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It is the World War I period, and Peggy Martin, a showgirl and mistress to London Fiske, marries her love, handsome Monte Van Tyle. They move into the house on 56th street and have a baby, Eleanor. Monte enlists in the army and is killed in action. Peggy is revisited by Fiske who wants her back or he'll commit suicide. She refuses his advances and the gun he brought accidentally goes off killing him. Peggy is convicted with murdered and jailed. Eleanor is told her mother is dead. Twenty years later, Peggy is released and meets gambler, Bill Blaine. The house on 56th street is now a gambling house owned by politician, Bonelli. Bill and Peggy get jobs there. Eleanor comes to visit them, and goes with Bill into his office. Bill threatens Eleanor, now a huge gambler, that he'll tell her husband about her huge debts. Eleanor kills Bill and Peggy takes the blame. Bonelli believes Peggy is innocent and offers to help her if she only stays at the house on 56th street.Written by
The House On 56th Street is a Stella Dallas like melodramatic soap opera that Kay Francis did for Warner Brothers before Bette Davis made a specialty of them for that studio. This pre-Code film is laced with irony for Kay.
Kay's a Floradora girl from the Ragtime Era who has all the men chasing her in 1905. She's the kept woman of ragtime rake John Halliday, but young Gene Raymond sweeps her off her feet and they marry and have a daughter. He takes her back to the family digs on East 56th Street in New York City and fancy digs they are.
Halliday gets some bad news from his doctor that he's only got months to live and he wants to live them with Francis, whatever the scandal. Francis tries to prevent him from committing suicide, but when Halliday does in the struggle for the pistol, she goes up for manslaughter and gets 20 years.
Fast forward to the Roaring Twenties and Kay's now free and living anonymously and making a living as a gambling lady with Ricardo Cortez and William 'Stage' Boyd. She gets an opportunity however to impart one really big favor on grownup daughter Margaret Lindsay and it's a beaut.
Although Bette Davis would later do these kind of parts, I mention Stella Dallas because The House On 56th Street also involves a mother separating herself from her daughter for her own good. Francis's role which she does a fine job with seems to fit Barbara Stanwyck even better.
Favorite scene here is the gambling scene on board a ship where Francis takes Cortez to the cleaners even though he's cheating. It reminded me a lot of the climax in Rounders with Matt Damon and John Malkovich.
Though The House On 56th Street is dated, it's still an effective film. Note the sense of irony in Francis's final line in the film.
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