Ginger Rogers in her Oscar-winning role as Kitty Foyle, in Kitty Foyle (1940).
The first time we watched this movie, my whatgingerwore partner in crime and I had a classic Pretentious People Movie Moment. We had watched the first couple of scenes at the beginning, and as the camera cut to a snowglobe and dissolved into scenes from Our Heroine’s past, we turned to each other and back to back: “wow that is like Citizen Kane!” “Yeah, and that first scene? Very Magnificent Ambersons.” And we seriously considered for a moment whether Kitty Foyle could have influenced either of the two Greatest Movies Ever Made.*
Update on our sanity: don’t worry! Despite our love of making up crazy theories we realized this is ludicrous. We’re pretty sure Orson Welles was (we mean with the greatest respect) too far up his butt to copy some Ginger Rogers prestige picture made the year before. We will not rewrite the history of cinema. CRISIS AVERTED. We will, however, continue to sing the praises of Kitty Foyle!
Anyway, there is a reason we had our Welles comparisons early in this film: the first few minutes of this movie are truly excellent and deserve mad props. For one thing, it utilizes our favorite thing: comparisons!
Yes, this lady above, is the Victorian Lady who our very own Kitty Foyle (and modern womanhood) is about to be compared to. Not so much HER (though incidentally, this lady seems like a pretty cool chick, fighting for suffrage and all), as the benefits she has. In a few brief, ironic sketches, the (genuinely seductive) benefits of her life as the Angel of the House are enumerated: men offer up their seats and are gently deferential, she gets to wear gorgeous frilly clothes, she is the freakin’ adored Angel in the House.
And this seductive past is compared to the modern (well, okay, 1940’s) present. No seat on the subway! Simpler, plainer clothes. Our main character has to work for a living, she emerges from her job with a bunch of other girls complaining about men. Life seems less fun; less easy, less frilly.
If this was the point of Kitty Foyle – those ladies sure were silly, gettin’ them rights! It would be an awfully frustrating movie. But, instead, our heroine puts on her warm winter coat, steps outside into the city streets, and we see her: alone.
In her simple and unadorned coat, with the snow falling down, she stands alone. But not just any alone. The point isn’t her isolation, or maybe the point IS her isolation. Instead of yards of men giving up her seat, tolerating her suffragetting, protecting her in the warm safe house, she gets something the Victorian lady doesn’t get; she gets the Hero Treatment.
Because yeah, you know who stands alone, reflecting quietly in isolation? Luke Skywalker. Superman, basically all superheroes. John Wayne, in all those movies where he stands defiantly in the vastness of the west. Kitty Foyle may not have the safety offered in the Victorian world, but there is a promise inherent in her isolation, in the sense that she must create her own destiny, find her own happiness. That is how heroes begin. Bravely and alone, wearing kinda crap clothes. John Wayne’s clothing is always dirty, heck, all heroes of westerns are somewhat wrinkled. Clark Kent is dressed in a badly-fitted suit before he reveals his gleaming goofy superhero outfit. Kitty Foyle’s outfit here isn’t an object of desire, a fantasy outfit. It is too simple - while the coat looks warm, even the fur on the hood looks like a practical touch, or at the least a sign that in a time of fur coats, she can’t afford more than a fur hood. But it makes you root for her, lets you understand what she doesn’t have, and what she might want. It lets you know that you are looking at the hero of this movie. It is kinda a crap coat, but in another way, it is a great one.
*HOW FITTING is it that a lot of the people who argue for Magnificent Ambersons as the BEST EVER admit that whatever cut of the movie they think is the best has been lost to time/shenanigans? “The best movie ever is the one you cannot ever see!” I think sums that up. That said, apparently Vertigo is the best movie ever now, according to some list. Fair enough! Anyway, The Best Ever is one of those pointless games that it is fun to indulge in - I mean, lots of things are great for a whole lot of reason, and clearly at some point gradations of wonderfulness become so small and prone to subjectivity as to become meaningless. But, on the other hand, it is so fun to argue!
Haha, happy Oscars weekend, everyone!