rarely screened “Apology For Murder”. I have always loved the FAST in old B movies, and Apology is one of the fastest. The fast sexuality was radical for its day, but seems a little tame in this era of the internet hookup weekender. In both regards, Ann Savage and Hugh Beaumont were up to the fast! What a team. It STILL boggles the mind, even after several screenings, that Beaver Cleaver’s pop and Vera from “Detour” would tangle!
    Edgar G. Ulmer developed the script, and jokingly called the project “Single Indemnity” since they ripped so much from Cain’s classic. Just like the “Postman” echoes, the style of Cain is felt all over this picture. Truly tawdry. How I love it so… SEXY and FAST, with no lingering and not a second to run out for popcorn!

    • sheila says:

      Single Indemnity – ha!!

      Yes, the two leads totally carry that fast pace. It makes perfect sense, and they fill up each moment. The sexuality is blatant, no euphemisms really for what’s going on between those two … and Savage is so compelling that you totally get why Kenny would fall for her and do all these horrible things to keep her.

      • sheila says:

        I just re-read Postman. What a brilliant novel. Cold, clear, and FAST.

        • Kent says:

          Love Cain! Postman is a masterwork. I think Serenade is too. Never tire of reading him and re-reading him. Cain is the most deserving of the hash tag #HARD BOILED. Even Joan Crawford shrinks like a pussy willow next to Mildred Pierce on paper.

          • sheila says:

            There’s that one line in Postman – I think it’s: “So I had her.” That’s it – all of the hot sex in one line. No description of said sex, just that one sentence – and it’s hot and dirty and all in 4 words.

    • Kent says:

      I sure wish they would have made Ann Savage a guest star on Leave It To Beaver… Ward’s babe from the past. I love the imaginary scene where he tells the boys about his bachelorhood in B movies and Paramount quickies!

  3. Kent says:

    P.S. I love that you paired “Apology” with “Kitty”. Ann and Ginger truly despised each other. At one point they had been rivals for legendary man about Hollywood, lawyer Greg Bautzer. Later they were neighbors in Beverly Hills. Ann lived near the top of Schuyler Road and Ginger lived just around the corner, higher up at the crest of the hill. Elevation was a significant demarcation of social status in Hollywood of the 1940s, and Ginger rubbed it in. Ann also did her own gardening and all the neighbors complained to her husband about it! What a small town it used to be!

  4. Kent says:

    “…hot and dirty and all in 4 words.” HAAAA! Beautiful, Sheila.

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