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Kay Francis gives what is probably her best, most stunning performance in "Confession" - a near shot-by-shot remake of a 1935 Pola Negri soaper called "Mazurka" about a mother/singer who kills her former lover (Basil Rathbone) as soon as she finds out that he is about court her daughter (Jane Bryan). She is put on trial and asked to recount her story. This is a pretty much a routine "Madame X" weepie about maternal sacrifice but under the direction of Joe May, a German emigré who once collaborated with Fritz Lang in Germany, it becomes an amazingly stylish melodrama with sprawling narrative, expressionist outbursts, inventive camera movements, and interesting use of flashbacks. The final moments after the trial are tragic and sad. I love all Kay Francis' movies; "Confession", I think, is her very best.
Where has this movie been all my life. I've been a film buff since I was a little kid, and over the last 6 decades I would hope I have achieved a certain objective enthusiasm when it comes to films. That is why I was so blown away when I finally got to see this movie. I have to admit that I was never a real Kay Francis fan - until I saw her in "Confession". I had an epiphany much like I did with Virginia Bruce in "Kongo". She was great. Some of the close-ups were heartbreaking. Basil Rathbone is better than ever as the oily, sophisticated, morally corrupt, seducer. Jane Bryan does a credible job as the naive daughter in danger of losing her innocence. Watch for Veda Ann Borg in the role of Xenia (one of Basil's many conquests). The plot is fairly simple. A young woman (Francis) is seduced by, and ruined by, Basil Rathbone. She loses her husband and daughter and becomes a fallen woman who sings in seedy cafes for a meager living. After years of degradation, she accidentally meets Rathbone again, only to find that he is about to seduce her daughter! In an emotional explosion, she shoots and kills Rathbone and is tried for his murder. The flashbacks during the trial tell the story. The director, Joe May, does everything right. His training in German Cinema is evident throughout the movie. The atmospherics are stunning. Camera angles, shadow and light, close-ups, all work. I give it a 10 and wish I could give it more!
This must be the best role Kay Francis ever had - and she rises to it,
giving an astonishing performance. When you first see her - in blonde wig,
singing and dancing Dietrich style but half-drunk - you know you're in for
something different. As the film flashes back Francis transforms into an
innocent young girl, and back to the present she stands with solemn dignity,
a woman all but "washed-up". You'll never forget the final moments of this
When Francis is not on, and it takes her a while to appear, the film is less extraordinary - but by no means bad. Jane Bryan's a bit wet, but Basil Rathbone is suitably slimy as her seducer. And there are strong performances from the wonderful Laura Hope Crews (Aunt Pitty-Pat as an opera singer) and the excellent Donald Crisp.
But it is the visual style of the piece that, coupled with Francis' performance, makes the film unforgettable. The story goes that this is a frame by frame remake of a German film called "Mazurka" starring Pola Negri. This would explain why the film looks so different to the usual Hollywood style. There are bizarre camera angles, expressionist sequences, non-realistic moments, haunting music and bizarre costume, make-up and set designs. Joe May directs with a steady hand, and Sidney Hickox's cinematography and Orry-Kelly's costumes warrant special mention.
This film deserves to be resurrected and re-assessed. It is one of the most original American films of the 1930's. It also makes me want to re-assess the career of Kay Francis, who is an actress I never warmed to before this film. See it and tell me what you think!
A remake of a 1935 film called MAZURKA and starring Pola Negri, Warners
bought the rights and imported the story for Kay Francis, then the
studio's #1 female star.
Francis is nothing short of sensational in this film, a story about a woman wronged, motherly love, honor, and sacrifice. By today's standards this all seemed like high fiction, but in the hands of Francis and director Joe May, this becomes a very stylish and absorbing film.
The direction and camera work are excellent. The music is also very good and helps set the scene. The supporting cast is very good also: Basil Rathbone, Jane Bryan, Veda Ann Borg, Ian Hunter, Laura Hope Crews, Donald Crisp, Robert Barrat, Ben Welden, and Mary Maguire.
Francis is stunning here, mostly as a blonde. And she's quite believable as a singer, although the operetta is rather lame. Still she does well with lip syncing to several songs. But she's never turned in a better performance, going from the girlish singer in love, to the bored housewife who drinks a tad too much at a party, to the accused in a murder case. It's a tour de force performance that should have earned her an Oscar nomination.
The film is beautifully directed by Joe May which is a surprise. A few years before this, May butchered a promising film version of the hit show MUSIC IN THE AIR which starred Gloria Swanson and John Boles. But here his direction is excellent, with lots of interesting camera angles and movement and some terrific composition. He certainly makes the most of the 86 minutes he has.
They just don't make movies like this any more. This one has a good story, crisp pacing, and stunning work from one of the decades biggest and most underrated stars: KAY FRANCIS.
"Mazurka", the German hit movie of 1935, was rethought by Julius
Epstein, one of the best writers in the business. The film that
resulted was "Confession", a vehicle created for the delicious Kay
Francis, who was at the height of her fame at the time. Joe May
directed this classic film that will endear itself to all classic movie
fans. "Confession" packs a lot in its 86 minutes running time,
something that would take a lot more of screen time in the hands of
other, self-indulgent directors.
The film involves an older woman, Vera, who has had an unhappy life. She has been betrayed by the composer, and famous pianist, Michael Michailow, who abused her when she was young and full of life. That romance resulted in a girl, Lisa, who unknown to her, is being pursued by Michael Michalow himself! Supposedly, this story is based on an actual case that took place in Germany. It presented a different situation for American audiences, who were attracted by the unusual theme of the movie. We are all conditioned that crime must be punished, but in Vera's case, the killing is mitigated by what she is doing in order to protect Lisa, who is a naive, and decent, young woman.
Kay Francis does an amazing job in her portrayal of Vera. This is one of her best films and it shows the care which the whole project underwent to accommodate its star. Ms. Francis, wearing a blonde wig, sings and dances and makes a tremendous impact that dominates the picture from beginning to end. Basil Rathbone is perfect as the villain Miachel Michailow. The sweet Jane Bryant appears as Lisa. Ian Hunter is seen as Leonid and Donald Crisp does a fine job as the presiding judge.
They don't make movies like this anymore!
I am happy to see that other members of this board have discovered this film as well. I have been a Kay Francis fan for some time, and truly believe she was far underrated during her time. Many of her films follow the same mold, but there are a dozen or so which stand on their own. This was the film which first attracted me to her as a fan, and I was delighted by many of the films she did, particularly at Warner Brothers where she was "Queen of the Lot" for several years before Bette Davis. "Confession" ranks with "One Way Passage" and "Jewel Robbery" as her best films at Warner Brothers, although there are several "camp classics" as "Mandalay" and "Stolen Holiday". Although never nominated for an Academy Award, Francis certainly could have been a contender for "One Way Passage", "Trouble in Paradise", "Confession", and "In Name Only". "Confession" is probably her meatiest assignment: coming on as a woman of questionable virtue who shoots Basil Rathbone then has to reveal her reasoning without allowing the public to find out. In her blonde Dietrich like wig, Francis makes the audience aware that this is a worn woman, like Dietrich in "Blonde Venus", and in flashbacks, we get to see where she has gone, from a top singing diva to a tired cafe performer. I was riveted to the TV from the moment that Francis appeared until her sad but hopeful fadeout at the end. Jane Bryan, too, is very good as the young girl Basil Rathbone wants to take advantage of, and had she not left films to get married, she would have had a very promising career. In smaller roles, Laura Hope Crews and Ian Hunter are fine, and as the villain, Basil Rathbone is wonderfully hissable. Of course there will be the ultimate "Madame X" comparisons, but this film has enough style of its own to stand apart from the Fannie Hurst classic (filmed the same year with Gladys George).
If you love old movies, here's another good one. Kay Francis is great as both Vera's. The happy, charming, wife-to-be, and the broken, sad woman destroyed by Basil's character. Considering all the bad movies made today, this movie inspires me to continue to look for old Hollywood treasures such as "Confession". I think the rest of the cast was good too!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the grand tradition of MADAME X and STELLA DALLAS, this tale of
murder, betrayal, lust, loss and a mother's sacrifice blows them all
out of the water due to the fact that it really happened. "Ripped From
Today's Headlines!", CONFESSION was based on a 1930 murder case that
rocked Europe. Directed by UFA alumni Joe May, this Warner Bros. film
was a near shot-for-shot remake of the 1935 Third Reich Pola Negri
classic, MAZURKA, although the tale's earliest film version is
RKO/Pathe's 1931 Pre-Code corker, MILLIE, starring that premiere
"sob-sister of soap", Helen Twelvetrees.
A brief synopsis of CONFESSION from "The Warner Bros. Story": Kay Francis, as a singer, endured almost as much as her audiences in CONFESSION. An unashamedly melodramatic film, it had its heroine performing in sidewalk cafés when, at the very least, she should have been gracing the opera houses of Europe! Not only that, but when she finds evil Basil Rathbone, who was once responsible for separating her from her husband and little girl, making advances to the same little girl who isn't so little anymore, she kills him. All too silly for words ...and for Joe May's limited directorial talents.
The author seems ignorant of a few pertinent facts -the film is no sillier than the real-life events it depicted while director Joe May's talents need not be defended here. The author should also have been aware that CONFESSION was a conscious shot-for-shot remake of the 1935 German film. Producer Hal Wallis, stars Kay Francis & Basil Rathbone, the Warner Bros. cinematography, costume, and set design departments are all in peak form here and, as time passes, CONFESSION's reputation continues to grow.
Film historian William K. Everson gives a more accurate assessment when he re-discovered this Hollywood Classic in "Films In Review": The plot ...pre-dates CITIZEN KANE in its narrative structure ...it is almost impossible to understand fully all of the plot ramification at one sitting ...Kay Francis, perhaps piqued by the knowledge that Bette Davis had turned this property down, professed not to like it at all, and reported that May was impossible to work with. CONFESSION's finest moment is also its most old-fashioned. After the trial, mother & daughter meet accidentally in the cheerless prison corridor. Both stand silently staring at one another, the daughter unaware of the other's relationship to her ...the mother unable to reveal her own emotions without giving away her secret. Then a ghost image leaves the mother's body to bestow the wish-fulfillment embrace that she cannot bestow in actuality. It is one of the most poignant and moving moments I can recall in any movie. Kay Francis is surprisingly good. For once its a role for an actress rather than a personality, and she does well with it ...Joe May believed in what he was doing and didn't feel superior to its tear-jerker category. CONFESSION is one of the very best and most handsomely mounted genre films ...a needed reminder (of) the German influence on Hollywood.
Wavishing Kay Fwancis (the lady had occasional trouble with her "r's") is wonderful here and shows she's far more than a Depression Era "clothes horse". Francis has been unjustly forgotten by all but the most knowledgeable film buffs -but with two new biographies out, Kay has now begun to take her rightful place in Classic Film history. In CONFESSION, she artfully transforms from naive raven-haired operetta/revue star to cynical jade in platinum wig and alarming décolleté -and even growls a torch song: "One Hour Of Romance"! Warner's Bros. CONFESSION actually started out as MAZURKA with Kay Francis & Fredric March after Bette Davis refused the Francis role. But March had a commitment with David O. Selznick at the time and was replaced with Basil Rathbone -and the film's title changed to "One Hour Of Romance". Then director William Dieterle was replaced by Joe May and it all became CONFESSION. Anita Louise was slated to play Kay's daughter but was inexplicably replaced by Jane Bryan. This role would have been deja-vu for Anita -she had already played it. Louise was the daughter Helen Twelvetrees took a gun to protect in the 1931 RKO film MILLIE.
May's precision-driven direction wasn't easy on the cast & crew -during the murder scene, he had Rathbone roll down the stairs ten times until it was "perfect". May was so enamored of the original MAZURKA he used a stopwatch to make sure CONFESSION's scenes ran exactly as long as the original Reich film. Kay Francis' diary entry for March 9, 1937 says "Joe May driving us all crazy" and Jane Bryan noted, "We were marching through the film like sleepwalkers." When filming was completed, the entire cast and crew presented Kay with an 18th century snuff-box containing a parchment that read: "A confession of our love & appreciation of Kay Francis". According to Kay's biographer: "The difficult Miss Francis, frequently reported terror of the sets, promptly broke down and cried like a baby." Audiences at the time loved the film. "Variety" wrote: "CONFESSION is a finely produced vehicle for Kay Francis ...Responsibility for the commercial career of the picture is tossed right into Miss Francis' lap. Despite some very fine supporting acting, the picture is all hers ...ideal material for any dramatic star." "Life Imitates Art Imitates Life" Department: Creaky tear-jerking chestnuts like MADAME X and STELLA DALLAS had already seen incarnation as silent films. One has to wonder: Did these films go through the head of the real-life woman (who saved a young girl from ever knowing what her real mother really was) as she pulled the trigger in 1930? Hmmm...
Highly recommended for myriad reasons, CONFESSION reveals itself to be an amazing classic film experience!
Kay Francis turns in a splendid performance by pulling out all the
stops in this 1937 film.
Basil Rathbone is the cad done in by Ms.Francis. He is his usual sinister self in an engaging performance.
Ian Hunter plays the husband who didn't understand what had happened that night and comes to a bad conclusion.
Francis is a great singer literally done in by the vicious Rathbone. One night of exciting living would result in a lifetime of torment, misery and ultimately murder.
Jane Bryan is convincing as the vulnerable young lady who Francis kills for. Refusing to tell why she killed Rathbone, Francis finally talks when the court is cleared. Donald Crisp, as the sympathetic judge, is at his usual best.
What makes this film so good is the appropriate ending.
This Kay Francis film is a textbook on how to act in a natural manner, even
for the minor characters. The dialogue, expressions of the actors,
and camera work make this little film a true gem. Note that there is no
obscene language, nudity or violence for its own sake, and yet the message
is very powerful and memorable. Perhaps someday a farsighted film company
will come along and make films like this once again so that serious
can be viewed and absorbed by the whole family.
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