Kay Getting The Double-Cross at Warners
Was King Of The Underworld (1939) A Broom To Sweep Francis Off The Lot?
To hear tell from Kay Francis bios, she was all but cleaning spittoons at WB as they applied late 30's push to be rid of her. KF wouldn't quit, however, not so long as Warners was bound to no-option pay checks they unwisely agreed to when Kay was hot. Her star having set by '39, it was Humphrey Bogart who'd be billed above the title for King Of The Underworld, a crime cheapie (negative cost: $235K) of a piece with what Bogie had been doing in sleep since The Petrified Forest. He's as much amusing as dangerous here, a would-be Napoleon of hoods who's flattered when Francis refers to him as a "moronic" type. Comedy as trump to mayhem kept these programmers out of harm's way that was censorship, violence held at minimum with assure that baddies like Bogart get just deserts (he dies yet again here --- a ritual so common as to be spoofed by montages in at least one HB documentary done to celebrate his 60's cult).
The Francis factor lights up modern day interest as much as Bogart did a half-century back, she being the old movie face on more recent rise thanks to TCM unspool of KF backlog. Ordeal of final Warner years lend stature to Kay as indomitable in the face of organized abuse --- they really did try every means of humiliating her right off the lot --- but Francis wouldn't budge. For this kind of money, she said, "I'll sweep the stages if they give me a broom." Forget B. Davis and O. DeHavilland as Joans Of Arc against studio tyranny ... Kay was the one who really beat bosses at perfidious game, and kept all of marbles besides, for what did Bette and Olivia accomplish beyond spend of thousands in legal fees and loss of income thanks to studio suspension clause? King Of The Underworld turned up on TCM last week in HD, thus the watch. It's also on DVD from Warner Archive.