STARDUST AND SHADOWS has a great affection for Pre-code dramas as most watchers of these style of pictures have. Classic pre-code period being from 1925 to 1934 produced so deliciously seditious works before the Hays code came into effect. DR. MONICA made back in 1934 was at the end of this cycle has two of the very best actors in the person of Kay Francis and Warren William.
DR. MONICA: Directed by Warner Brothers work horses William Keighley and an uncredited William Dieterle with an adapted script by Charles Kenyon who also wrote other pre-code films such as OFFICE WIFE (1930) and PARTY HUSBAND (1931). Kenyon who was apparently good at adapting plays to the screen (DR. MONICA was originally a polish stage play) also scripted the debatable misfire of the Warner Brothers version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM (1934) with likes of James Cagney and Mickey Rooney spouting Shakespeare dialogue in a forest in an attempt to bring “Prestige” to the studio. William Dieterle was also in the Directors chair for that picture. Watch it at your peril.
The story is direct and simple of that of a female Obstetrician played by Kay Francis in the title role which of course was limited by 1930’s standards of female occupations delivers a child of a patient even as she knows it was was fathered by her husband played by Warren William in an affair.
Kay Francis literally glides through the opening party scenes with assurance even to the point of adding a little “finger waggle” business to an off screen acquaintance. Dr Monica Braden is played as being totally devoted to her husband and selfless in here medical work often doing long hours. Warren William who plays John Braden is a best selling globe trotting author working on a book for his publisher. Little does the audience know of the peccadillo that Warren William who does dastardly subtly well in both body language and speech pattern until the audience meets Mary Hathaway played by Jean Muir.
Hathaway is at party at the Braden residence when she collapses after being asked to play the piano. Good Dr. Monica begins to offer her add and thus starts the unraveling of the mystery all in 60 plus minutes.
You can watch Kay Francis change Dr Monica as she becomes cold yet still offers aid due to her oath as a physician for Hathaway. The controversy which made this so censurable to the audience at the time was that Dr Monica rejects helping Hathaway and the child painting the Medical world in a bad light. She is set straight by a literal ‘slap in the face ” by Verree Teasdale playing Anna Littlefield who reminds her of her duty. Dr Monica even demands that the child be “kept out of her sight” which was unsettling for the 1930’s institution of Motherhood. The other irony is that Dr Monica Braden was a child by her husband and expresses it to him. There is much going on in this picture as you have a female doctor which was unheard or limited as 1930’s occupations gave females the choice of home maker, secretary or store clerk. To top it off we have a woman rejecting the act of being a Mother when the child is at first abhorred.
The ending which puts everything right by Hollywood standard was some what dramatic yet it fit the times. Through it all you get flawless performance from Kay Francis (Brilliant wardrobe as usual) Warren William, Jean Muir, Veree Teasdale, and the others in the small effective cast. Barbara Stanwyck was to be the Dr. Monica as her star was rising yet Kay Francis does the role justice as she had already played a female physician in MARY STEVEN M.D (1934) also for Warner Brothers.
DR. MONICA is an excellent example of pre-code women’s view in the cinema at that time. This of course all changed with the coming of the code which made the screenwriters less direct yet still risque. DR MONICA (1934) runs just over 60 mins and is well worth a look if not just for the acting of the entire cast.